Last Judgement

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

On that dreadful and amazing day, Thou shalt say to us sinners, O Lord: "You men know well what I have undergone for you...what have you suffered for Me?" What shall we say to that; we who, though penitent, are sinful and polluted? The martyrs will point to their wounds, their sufferings, the severed parts of their bodies, and to their endurance to the end. The ascetics will point to their asceticism, to their long fasts and vigils, to their liberality, their tears and their endurance to the end. But we, idle, sinful, transgressing as we are, what shall we be able to point to? Spare us, O merciful One! Spare us, O Thou Lover of mankind!" These are the words of St. Ephraim the Syrian quoted and they are words that perhaps cause us to squirm in our seats.

Last Sunday we experienced the compassion of God in the Gospel of the Prodigal Son. This Sunday we learn about God’s terrifying judgment to come, because as the scriptures state, mercy does not go without judgment. God rightly appointed a time for each, and today we must focus our hearts on Christ’s Second Coming, the terrifying Judgment. Christ exhorts all of us, as by the words of St. Gregory Palamas to “watch and pray that we may be worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass and to stand before the Son of Man on that great day.” And what sort of lives ought we to be living in holiness and godliness, as we wait for the coming of the Day of God?

Saint Gregory says this: “Notice how those who live according to Christ are filled with ineffable joy and courage by the events, while those who live according to the flesh are filled with shame, suffering and dejection.” Do we not each of us experience this already in this life? When we sin, we feel sorrow in ourselves, do we not? If we have lost our temper with a brother or sister or wasted our money in luxuries for ourselves, do we not suffer in ourselves over our sins? In a way, we are already facing the judgment of God in ourselves while on this earth. And do we not also experience joy, ineffable sweetness, when we are living for Christ in prayer and in obedience to the Holy Spirit? It is because of our own state that the Judgment either condemns us or saves us. And the judgment of God comes upon us because of our own choices and our sins. When we sin, we feel it in our conscience and this is also the judgment of God that we experience. While we have time on this earth, before Christ opens the book of our hearts, we have time to confess, to repent and to prepare for this day.

Inorder to help us along, because we all need a little push, the church in her wisdom brings us to the Sunday of the Last judgment, when the attitude brought clearly to mind is fear. Fear and trembling beyond all description is present in the Gospel lesson and in the hymnography: for the Lord will come and try the work of every man. And who will not mourn for himself?

Time and again in the hymnography for this day, we are called to be fearful before the Lord; to remember with fear the appointed judgment; to acknowledge in fear the sinful state of our lives. Words and terms that bring discomfort are in the texts: terror, judgment, fire, torment, pain, suffering, hell.

For example our hymnography says “I lament and weep when I think of the eternal fire, the outer darkness and the nether world, the dread worm and the gnashing of teeth, and the unceasing anguish that shall befall those who have sinned without measure, by their wickedness arousing Thee to anger, O Supreme in Love. And among them in misery I am first... This is from (the Vesperal Stichera)

So we may ask why this seemingly morbid emphasis on fear, with its connected imagery of death and suffering? In the Matins text this morning we sang this,”Terror seizes me when I think of the unquenchable fire, of the bitter worm, the gnashing of teeth, and soul-destroying hell; yet I do not turn in true compunction. O Lord, Lord, before the end, strengthen Thy fear within me.

Here we begin to see a framework within which these exhortations to fear take their proper appearance and place. Through the wisdom of the Church in her texts and hymns, we are called to embrace fear as a healthy and life-giving source of compunction and spur to true repentance. With our fallen and sin-stained perceptions, we often fall into the deadly trap of focusing upon God's love and compassion to the exclusion of His justice. Seeing first-hand the outstretched arms and inviting embrace of the Father, we blindly forget to work towards the amendment of our sinful ways, to passionately beg for forgiveness and mercy--to truly heed divine Paul's command that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Even the prodigal feared his father, having prepared a great lament of sorrow and signs of his true repentance; and it was in this context, in this mindset that he approached the Father, and the Father gave him life.
So, you see that the fear to which we are called to on this holy day, according to the Fathers, is a fear that leads to compunction, and compunction to humility, and humility to repentance, and repentance to eternal life. We are not called to fear simply to be 'scared,' but to be prompted into action.

So...Let us feel the uncomfortableness of today’s Gospel and of the words of the Holy Fathers concerning this Gospel. Let us not run from it or try to distract ourselves by convincing ourselves that maybe it really won’t be quite this bad for us. We are given another chance by the hearing of these words to be honest with ourselves, to see our passions for what they are and to repent of them while we still have time and to strive to be with Christ in the short time that we have on earth.
Dear brothers and sisters let us pray that we have the strength to use this time of the Great Fast by God’s grace, and by our small efforts, to abstain from self interests that lead to our demise, so that we, little by little learn the work of love, and in turn free ourselves from the tyranny of passions and desires.

‘Let us love one another, that with one heart and one mind, we may confess.’
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.