3rd Sunday of Triodion – Orthodox Homily on the Last Judgement

Today is the Sunday of the Last Judgment.  Many in today’s world avoid discussing topics like Judgment, sin, hell.  The erroneous thought is that God, being a “God of love,” would never condemn anyone to eternal damnation even ifthey have rejected and blasphemed Him, lived a life apart from Him, and persecuted the Church and Christ’s followers. Many consider the very idea of judgment a great ‘stumbling block’ to the Christian faith, together with the idea of sin, which has been greatly subjectified according to modern, popular cultural beliefs, if even acknowledged at all.  And so, in an effort to be more ‘appealing’, these groups avoid discussion of what we call sin and judgment, along with other Gospel teachings that challenge and convict us to repent and recognize God as our Judge.   

In the Creed, we devoutly affirm our belief that Christ God will “come again to judge the living and the dead.”  This revealed truth is part of Holy Tradition and the Gospels.  As such, the question arises, how is God both the ‘only Lover of mankind’ as well as the ‘Righteous Judge,’?

The answer to this important question, so pertinent to the Sunday of the Last Judgment, begins with the affirmation that God in His great love and mercy toward us desires our salvation more than anything else.  This divine will is clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures: God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4) and revealed through the life of Christ, Who, as the Logos (Word) of God incarnate, has been revealed as that Truth.  No surprise then that the next verse in I Timothy says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”, that is, our Savior, who redeems our human nature and rescues us from damnation by His defeat of death and new life in Him. 

God the Father invites us into a relationship, a communion with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that we too may “put on Christ” in the language of Holy Baptism, enter into His redeemed human nature, and become fellow victors with Him over sin and death—those very enemies that Christ God became incarnate to defeat, and which, would, otherwise keep us from life with Him who is holy.  God has made a way for us to grow in holiness and participation in the life He alone is.  Such is His great love and mercy for us: He created us for love and communion, life with Him.  He created us for participationin that divine life, in the relationship of unity and love that God the Holy Trinity is in His divine nature.

Through the lives of the Saints, we see that growth in love and relationship with God is possible through our cooperation with God’s redemptive work in their lives by the Holy Spirit.  But, we see too in our own lives and in the sin around us, the possibility of our rejectionof that love—rejection of that life that God so graciously entrusts to us every time we say no to His life and yes to sin through our own self-will, growing apart from life and communion, with God, our Creator.

The truth is that God’s love and judgment are not incongruous paradoxes of God’s nature, as some suggest in today’s culture in their eagerness to dismiss or ‘reimagine’ Christianity to conform it to their own liking.  Rather, these two aspects of God go hand in hand: Without a correct understanding of sin and judgment, there is no healing, no salvation, no life with God.  

This is where judgment comes in:  When we speak of the Final or Last Judgment, we understand that God’s judgment is happening even now.  Judgment began when God rejected our first parent’s separationfrom their true life in Him—their true identity—and, instead, chosedeath.  Through His Christ, His Word made flesh, God made a way so we would not remain in perpetual alienation from Him, our life source.  God, in His love for us, doesn’t leave us in the corruption of sin and death: Repeatedly, He calls us back to life with Him.  We hear this truth repeated every Divine Liturgy.  We see this truth in His relationship with Israel.  We embrace this truth in Holy Baptism, becoming part of the New Israel as we are born anew of water and the spirt.

At the present, now, before His glorious Second Coming, it’s we who must, in a sense, judge ourselves through our choices foror againstGod.  This doesn’t mean that we make it up as we go along: All such relativism and subjectivism of our sins or even of the Orthodox Faith, leads to delusion and our own prideful self-condemnation and willful separation from God’s life.

Instead, when we speak of judging ourselves, we mean that our pilgrimage of life with God is dynamic and active: we are activelyrepenting, we are bringing our sins before God in regular confession, we are praying for God’s mercy on us, we are seeking His healing from our sin-sickness and passions, we’re confessing our negligence of our divine calling of adoption, we’re confessing and repenting of our inaction towards God, our church, and the world around us.

This judgment of ourselves, this activerepentance, we engage in nowso that come the Last and Final Judgmentwe may be spared from separation from Christ.  The Ikos of Canticle Six from Matins for today says, “O Lord supreme in love, as I think upon Thy fearful judgment-seat and the day of Judgment, I tremble and am full of fear, for I am accused by my own conscience.“

Moment by moment, repentance and regular sacramental confession purges us of our sin and heals our conscience even as it aids us in our growth in faith.  In this way, we experience more of God’s love as we humble ourselves through submission to the life in Christ in His Church.  In this way, we’re saved from condemnation at Christ’s dread judgment seat.  At the same time, Christ in His mercy heals us of our sin-sickness, grows us into the men and women of God He’s called us to be.  By this mercy, we come to enjoy the blessed life with God, the filling of that emptiness within us that only God ismeantto fill and, indeed, that only God canfill.

Back to the question about love: What we really need to ask is not how God canjudge; He’s holy, He created us, He’s without sin.  He’s the only One who canjudge.  What we need to ask is: How is it love, if we look sin in the eye and don’t address it in our own lives, subjectify it, or refrain from speaking the truth with others whom we love?   We can do so without judging them, for judgment is an attitude of the heart, an attitude of ultimate condemnation, but if we don’t understand sin and its sad consequences on us, on them, or subjectively decide that we can define sin for ourselves, then we’re keeping ourselves and others from the very freedom fromsin that leads to ourand theirhealing, salvation, and eternal life with God.  In short, denial of the reality of the Last Judgment, of the consequences of sin, is a rejection of life, a rejection of the possibility of glory.  And that, brothers and sisters, is no love but only self-condemnation.  

Now the season is upon us to take Christ’s words to heart and apply the teaching of His Body the Church to our daily lives. Now is the time for us to ready ourselves to purge the passions and sin from our lives, to struggle more earnestly to grow to love and serve Him, His Church, and our fellow man.  If we’re to make the most of this holy season, we prepare ourselves, our families, our homes (our ‘little churches’) now so that we are ready to go into the desert with Christ during the 40 days of our Lenten journey.  Now is the time we prioritize Christ and His Church on our calendars.  Now is the time to speak with your priest about your participation and fasting so that you can make the most of this opportunity for deification, growth, healing, and salvation.  

Christ God beckons us, “Come!”  Our faith in Christ, our love for God, is manifest in the spiritual fruit we produce in cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s work in us and through us. If we are faithful in this struggle, then, on that Last Day, by God’s grace, we’ll hear from Him those joyous words we sang at Vespers for this Sunday, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.”

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church 

Sunday, 23 February 2020—Sunday of the Last Judgment

Epistle:            I Corinthians 8:8-9:2

Gospel:            Matthew 25:31-46