Last Judgement

Last Judgement

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST!! 

   Amen, I say to you, in as much as ye did not to the least of these, neither did ye to Me. 

   Today we hear about fasting in the epistle. If we read the hymns from Vespers and Matins for this coming cheese week we will also hear words of instruction about fasting. 

If thou dost fast from food, O my soul, yet dost not cleanse thyself from passions, thou dost rejoice in vain over thy abstinence. For if thy purpose is not turned towards amendment of life, as a liar thou art hateful in God’s sight, and thou doest resemble the evil demons who never eat at all. Do not by sinning make the fast worthless, but firmly resist all wicked impulses. Picture to thyself that thou art standing beside the crucified Saviour, or rather, that thou art thyself crucified with Him Who was crucified for thee; and cry out to Him: “Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom. (Wednesday Matins)

   The hymns of the Katavasia of the Canon for last night’s Vigil are already the hymns of the irmosoi of the Great Canon of St. Andrew.  

   This Wednesday at Vespers, and Friday at the Moleben, we will already say the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. 

   This week we already begin fasting from meat. If you have access to the daily sections of the Triodion, they start this week. I commend them to you. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a different sort of teaching. Instead of speaking of Himself and the Kingdom obliquely or through Parables, He confronts us with a vision of the Last Judgement. This Glorious vision is of Him, the Son of Man, as King of all nations, for ALL nations will be judged, those we like, and those we do not like. All nations before the Throne of Glory are judged based on how they recognized the Image of God in the least of them. 

The Lord sent the Law, and the Prophets, and we have disregarded them. And finally He spoke to us through His Son, and we disregarded Him too. Our Physician has taken careful measures for our healing, even conquering death by His death, and dulling its sting. And as in the days of Noah, Christ has flooded the world with His Righteousness, Grace, and Mercy. 

The King comes with both Justice and Mercy. And we recall all of Jesus’ teachings and parables reminding us that, to the merciful, God will show mercy; — to the merciless, God will show no mercy, but only judgement.  Some will see the King as joy and bliss; others will see the King as judgement and condemnation. And the dividing line is: . . .  “How did we treat others.” When we get to Holy Week we will see this theme repeated: for the Foolish Virgins did not have enough oil. . . .  Oil is a pun for mercy. 

And He divides the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. The Sheep are sheep because their likeness is as to the Lamb of God. One thing to note is that neither the righteous nor the wicked are aware of who is which. The righteous question being considered righteous; the wicked question being considered wicked. The righteous are unaware that by ministering to the least of these, they ministered to the King. 

He was: hungry, and they fed; thirsty and they gave drink; a foreigner, and they welcomed Him; naked, and they clothed Him; sick and imprisoned and they visited Him. The righteous ministered to Him by ministering to the least of these. They didn’t know that by ministering to the Image of God in the least of these, that they ministered to God, the King. For God does not need food, drink, asylum, clothing, a physician, or liberty — but the least of those created in His Image do. When you sum it all up, what they did for their fellows who are created in God’s Image and likeness — they loved. . . . Come ye blessed, inherit the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation. The Kingdom of God is what we were all created for. . . And the righteous do not react as if they have been vindicated; instead they react with humility.

To the goats, the wicked He says: Depart you cursed ones. He does not curse them. They have cursed themselves. Depart to a place that was NOT prepared for you, but for the devil and his demons. The fire of punishment was not designed for you, but you have brought it upon yourself; you have chosen it.  They choose it by refusing to do all the things the righteous did. And the impious react with self justification: “Lord when did we see Thee…” In this is a warning to us, not to seek to justify ourselves. DEPART! . . . for you preferred wealth and power and things over your brothers. . . and that is hatred for your brothers. 

St. Gregory Palamas says, “Observe this last evil: pride is yoked with callous behavior, as humility is with compassion. When the righteous are praised for doing good, they humble themselves the more, without justifying themselves. When these others are accused of being devoid of compassion by Him Who cannot lie, they do not humbly throw themselves to the ground, but answer back and justify themselves.”

   The first commandment is that we love God with all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The only way we can prove we love God is by loving our neighbor.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture dominated by protestant calvinism: the idea that wealth is virtue. If you read social theory you will find that they have divided the poor into “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor”. And we do our best as a culture to withhold aid to those we deem “undeserving.  But SS John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Ambrose of Milan will have nothing of this:

For most people, when they see someone in hunger, chronic illness, and the extremes of misfortune, do not even allow him a good reputation but judge his life by his troubles, and think that he is surely in such misery because of wickedness.  — St. John Chrysostom 

Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing . — St John Chrysostom

Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead. —  St John Chrysostom

If you see any one in affliction, ask no more questions. His being in affliction involves a just claim on your aid. For if when you see a beast of burden choking you raise him up, and do not curiously inquire whose he is, much more about a human being one ought not to be over-curious in enquiring whose he is. He is God’s, be he heathen or be he Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help… . . . If you see him in affliction, do not say that he is wicked. For when a person is in calamity, and needs help, it is not right to say that he is wicked. For this is cruelty, inhumanity, and arrogance. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich are in possession of the goods of the poor, even if they have acquired them honestly or inherited them legally. — St. John Chrysostom

The rich seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of preemption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need. —  St. Basil the Great

He who strips the clothed is to be called a thief. How should we name him who is able to dress the naked and doesn’t do it. — St. Basil the Great

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not just to the rich. —  St Ambrose

Feed him who is dying of hunger; if you have not fed him you have killed him. — St. Ambrose of Milan

I was hungry and you took my food away, and arrested those who were trying to feed me; I was thirsty and you dumped my water in the desert, or you gave my water to someone who paid you; I was a foreigner and you sent me back to the perils of the country I escaped, I was naked and you condemned my morality; I was sick and you made it impossible for me to see the physician; I was in prison and you forgot me. 

Rather than take Jesus’ words to heart, we try to find a way to justify our greed, our hard heartedness, our neglect, our theft of the resources that belong to all mankind.

   During the Lenten season that will soon be upon us, we are instructed to increase prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When we give alms we should thank the one we give to, because through them we have the blessing to give to God.  

   We are beginning a time when we are asked by the Church to simplify our lives, to soften our hearts, to be generous with alms, to turn down the volume of our noisy world.

Brothers and sisters, listen. Our souls are on the line. Jesus taught us to pray that our debts be forgiven as we forgive our debtors — our debts, those things we should have done but didn’t. Jesus did not accuse the goat people of adultery or murder; He accused them of lack of mercy. 

I would be guilty of not clothing you if I soft-pedalled this. This is what our Lord expects of us. This is the criteria by which we are judged. 

The Kingdom which was prepared for you from the beginning, the joy of all joys — or, … the punishment that was not prepared for you but rather for the devil and his angels. Which will we decide? We must decide whether to let the medicine of these commandments be a healing for us. Or by not applying the medicine, a fate which was never ours to begin with awaits. 

But by our actions or inactions, we decide.

May we attain unto the lot of the sheep through the mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to Whom be all glory, honour, and worship; always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Lazarus

The Parable of Lazarus

Lazarus lay at the gate every day. The rich man could not excuse himself for not knowing about Lazarus’ condition, for he passed by him daily. 

   St. John Chrysostom says that if we do not see God in the beggar at the gate, we will not be able to see Him in the Chalice. 

   The rich man is revealed as lower than the dogs — the dogs at least showed mercy to Lazarus in the way they knew how to show mercy. The rich man shows that his soul is warped, and ugly.

   St. Augustine notes that because of the rich man’s neglect of Lazarus, he is not named in this story, for his name is not written in the book of Life. Lazarus’ name IS written. Lazarus means “one who has been helped.”

   So where does Abraham fit in this story? Abraham is the first one who was called to leave his citizenship, his city, and all the stability and comfort he had known to follow God in faith. * He became a despised Habiru, a citizenless man, not protected by the rights of being a citizen of a land — and through that became the father of a nation that would prepare the world to receive God in the flesh. This is the comfort that Lazarus finds himself in. 

   And Abraham, through his journey, acquired much wealth; yet it was not for the sake of the wealth that he kept it; he did not hold his wealth for its own sake, but for the journey that God had called him to.  This rich man had wealth also. But he held his wealth in greed, and neglect of his fellow man. Abraham, who prayed mercy for the wicked, showed mercy to the poor and hospitality to the stranger could not help this rich man.

   Even in death we see how this man’s soul has shown itself to be ugly; his first thought is for his own comfort, and relief of his pain; and he, even now, treats Lazarus like an errand boy. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian observes that this fire that torments the rich man in death is a fire from within himself. 

   By his life, he neglected the afflicted, the poor, the alien, the foreigner. These are the very ones Moses and the prophets instructed us to be merciful to. By his life, he mocked Moses and the prophets. 

   Jesus points the story even further, if we will not listen to Moses and the prophets and have mercy on the poor, the afflicted, the homeless, the hungry, that His own Death and Resurrection are meaningless to us. 

Who are the people outside the gates for us today?

   We live in a society that punishes the poor, that does its best to keep them in poverty and them blame them for it. We do our best to excuse ourselves from our duty to them. We say, “it’s MY money; I earned it; you should not compel me to help them.” We justify to ourselves why it is ok to neglect the poor. 

   We have in our community the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the afflicted. If we do nothing to help them we share in this rich man’s mocking of Moses and the prophets. Again St. John Chrysostom warns us: “If we do not find Christ in these, we will not find Him in the Chalice.”

   And, there is another one who sits outside the gate whom we continue to neglect. That one is ourselves. 

   In the last week of the 40 days of Great Lent the hymns give us meditation on this parable. 

We are told that we are the one whom we neglect at the gate. 

Joseph the Studite writes the stichera for Monday  vespers of the 6th week of Lent:

I have rivaled in foolishness the rich man who showed no love for others; overwhelmed by sensual pleasures and the passions, I live in luxury and self-indulgence. I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. Therefore I deserve to be condemned to the flames of Gehenna: but deliver me from them, O Master, for Thou alone art rich in mercy. 

(Joseph the Studite – Monday  vespers of the 6th week)

   We neglect ourselves not only in lack of mercy to others, but also in lack of mercy to ourselves. We starve ourselves from prayer, reading of scripture, and giving alms. We neglect that part of us that “GETS” God most readily, our spiritual mind. 

   So, let us feed the hungry and show mercy to the poor; and let us also feed ourselves on the riches that God has passed on to us through the Church.