Last Judgement

Matthew 25:31-46

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”.

In this third Sunday of the Triodion Period, our Church remembers the Day of Judgment, that is the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel passage of today is a reminder of that Day of Judgment. A reminder that is not all that comfortable. The Evangelist emphasizes the measure by which we shall be judged. “In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”. In most icons of the Last Judgment, in the center of the icon stands the Archangel Michael. He is holding the scales of judgment and is surrounded by the books that contain the works of each person.

There are a few things I would like to point out in today’s Gospel, which may or may not have caught our attention. When our Lord speaks to those on His right hand, He states “Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Note that He says that the Kingdom of God was prepared for us. At the same time, our Lord says to those on His left: “Depart from Me into ever-lasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” So, you see dear brothers and sisters that we were meant for eternal life, and never meant for anything else. The place of “ever-lasting fire” had been only prepared for the devil and his angels, and so the fact that man doesn’t come to paradise is the greatest tragedy there is, because it was the place always intended for him.

It is also important for us today to reflect on the judgment of God and what it is according to the Holy Fathers. If we are not careful, we may misunderstand it. Perhaps we have taken it to be some sort of cruel punishment for ourselves. I would like to read from an excerpt written by Dr. Kalomiros who has been known and respected in the English-speaking Orthodox world since the publication of “Against False Union.” In his writing, he speaks about the River of Fire and the Judgment of God and I would like to read a little from his work. He says this:

God is Truth and Light. God's judgment is nothing else than our coming into contact with truth and light. In the day of the Great Judgment all men will appear naked before this penetrating light of truth. The "books" will be opened. What are these "books"? They are our hearts. Our hearts will be opened by the penetrating light of God, and what is in these hearts will be revealed. If in those hearts there is love for God, those hearts will rejoice seeing God's light. If, on the contrary, there is hatred for God in those hearts, these men will suffer by receiving on their opened hearts this penetrating light of truth which they detested all their life.

So that which will differentiate between one man and another will not be a decision of God, a reward or a punishment from Him, but that which was in each one's heart; what was there during all our life will be revealed in the Day of Judgment. If there is a reward and a punishment in this revelation — and there really is — it does not come from God but from the love or hate which reigns in our heart. Love has bliss in it; hatred has despair, bitterness, grief, affliction, wickedness, agitation, confusion, darkness, and all the other interior conditions which compose hell (I Cor. 4:6).
Hell is not a punishment from God but a self-condemnation. As Saint Basil the Great says, "The evils in hell do not have God as their cause, but ourselves."

But alas, there is no longer any possibility of escaping God's light. During this life there is. In the New Creation of the Resurrection, God will be everywhere and in everything. His light and love will embrace all. There will be no place hidden from God, as was the case during our corrupt life in the kingdom of the prince of this world. Love will enrobe everything with its sacred Fire which will flow like a river from the throne of God and will irrigate paradise. But this same river of Love — for those who have hate in their hearts — will suffocate and burn.

"For our God is a consuming fire", (Heb. 12:29). The very fire which purifies gold, also consumes wood. Precious metals shine in it like the sun, rubbish burns with black smoke. All are in the same fire of Love. Some shine and others become black and dark. In the same furnace steel shines like the sun, whereas clay turns dark and is hardened like stone. The difference is in man, not in God. The difference is conditioned by the free choice of man, which God respects absolutely.

And so we see dear brothers and sisters, that the Judgment to come upon us is the Judgment of our own state, our own inner condition. Saint Peter the Damascene writes: "We all receive God's blessings equally. But some of us, receiving God's fire, that is, His word, become soft like beeswax, while the others like clay become hard as stone. And if we do not want Him, He does not force any of us, but like the sun He sends His rays and illuminates the whole world, and he who wants to see Him, sees Him, whereas the one who does not want to see Him, is not forced by Him. And no one is responsible for this privation of light except the one who does not want to have it. God created the sun and the eye. Man is free to receive the sun's light or not. The same is true here. God sends the light of knowledge like rays to all, but He also gave us faith like an eye. The one who wants to receive knowledge through faith, keeps it by his works, and so God gives him more willingness, knowledge, and power" (Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 8).

What we hear in today’s Gospel is clear, in that we will be judged on the measure of mercy, which is "love" that we give to our neighbor.

In his book titled “The Diary of a Russian Priest”, Father Alexander defines love in these words; ‘Love is love only when it is addressed to all without exception. As long as it is directed only towards those whom ‘I’ love, it is nothing but selfishness.’ Christ teaches us to love our neighbor but more so teaches us to love our enemy. Christ also says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and secondly, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ He shows us that true love, in essence, requires that we see the image and likeness of God in each other.

We need to realize that ultimately we cannot love God unless we serve and love the people around us. These are the individuals, that God, in His wisdom, has placed in our lives for our salvation. That's why the Apostle said: "Whoever says that he loves God and does not love his brothers is a liar." So today we need to ask ourselves the question, “what holds us back from giving love to our neighbor?”

Saint Maximos the Confessor says that the state of love is dispassion. In other words, passions destroy love. Passions are the love of the self, the self-gratification, and self-interests. When we focus on ourselves it forbids us from doing the work of love. And we should realize that to the extent we are on the path towards freedom from our passions, is the extent in which we are able to love. It is a direct proporation, as the Holy Fathers have told us. “Stop loving yourself and you will love your brother” Saint Maximos says. It is a mystery, but this is why the Orthodox Church is the fullness of the truth. We cannot love one another without uprooting our own sinfulness. And, so once again we have periods within the Church year that give us the opportunity to strip ourselves of our passions. Great Lent is the great example, and during this time we are given another opportunity to really see how little we love our neighbor and how much we have come to love our own selves and pamper our own flesh.

Great Lent comes as a movement of abstinence, leading us to abandon our selfishness. It purifies the old man and builds the new. It is a change of direction and a time of repentance. Lent was conceived for us so that we could learn how to love, and we do so by ridding ourselves of ourselves! The purpose of Lent is to help us see others with our spiritual eyes. Lent is a return to Paradise. Man in his selfishness defines his "paradise" by his selfish interests, while Lent helps us to realize that the service of others is the life of the "true" paradise.

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.