Sunday of the Last Judgment - sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga
I was reading a quote this week from a famous secular man, who said that religion causes devisiveness. He further states that religion should have one purpose and that should be about helping your fellow man. If people would follow that religion then there would be world peace. Part of this quote is completely true. Our faith when it comes down to it, should be about helping our fellow man. However part of this quote is completely missing the point. This is a typical view of what people outside the Church believe that religion should be doing. Most people outside the faith adhere to a sense of Social Justice, where we can eliminate the poor, and remove all sorts of unfairness. This dream of removing all inequality around us sounds really nice. And yet, our faith, our Orthodoxy is not about bringing justice to society and removing all inequality. In fact, that is impossible as long as sin is the dominating force in our lives. Our faith is about more than that, it's about transforming each one of us as individuals.
This quote I began with really shows the modern shift in thought about what religion is all about. We hear nothing about what happens to us after we pass into the next life, but rather it only focuses about the here and now. This is why I chose to speak about it today because today we have the Gospel reading about the dread judgement. This is not something that we should take very lightly. We should "tremble at the fearful day of judgement", as we heard in the vigil last night. St Paisios the Athonite explains: "On the Day of Judgment, each person’s state will be revealed in an instant and each one will move on to where he deserves to be. Each person will observe his own wretched state like on a TV screen, as well as the other’s state. He will see himself reflected against the other and will bow his head in shame and thus move on to the place that he deserves." This judgement has everything to do with helping our fellow man. As we see in the Gospel we will be judged based on how we help those around us. We do not see anything about faith, belief, or anything else. Rather Christ focuses on love for the neglected among us.
In the gospel reading Christ separates those who have done good on his right, and those who have done evil on his left. He begins to praise those who have done good. He then proceeds to relate how they have fed Him how they clothed Him, or he was sick or in prison and they visited him. These men, being surprised at all these good works, ask when have they done this. Christ states that when they did it to the least of these, they did it to him. In fact this is actually what our judgement is all about. When we help those around us, in turn we show our love for God. In the same token, we see the humility in these men, who have no idea what they did was right. After this, the Gospel reading then turns to the wicked where Christ admonishes them for the good that they should have done, but rather did not do it. And they ask the same question, when did we not do these things? And this question is asked because they neglected and thought in their own hearts they were doing the right thing.
As we see, those who did good did not do it in order for gain. They did not do it to bring world peace or social change. They did good to their fellow man, because this is who they were. Being righteous was a part of their inner being. They just did the right thing. These righteous did the things they did not for any reward either. This is what we need to be in order to transform our lives. Each one of our good deeds transform us to be more Christ-like. And doing more and more good for those around us also transforms us to be more humble about it. It's like with anything in life, the first time we do something positive, we feel really good about ourselves, we feel like we are successful. This is our pride speaking to us. However, as we continue to do the same thing, that feeling of pride begins to fade and this becomes normal and natural to us. This is the mindset we should have as Orthodox Christians. Not to do things just for gain or to bring about social change or even for "getting into heaven", but rather to do good because that will bring us closer to God.
So as we approach Great Lent, we too should emulate those on Christ's right and show our love for our fellow man. We have time now, we should not be neglectful as those on the left of Christ were. Part of this begins with prayer and fasting, but the goal of prayer and fasting should be the love of our fellow neighbour. We need to start showing our love to those around us, those who are closest to us. I think it all begins with seeing each person around us as an icon of Christ, not as an enemy. We tend to view people who we don't get along with as wicked and start to gossip about them. Rather, we should show our love for them, even when we don't want to. If someone begins to gossip about that person, we should instead try to defend them or to not involve ourselves in that conversation. What a great witness would that be, if those around us would see our love for our neighbour, I believe that that would soften their hearts as well. This can also bring those people around us closer to Christ. Once this action takes root in our hearts this will become part of our daily life and we too will be like those on the right hand of Christ, doing what needs to be done without any question. And when it comes time for us to stand before Christ in the fearful day of judgement, if we have done these, we will hear: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"