The fathers of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, consecrated the Triodion as a time of preparation for the fast of Great Lent, which in turn is to be a time of preparation for the feast of our Lord’s Resurrection.
With this in mind, the Church teaches us on the first Sunday οf Triodion that, if we are humbled, God welcomes us into His Presence, whereas, if we are proud He turns His Face away from us. On the second Sunday the Church gives us an example of repentance in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Today, the Gospel reminds us that we are responsible for our acts and that one day we will have to account to God for them and furthermore, will be rewarded or punished accordingly.
In today’s Gospel our Lord refers to three things. His Second Coming, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Last Judgement.
When our Lord lived on earth amongst us He chose a position of great lowliness. He was subjected to hardship and poverty. Many of His fellow men despised and hated Him to such an extent, that they eventuallybrought about His death on the Cross. But, although our Lord died on the Cross, Hell was not able to hold Him. On the third day He rose from the dead, overcoming Death by His Death, and giving new Life to the world.
At His Second Coming, however, things will be quite different. Surrounded by His Angelic Hosts, He will come in glory, seated on His Throne of Judgement. All the nations and people will be gathered before Him and no man, on that day, will be able to hide from the Face of God. “And He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left” (Matt. 25:32-33).
It is of the utmost importance to know that God created the Κingdom of Heaven before He created the world (Matt. 25:34). When He created man, He did so with the intention that he should enjoy all the fruits of the creation and participate in the glory of the Κingdom of Heaven. God wanted man to be a small ‘god’, just as He said “it is written that Ι said, you are gods” (John l0:34). But man, through disobedience, destroyed God’s plan and found himself exiled away from God. In his state of sin, he gradually moved further and further away from God. Man is responsible for all his actions, every one of them, be they good or bad. Animals are not responsible for their actions. Man, because he was created in the “image and likeness” of God (Gen. l:26), has not only freedom to choose what he will do, but also bears full responsibility for the outcome of his actions. It is exactly this freedom and responsibility that distinguishes man from the animals.
Concerning His Second Coming, our Lord teaches us that it will be so awesome and terrible that even the Aηgels will tremble with terror. Before His universal court, all men’s consciences will be exposed, like so many open books (DanieI7:9-ll). Each one will be examined and judged according to his good and bad deeds. Good deeds are those that give glory to God and which are motivated by love for Him and for our fellow men. Bad deeds are those motivated by pride and self-love. They lead away from God and estrange us from our fellow men.
If we look carefully at today’s Gospel, we shall notice that our Lord in describing the examination and judgement of those brought before Him, does not mention obvious mortal sins, like e.g. murder, theft or adulatory, but rather concentrates on the lack of compassion and mercy for fellow men. This is because one may lead an apparently virtuous life, not murdering, not stealing nor worshipping false gods, etc., but, if one lacks charity, one is nothing in the eyes of God. Let us remember what St Paul teaches us in l Corinthians, “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, Ι am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and ifΙ have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, Ι am nothing. If Ι give away all Ι have, and ifΙ deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, Ι gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable orresentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (I Corinth. l3:l-8).
Sin, whatever form it takes or whatever quality it has, is that which goes against the Essence of God and which destroys His likeness in man. For this reason sin, by its very nature, is condemned. Any man who sins and does not show repentance and does not confesses is ensuring condemnation for himself on the Day of Judgement. Our Lord emphasises especially the condemnation of those who failed to show love for their fellow men. But at the same time He emphasises the reward of those who, were compassionate.
Sinners find themselves condemned to eternal punishment. In today’s Gospel we see that Hell was not in the first place created for the punishment of mankind. It was created for Satan and thus condemns himself to eternal punishment. The just on the other hand will enjoy the Κingdom of Heaven. They will be saved because of their faith in and love for Christ, which they made manifest in their acts of mercy and compassion towards their fellow men. Α good Christian loves Christ through his fellow men. Christ comes to us in the form of the poor, the sick, the orphans, the captives and it is up to us whether we receive Him ornot.
In short we could say that today’s Gospel teaches us three truths. First, that after the Last Judgement there will be two real spiritual conditions, namely eternal life and everlasting death. Secondly, that God created the Κingdom of Heaven for man, which was prepared from the foundation of the world. Hell was created only for Satan and his angels. Sinners, of necessity, go to hell because they do not do the Will of God, but that of Satan. Thirdly, that our Salvation depends on ourfaith in Christ and our love towards our fellow men.
As long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to repent and to work out our salvation. The moment we die, though, judgement takes place, and our condition, either joyful or sorrowful, is set for ever. St Paul teaches us “and just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Hebr. 9:27).
Ι pray that we may all have as our aim the love of Christ and our fellow men, and that with hope and trust in the mercy of God, we may come to enjoy the Κingdom of Heaven that was prepared for us from the beginning. Amen.
FROM MONDAY WE STOP EATING MEAT
Orthodox Newsletter of St Theodore, Lanham
By His Eminence Metropolitan PANTELEIMON of Antinoes