Sunday of the Last
The criteria for
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, we are almost upon Great Lent, almost at the very threshold. Today is the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Next Sunday is the Sunday of Forgiveness, then begins the Great Lent.
Why was this reading selected for this day? Also, what is the general meaning of this story, of this teaching, of this dogma that the Lord gives us? And what can we do to be saved? And what are the criteria for salvation? This is what this story tells us.
Why do we read this gospel today? Well, what is Pascha? Pascha is where the Lord makes us capable of becoming good. He teaches us; He shows us; He gives us baptism. But if He weren’t risen from the dead, none of this could happen; we couldn’t become good because He would not have conquered death. So Pascha is the beginning. And the beginning should realize a good end. And when is the good end? At the judgment. So it is good, when beginning something, to think about what the end should be.
Great Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s a time when we’re trying to make ourselves more humble so that God will fill us with wisdom. It’s a difficult task. And that’s why there is the fasting, the extra prayers. But it’s much more than that. It’s begging God’s grace to touch you; it is a time of extra intensity during the year.
Merely understanding Pascha means nothing unless we live Pascha. And the living of Pascha is what is shown in story about salvation that the Lord tells us, which is pointing towards the end of Pascha, our salvation.
Now, what is the general meaning of the parable? It is absolutely true that there will be a judgment. It will be personal, and the Lord will interrogate us, and it will be our conscience which gives the answers, and there will be a survey of our life. These things are all true. They’re not parables; they are true. This is what will happen in the end. When the Lord comes from the east, like lightning, then will come the judgment, and everyone will be either accused or relieved of their burdens by the Lord examining their conscience.
And as it were, of course it’s a little much a bit of a parable in which people are answering the Lord. I don’t think there will be much talking. I think the judgment will be swift and will be instantaneous because our conscience will tell us, because the Lord will show that everything is known to Him. Nothing is hidden.
Now, what are the criteria for judgment? They are very clear in here although they’re misunderstood. The criteria are not that we must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, visit the sick and help them.
Someone just recently said to me: When there is no transgression, there is no need for law. He was referring to life in a very orderly monastery. He says, we have no need for laws because nobody is doing anything wrong. Where there is no transgression, there is no need for law. And that’s a pretty good reason why then the law came, because of transgression, to show us about transgression.
Where there is love, there is no need for law, either. There is no need for instruction, that if you are a Christian you should do this and this and this and this, so the checklist is feed the hungry, take care of the poor, visit the sick, visit those in prison. That’s not the checklist. These things are certainly the things that the righteous should do, and we should pay careful attention to them. But they are not the criterion for our judgment.
Here is the criterion for our judgment: That we do good because the Lord is good and because, if the Lord lives within us and we are his sons and daughters, then we must be like Him which is to be good. So these things grow out of being Christian, and there is much more besides this. This is a small subset of virtues.
And also the righteous are humble. Now, there is this question and answer that happens between the righteous and the unrighteous in God in this story, and the exact same things are mentioned to each, and both the righteous and the unrighteous are surprised. They say, “When did we do this? When did we feed the hungry? When did we see you and you were naked and we clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison?” The answers were exactly the same. What does this mean?
Well, it’s easy to know what it means for the unrighteous. They didn’t do those things; or when they did those things, they were full of pride. What about the righteous? What do they ask? Are the righteous stupid and that they don’t know when they do good? This is not the meaning.
The meaning is that they are humble and that, in becoming like Christ, they acquire the humility of the God-Man; and no matter how good we become, we cannot become as good as God.
So we have the attitude -- if we are righteous like the
Lord told His apostles to have, he said to them: So likewise when you have done
all things which are commanded of you, say —- “We are unprofitable
servants; we have only done that which we were told to do.”
The same idea is inherent when the Lord says: When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Not that we don’t know that we have done something good. We are not playing a mind game with ourselves. It’s that our good compared to God’s good is not good. Our good deeds are as filthy rags before God, and yet they are still precious because they are us becoming like Him, and He will receive them.
So the criterion for salvation is we must become good. And part of that becoming good is this overwhelming humility, to know ourselves in comparison to God.
The story is much misunderstood because some people say, yes, these things must be done in order to be saved. Oh, yes, they must be and a thousand more besides because we must become like Christ. That’s what the story is telling us. We must become like Him in all things. And the good will do good things.
Now, where does that leave us? What are we to do?
Let’s face it, we are not very good people. There are many things we do
that are not very good, and we certainly don’t do as much good to others
as we should. Part of that is the blindness that we have. Part of it is our
sins and our selfishness and all the rest, kind of wrapped up in a big tarry
ball that we carry around in our heart.
What are we to do? I think it’s important, I try to model my ministry on telling you how to do something as well as that you should do it. Because otherwise, how do we know?
Here is what we should do. Of course, without prayer you
can’t do anything. It’s not a cliché; it’s very much
true. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned it much more
concretely. I wish I had prayed more when I was younger; I would be better now;
situations that are not as good as I would wish them to be, I think they would
be better. So pray. Pray with fervor. Pray with effort. If you don’t pray
very well, then pray a little bit better today than you did yesterday, and
eventually you will learn how to pray. It’s very critical.
And then force yourself to do good. There’s really
no other choice. Force yourself. Because, I’ll tell you, there is a
principle that is at work in the human being. The inner will help the outer to
get better, and the outer helps the inner to get better.
So if you don’t like someone, but you are kind to them regardless, that is, the outer part of you is kind, your inner soul will be changed to have love for them. And it works both directions. Force yourself to do good, and you will become good in your heart. Not just by the things you are doing outwardly, but you will be good in your heart. And as you become good in your heart, you will do good. You’re kind to others, and you see the naked man who needs clothing and the one who is hungry who needs food and the one who is in prison, to visit. You see those people because you will have become more holy.
So that’s what you must do. It’s not a sort of a cookbook or a boilerplate or a blueprint. It’s not easy. It’s not all spelled out. But this is the way: Pray and beg God to help you to become good, and then force yourself to do good. Especially with those people that are not easy to do good to. The ones you don’t like, the ones you have conflict with, those kind of people. And cultivate in your senses a sense of humility.
All of Great Lent is about obtaining humility. And this story shows us perfect humility: The righteous not even knowing they did good. Of course they knew that they had done certain things, and we know that when we do something to someone as unto Christ, we are doing it as unto Christ. That’s true. But the humility is so deep in the Christian who has become purified by the grace of God, that this is how they would answer the Lord when He says: When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; and when I was thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you gave me clothing; in prison or sick, and you visited me.
It’s a very fine distinction. And it’s something we can only understand by living it. Truly, the state of humility is the most blessed of all states because then we have full access to the mercy of God, and we feel God’s mercy intently, and we are not afraid, even though we know that we are not worthy of that mercy.
This is how we save our souls, by learning to become humble. So pray and force yourself to do good. Beg the Lord to show you the way, and you will find the way.
This story has elements in it that a like a parable, such as the dialog, but it is not a parable; it is the truth. It is dogma. It is what’s going to happen, and it is set before us today because we should, during Great Lent, be looking to Pascha. And Pascha should look to eternal life. And this is a description of those who obtain eternal life, and this is dogma. It is true. There will be a judgment. You will appear before God. Your conscience will accuse you or will relieve you. There will be a survey of the person you are.
The things that are described here, the events, the things that are done, are really describing the person you have become by the time you are judged. And this is true, and it will happen, and it will be final. And the criteria for salvation is we become like Jesus Christ. He’s given us everything we need to become like Him. And in becoming like Him, not only do we do good, but we have this blessed humility within us that doesn’t take any kind of credit for this good. And we will have this sort of surprise when the Lord judges us and this great happiness when the Lord says: Well done, well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.
Let us emulate the Lord. This is the Christian life. It is the only way of salvation. What you believe better be what you do, or else it doesn’t matter what you believe. And just remember that many of these people that said, Lord, when did I see you naked and I didn’t feed you, I don’t remember that, or when did I see you naked and didn’t clothe you or hungry and I didn’t feed you, or when did I not visit you?
So let us be like the blessed. Let us emulate the Lord, and let us acquire humility by the Lord granting it to us because He sees our desire, our belief and our effort. Amen.
Transcribed by the hand of Helen. May God save her and her loved ones.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.
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 This homily was transcribed from the recording (http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-04_2010-02-07+sunday-of-the-last-judgment-meatfare.mp3), and then edited slightly.
 Luke 17:10 “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”
 Matthew 6:3 KJV “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”
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