Meatfare Sunday 2009 - A Sermon of Metropolitan Moses
Meatfare Sunday 200
A Sermon of Metropolitan Moses
On the Last Judgment
We preach salvation in Christ Jesus, the God-Man Who came to renew our nature. Our Christ became incarnate in order to free us from sin and death through our union with Him. Our Savior proclaimed “he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” He came as the ultimate Physician to grant us the ultimate healing, that is, eternal life that is sanctified in Him. He alone can accomplish this.
We have initiated this union through Holy Baptism and our participation in the Eucharist, but we still struggle against sin. Our Savior said, “whosoever sins is a slave of sin.” Through error and the resulting bad choices any one of us can become once again captive to sin.
In the themes of the last two Sunday’s God’s mercy was made manifest in the Publican who humbly asked for forgiveness and the repentant Prodigal who took ownership for his sin and came to his father’s house in total abasement, deeming himself unworthy of any rank or status and was restored with all of the symbols of baptism being given unto him. In order to prevent us from becoming lazy or complacent upon hearing of the mercy of God, the Holy Fathers in their wisdom set forth this Sunday to commemorate the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. Our God desires to show us mercy, but we can make wrong choices that ultimately cause us to fail.
It is important to note that our Savior will send off those that are rejected to the “fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” that is, the fire was not prepared for men. Christ came to call all of mankind to Himself. Satan, the father of lies and sin is also the father of separation from God. This fire is prepared for those that choose to reject the counsel of God and follow the counsel of Satan.
The service of Vespers and Matins for this Sunday are replete with words to bring us all to an awareness of how sinful we really are and that the Final judgment is real. Yet, in this Gospel reading, our Savior does not list the sins that most people would think of that would separate one from God. There is no mention made of murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars, slanderers, and or those that rebel against God and spread false doctrine. This is an indication that those that are not members of the Church and have not repented will not even be in this company of those that are to be divided up. In addition, our Savior does not speak in a parable, but simply says that at His Second Coming it shall be thus.
To put the message of today’s Gospel as simply as possible, our Savior teaches us that if we are to be united to the God of love, we must show love to our neighbor on a practical level. In that day He will say, ‘When I was naked hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison ye ministered unto Me’ or ‘When I was naked hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison ye ministered not unto Me.’ In the Gospel account, both parties are surprised when they hear this and say ‘when did I minister unto you Lord’ or ‘when did I not minister unto you, Lord?’ And our Savior will answer, ‘when you did so unto the least of your brethren.’ This is an amazing concept, our Christ counts what we do to our neighbor as done to Himself. Again, when you give to your neighbor or show kindness to him or her, you give to Christ.
If someone were to tell you that they had an investment plan for you that would repay you for as long as you live, even unto eternity and you knew that his words were true, wouldn’t you invest in this plan? Our Investment planner is the God-Man Himself and His words are true. Give unto Christ and get the ultimate return. If only we understood this, we would show mercy and love and give our help. Satan is the ultimate scam artist that seeks to defraud us of our salvation. The evil one confuses us and leads us to trivialize how we interact with our spouse, our children and our neighbor to our own loss.
Sometimes help is not something extravagant. There is a saying, ‘if you don’t have a hundred dollars, give ten, if you don’t have ten, give one, if you don’t have one, give a kind word and sympathy.’ There is always a way to show mercy and give comfort to those in distress or support for those who are down.
God desires that all men be freed from sin and death. If there is a man chained in sins and he is powerless to free himself, almsgiving is an effective therapy for the cure. If such a man gives alms praying that some how, some day he will be set free, and if that man does not trivialize or justify himself and has pain in his heart over his sin, that man has a hope for salvation. It is through mercy that we attract the grace of God and this is testified by examples found the lives of the saints.
Saint Boniface was enslaved by sins of dissipation, living in drunkenness and an unlawful union with an aristocratic woman named Aglais, yet he was merciful and hospitable and generously gave alms. He did not justify or trivialize his sin, but he hoped in God’s mercy. He prayed that somehow God would give him the opportunity to be freed from his sin. After some time, he and Aglais decided to obtain the relics of a martyr from the east where the persecution was still raging, and build a shrine to that saint for the forgiveness of their sins. Saint Boniface himself went on this expedition and fasted and prayed during the journey. When he arrived at their destination he went directly to the local arena and immediately began to encourage the Christian confessors to be steadfast. He was noticed by the pagan authority and was arrested and confessed Christ and endured many torments and was beheaded. The love Saint Boniface showed in his acts of mercy strengthened his heart, and readied him for his ultimate contest. According to the marvelous providence of God, instead of finding a saint, he became a saint. Saint Boniface’s friends took his remains back to Italy and the Lady Aglais built a shrine in his honor, gave away her riches to the poor and lived as an ascetic at the shrine, being greatly consoled by the martyr’s grace.
We see how alms can be effective, yet we must understand that we don’t buy God’s mercy with alms, rather alms are an offering. For our offering to be accepted, we must present it properly, that is, with a “broken and humble heart.” (Psalm 50) In other words, we cannot expect alms to do away with our sin if we justify or trivialize our sin.
In many of his homilies Saint John Chrysostom makes the point that God does not need anyone’s alms. He can provide for the poor without us. What is marvelous is that He gives the faithful the opportunity to minister to Himself through the poor and the oppressed. To be able to give alms is a great gift from God. It was the practical application in day-to-day life of this concept in the Church that converted many people.
For example, it is mentioned in the life of Saint Pachomius that while he was still a young man and a pagan he was forcibly conscripted into the Roman army. In those days the new conscripts were no different than prisoners. They were brought to what amounted to a barracks jail and that evening Christians came to offer them food and water and comfort. He asked what kind of people these were, and the reply was that these were Christians and that is what Christians do.
This was the era when Christians in Alexandria of Egypt were persecuted in various ways from time to time. On occasion a contagious illness or plague would sweep through those parts and there were Christian “zealots” around the parts of Alexandria that would minister to those that were abandoned by their families because of these illnesses. On some occasions, a former persecutor would be abandoned by his family, only to be ministered to by one of the Christians he had formerly persecuted. It was such behavior that converted the Mediterranean world. Such is Christian philosophy.
We have to understand that all of the virtues are really a therapy to cleanse us from sin and sanctify us through greater union with God. The virtues are nothing to boast of, but rather to be thankful for. Without God we would not even be able to begin to even think about the virtues, let alone practice them. All of our efforts are done by the grace of God,
To reiterate the list from today’s Gospel reading our Savior basically said, ‘When I was naked, hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison ye ministered unto Me, or, ye ministered not unto Me.’
The list is not just about alms. If one treats those around him terribly and then sends donations to far away places, then that person does not understand what our Savior is teaching. There is nothing wrong with helping to support the poor in far away places, but it is not enough. If a father harms a son and then ministers to strangers and then does little or nothing to remedy the damage at home, he is deceived. Love begins at home, love begins with our neighbor and not simply with causes that are so far away that there is little to no human interaction where we can come face to face with our weaknesses. That is why it is so important for laity to settle in a parish community. Lay folk can make pilgrimages to monastic communities, but they are not monastics, and therefore are not members of a monastic community. If a layperson runs from the local parish, that layperson runs from spiritual growth. It is in giving of oneself on a regular basis that we show our love to our Christ. We struggle with the shortcomings of our neighbor and minister to him or her because that is Christ.
To give alms with knowledge is to commune with Christ. One of the most moving images from the lives of the saints is found in the life of Saint Martin of Tours when he had nothing to give a beggar and he cut his military cape in half and gave it to him. That night Saint Martin saw a vision of our Savior and our Savior Himself was wearing that same portion of the cape and He blessed Saint Martin.
I remember another story that concerned a pious Russian village during wartime. There were foreign soldiers that were being taken through the village and of course these were the enemy. Yet, all of the villagers rushed to give food and water and some form of comfort to the prisoners of war in order to receive a blessing. Look to the right and to the left and find that there is Christ in your brother and sister.
There are other Scripture references to the final judgment. In the 7th chapter of Saint Matthew our Savior says, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in the Heavens. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Thy name? and in Thy name cast out demons? and in Thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt7:21-23)
This refers to those that think that they are serving God and, because they do not examine their own conscience, they do not understand that they are only serving their own passions and lusts. There are many different types of lust, the lust to rule, the lust to power, the lust to be in the first place, lust for money, lust for fame or notoriety, etc.
Men that are afflicted with these passions put their own interests above the interests of the Church. All of this is rooted in pride, which is the source of all problems in the Church, including heresy. In the above passage our Savior pointed out that miracles will not be enough to indicate if a person is on the right path. Miracles indeed are found in the Church of God. Yet, relics and wonderworking icons work miracles even when they are found in the hands of heretics. We do not rely exclusively on phenomena, but first we rely on Apostolic Tradition. Apostolic Tradition and the Holy Canons are our frame of reference for objective truth. We the Orthodox have indeed been consoled by miracles, but we have Apostolic Tradition as our Guide. Satan can appear as an angel of light and it has been predicted that the Anti-Christ will come with false wonders. This is the age when the spirit of the Anti-Christ is very powerful and there are many false spiritual leaders that put themselves before Christ and the Traditions that He gave us through the Apostles. Especially during these last times, all are required to practice spiritual vigilance.