In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ today is the Sunday of the Last Judgment.
In today’s Gospel we hear of the dread and final Judgment of God. The Gospel describes for us the criteria by which each of us will be judged. That is that we will be judged by what we have done to our fellow man. Specifically, the criteria is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and being a friend to the stranger, clothing those that are naked and visiting those that are sick or in prison. The Gospel makes it clear that there is no salvation without helping our fellow man.
Many of us would like to ignore this Gospel because it makes us uncomfortable. We would like to believe that all we need to do is believe in the Lord Jesus and we will be saved. We must not only have belief but, we also must have action or works. In the Epistle of the Holy Apostle James it says “What does it profit, …though a man say he has faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? …Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead,… show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)”
Our faith is tested by the Lord by those that we encounter that have needs. This is a great struggle for us should I help the person or should I continue on my way. In Proverbs it says “He that has pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord, and that which he has given will He pay him again.” (Proverbs 19:27)
In these encounters we are reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable we are asked what or who is our neighbor. The Samaritan is the neighbor in the parable because he stops what he is doing and helps the injured man. This parable brings the great commandment to our attention “Thou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your strength, and with all you mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
The great commandment shows us that our love for God is demonstrated by being a neighbor to our fellow man or that through helping our fellow man we receive our salvation. If we fail to be a neighbor to our fellow man we have failed to love God. There are consequences for this failure to love God above all else through our treatment of our fellow man. Saint Basil the Great reminds of the permanence of these consequences in his treatise On the Last Judgment, “If there is any end to eternal torment, then it follows that there is an end to eternal life. But, as it is impossible to image an end to eternal life, how is it impossible to imagine an end to eternal torment?”
God would have that all men be saved as it says in the Epistle to Timothy “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4) but this Gospel makes it clear that our choices either save or condemn us. It is through our choices that we make our own hell or salvation.
The pain of sin is experienced in this life is a foretaste of the eternal torment to call us to repentance. The Book of Job reminds us of this foretaste in the passage “The wicked man travails with pain all his days…A dreadful sound is in his ears…. He believes not that he shall return out of darkness,…Trouble and anguish shall make him afraid;…For he stretches out his hand against God…” (Job 15:20-25).
The choices that we make to embrace our neighbor in order to embrace God or to embrace ourselves that results in eternal torment is often a struggle for us. The Teachings of the Desert Fathers has the following story to help us with this struggle. “They asked some great elder: ‘How, father, do you so patiently bear such labors?’ The elder replied ‘All my toil in this life is not equal to one day of torment.’”
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ my prayer for each of us is that we struggle with our service to our neighbors that we may serve the Lord our God and receive salvation so that we may eternally “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad” (Matthew 5:12).
Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Steelton, PA on the Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday) 2012.