Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You (Matthew 25: 37-39)? We heard these words of our Lord Jesus Christ this morning in the Gospel reading.
Today is the Sunday of the Last Judgment; it is also Meatfare Sunday. It is the third Sunday of Triodion and the last day we are allowed to eat meat until Pascha. The Last Judgment will occur in Christ’s Second Coming, when He will judge the living and the dead.
The aforementioned questions will be asked by both the righteous and the unrighteous to Jesus. To the righteous He will say: Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me (ibid, 40). However, to the unrighteous He will say: For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me (ibid, 42-43).
The righteous will have eternal life in His Heavenly Kingdom and the unrighteous will be cast into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (ibid,41). Just one Sunday prior, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, we saw the compassion and love of God. The father of the two sons is an image of God. He forgave his younger son despite his prodigal living and disobedience. So will God forgive our sins no matter how severe they are, as long as we repent. This Sunday, however, we see God as Judge who will condemn the evil and welcome the righteous into His Kingdom.
When we die we will no longer be able to repent for our sins. For those that will be living at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, they too will not be able to repent at the Great Judgment. That is why it is essential for our salvation that we repent of our sins now, for it will be too late once we die or on Judgment Day. At the unendurable Tribunal, books will be opened, and revealed will be the deeds done by all humanity (sticheron from the Triodion). God wants us to repent and to usher us in His Kingdom. He does not force us to repent, it is completely voluntary and within our free will.
At the vespers last evening we heard: On that day when You will come to render judgment with justice, You, O righteous Judge, will be seated on Your throne of glory, as the King of all. Before Your tribunal flows a fiery river, filling everyone with fear and awe; and all the bodiless hosts of heaven stand by attending You, as all humanity is judged, everyone according to what they did. Spare us then, O Master, as You are most compassionate, O Christ, and grant that we be among the saved, we implore with faith, O Lord (sticheron from the Triodion).
Although Christ will come as a Judge in all His Glory on the Last Day, we must remember that He shows us the way to inherit His Kingdom. If we feed the hungry, we are feeding Him. Likewise, if we tend to someone who is sick, we are really tending to Christ. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ clearly tells us who our neighbor is. It is that person who is need of our care and of our love, especially at a vulnerable and desperate time. It can be someone of a different faith or even our enemy.
Christ told us: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you… But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High (Luke, 6:27-28, 32-35).
Yes, it is hard to do good to those who hurt us or to give to those we don’t know but this is what Christ has called us to do. Of course we should be good to those who are good to us and to those who love us, but that is too easy. In our everyday life God provides opportunities for us to care for our neighbor. Whether it is giving a homeless person on the subway money or giving a stranger CPR, there are always opportunities.
The question is are we going to be a passerby or a Good Samaritan? When we help our neighbor, we can see Christ’s face in that person, even our enemy, provided that we act out of love and with humility. We are to do this not with personal gain in mind in this world but rather spiritual gain in the Kingdom that awaits us. We are to give of ourselves with a pure heart with no expectations except to please God.
The day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment is Saturday of the Souls, when we commemorate the departed who have gone before us. We pray that God will be merciful to them on the Last Day and grant them eternal life in His Kingdom. The departed need our prayers since they are no longer able to repent for their sins. They depend on the living to pray for them. On that day when trumpets sound, the graves and tombs will be emptied, and in trembling all mankind will be resurrected then, to be judged by You. Those who did what was right will rejoice awaiting their reward from You, O gracious God; while on the other hand those who sinned will shudder and cry in pain, as they are sent to punishment and are separated from the elect. Therefore, Lord of glory, as You are good, be merciful to us, and count us worthy to be among those who truly loved You, O Christ (sticheron from the Triodion).
When we commemorate the dead on the Saturday of the Souls or on any other day, let us be mindful of our own eventual death. We too will one day be among the departed and very much in need of prayers from the living. Let these sacred days be a wake-up call for us that as long as we have breath in our lungs, we have the ability to correct our ways and prepare ourselves for the inevitable and great Judgment of Christ.
Alas, dark soul of mine! How long will you delay cutting off your wicked ways? How long will you just lie there in idleness? Why not bring to mind the awful hour of death? Why not shudder picturing the dread Judgment Seat of the Savior? Tell me, what will be your defense, how will you respond? The evidence of what you did will be presented, your own actions will accuse you and condemn you. O my soul, it is almost time. So run before it is too late, and in faith cry out, "I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against You. But I know Your compassion, O Lover of humanity. So I pray, O Good Shepherd, please do not deny me a place at Your right hand, in Your great mercy." (2nd Doxastikon of Great Vespers, from the Triodion)
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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BONUS: Y2AM has released a brand new ministry training course. And check out our "Be the Bee" episode for Judgment Sunday: