St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
Great Judgment

Matt 25:31-46

The past two Sundays, as we prepare for Great Lent, we have heard of our Lord’s great mercy towards us in the forgiveness of the publican and the restoration of the prodigal.  Today we hear a different note; we hear of God’s judgement of the world and of our eternal condition.  Both of these messages are born out of God’s great love for us.  The first reminds us of His infinite love and compassion and His desire that no man should perish but that all men should be saved.  For this reason, He provides every opportunity for us to repent and turn away from our sins – even up to the very last moment possible.  As we approach Holy Week and the account of our Lord’s passion and Crucifixion, it is good to note that even unto the very last moment, He holds out to the Jews who opposed Him, to Peter, even to Judas the opportunity to repent; but only Peter responded and wept for his sins begging forgiveness. This second image, the image of the Great Judgement is a final call to those who do not respond to the mercy of God as a reminder of the fearsome moment when they will stand before God and answer for all their sins.  If mercy does not draw us to repentance, then perhaps the fear of judgement will drive us to repentance. And so here again we have God’s love using every avenue to draw us to forsake our sinful self-love and enter into His love.

 Before we look at the essence of the Judgement itself (which is described in today’s Gospel) let us consider what will lead us up to this place.  No one knows clearly the whole span of the world’s existence except the Creator of the world who stands in eternity, outside of time and space and sees it all in a single glance. However, to some, who have gained a certain clarity of spiritual vision, God has revealed small glimpses of the events at the end of the world.  The most important of these glimpses are preserved for us in the Holy Scripture, i.e. the writings of the Prophets, the Apostles and in the words of our Lord.  We know that as the end of the world draws near, the cumulative weight of our sins on the world will grow greater and greater and creation will groan under their weight.  This great weight of sin will bring about catastrophic events in the world as the stress of our sins grows unbearable.  There will be earthquakes, famine, floods, fires, wars and rumors of war; there will be no peace upon the earth and the Light which dawned upon the world with the incarnation will grow dim and pale. Even the life of this world will begin to wane as the crops will fail and the seas will die.  Just before the end, the Antichrist, the ultimate servant of the evil one, will appear and rise to power offering to men relief from their strife even as the evil one offered false relief to our Lord during the temptation in the wilderness.  Because he is the servant of the father of lies, he will cast a great pall of deception over the whole world so powerful that even the elect (that is the Church) might be deceived.  To counteract this great deception two witnesses will appear on the earth to proclaim the Truth and to warn against the Antichrist.  These two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah who were taken up into heaven without dying so that they might return and proclaim the word of God at the end.  These witnesses, after only a few short years, will be put to death by the Antichrist and the world will again be in danger of being overcome by his deception.  Those who follow Christ will be in great difficulty and simply to endure this onslaught of evil without falling away will be counted to them as great righteousness. 

Finally, at the appointed hour, our Lord Jesus Christ will come again in glory and He will set at naught the workings of the evil one.  The approach of the Life of the world will bring about the general resurrection of the dead and all men who ever lived from the beginning of the world to the end will rise to stand bodily before the Great Judgement Seat of Jesus Christ.  The second coming of our Lord will be like a great light that overpowers even the light of the sun and the moon and the angelic trumpets will sound proclaiming His return.  There will be two distinct reactions to this among those still living upon the earth.  Those who love God and hunger for His presence will rejoice and leaping up will rise to meet Him  and accompany Him as He descends to the earth (just as the crowds poured out of the city to accompany the Lord Jesus Christ shouting “Hosanna, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” and other praises on Palm Sunday as He entered into Jerusalem).  The vast majority, however, who have turned away from Christ, serving instead themselves and their own passions will see in a moment the consequence of their choice and will run to the hills and caves of the earth, begging them to fall upon them and hide them from the Lord, to no avail – for the is no hiding from the Great King and Creator Who is everywhere present and Who fills all things.

The Lord will ascend His throne situated at the center of the universe in the City of Jerusalem and all men who ever lived upon the earth will appear before Him and be divided in an instant – some to paradise and eternal bliss and others to hell and eternal torment.  At this moment the scene that we heard depicted in the Gospel today will occur.  The Lord will turn to the righteous and say to them: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”  To the wicked He will say: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.”  Whereas the righteous will not recognize their own acts of righteousness for to them such things are normal, the wicked will think that they have done great things and will find that their deeds are worthless.  This is because it is the love of God which makes the difference in all things.  If we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, it must be done out of love for God for there to be any eternal virtue at all.  If we do these things out of our own selfish motive, out of love for self, out of our own self defined “goodness” or for our own profit or reputation then there is no eternal value, for God is not present in them.  Only when we are filled with love for God and when we act out His love for all men in our lives, only when we become the expression of God’s love, do we reap the eternal reward.

Let us consider the attitude of the righteous described by our Lord and strive to imitate it in our lives.  They did not do good for the sake of doing good – they simply did what was the natural result of loving God and loving their neighbor.  They did not keep track of donations and programs and charities for their own benefit, rather they simply did what was necessary to love each person that God put in front of them.  Their love and compassion was personal – it went from person to person, just as God’s love and compassion comes to us.  God does not love “mankind” as some kind of abstract entity, rather He loves each of us personally.  The Christian loves each man as a person and expresses that love face to face, hand to hand, on a personal level.  It is a good thing to give to charities and to contribute to charitable programs – but this should not be the limit of our giving.  Let us give to each person that God brings to us each day according to his need.  Let us feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for those who are sick, comfort those who are in distress and suffering, give a hug to those who need the warmth and reassurance of someone, help the weak, visit those who are isolated for whatever reason.  This is the kind of love that our Lord gives to us and it is the kind of love that He desires for us to give to others.  Then when He points these things out to us, they will not seem exceptional or worthy of note, but rather the normal and natural way that we live in His love.  In this way, let us prepare ourselves for His return.

Remember that our Lord is merciful and compassionate.  Remember that He desires that no man should perish but that all should be saved.  Remember that when we are weak, He is strong; when we are sinking, He is there to lift us up.  Remember also that He is coming again and that when He appears we will either rush to meet Him with joy or we will attempt to run and hide.  Let us maintain in our lives His love so that when He appears we will run to Him and cry out with joy, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord”.

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