Meat Fare Sunday
During the preceding two Sundays of this pre-Lenten period, we focused on God’s patience and limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept and forgive every sinner who returns to Him. Today, we are powerfully reminded of a complementary truth: no one is as patient and merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. The God of love is also a God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our Judge. Such is the message of Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes.
In today’s Gospel, Christ tells us in what manner we will be judged when He returns. Rather than pointing out that the righteous will consist of those who simply ‘believe’ in God and lead a good life, or even those who go to Church every Sunday, Christ tells us that it is not solely our faith, but also our actions that will determine our final destination. Jesus is more concerned about how we act toward those around us, and in particular, towards those less fortunate.
One of the important things that Christ teaches us through His message is that whatever we do to the next person, we do the same to Him. And it brings up the important fact that the true Orthodox Christian is the one who sees Christ in everyone. All are created in the image and likeness of God; we are all (or at least strive to be) living icons of Christ. And it’s when we recognize that image of Christ in everyone (including our ‘enemies’) that we take a step closer to residing in the mansions of the Father that have been prepared for us.
Christian love is the “possible impossibility”, to see Christ in another person, whoever he or she is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into our lives, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed” or an exercise in charity, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself.
The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love—the recognition in them of their unique soul. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ’s love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged.
The Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior. But the judgment is not only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.
The next time that we set out to destroy someone’s reputation, break someone’s heart, show indifference and even ignorance toward a person, or spitefully gossip about someone, remember that Christ says that we’re doing exactly the same thing to Him! Whatever we do wrong to the next person, will count against us when the Righteous Judge returns. We Christians can sometimes be judgmental toward those around us, and yet we don’t stop to think that this will reflect on Christ Himself. We take the duty of the Judge and make judgement against the Saviour. We really need to see that icon of Christ in everyone, no matter who they are.
We also need to ACT as Christians, and what this means is pouring out our hearts and resources to those less fortunate around us. Great and Holy Lent is a time for repentance, change, and renewal in our lives. It’s also a time to evaluate what we have done in terms of caring for our neighbor.
We need to recognize Jesus in the men and women we meet – even those whom we would never associate. Many saints have had the experience of meeting Jesus in the least likely of places, as Jesus resides in the least likely of human beings.
All men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ, the perfect image of God, dwells in all of us. We find Christ in our neighbor, and not least in our neighbor who is in any kind of need. If Lent is a time when the thought of judgment should spur us to repentance, then authentic repentance leads us to put love into practice in our daily living and in all our relationships. Set the example!
Liturgy after the Liturgy
“Let us Depart in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us Depart in peace,” are not a comforting conclusion, they are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us Depart in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, however, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.
This, then, is an aim of the Liturgy: We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. The Orthodox Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, sees everywhere Christ and rejoices in him, at least we should be. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.
We are to return to the world not just with our eyes open, but with our heart and hands strengthened. So, we are not only to see Christ in all human persons, but we are to serve Christ, to minister to him, in all human persons.
St. John Chrysostom foresees this liturgy after the Liturgy in this way. There are, he says, two altars. There is, in the first place, the altar in church, and towards this altar we show deep reverence. We bow in front of it. We decorate it with silver and gold. We cover it with precious hangings. But, continues St. John, there is another altar, an altar that we encounter every day, on which we can offer sacrifice at any moment. And yet towards this second altar, an altar which God himself has made, we show no reverence at all. We treat it with contempt. We ignore it. And what is this second altar? It is, says St. John Chrysostom, the poor, the suffering, those in need, the homeless, all who are in distress. At any moment, he says, when you go out from this church (our Church, Holy Myrrhbearers), there you will see an altar on which you can offer sacrifice, a living altar made by Christ.