Homily for 3/10/13 - Last Judgtement
- Once a year, before we enter Great Lent, we get this same “wake up
call”. We are reminded of the final and great judgment which we will all
face. But this is not a reminder to make us afraid, rather it is a
reminder so that we might not fall into idleness but continue to be
alert and attentive in our lives and to help us focus all our energies
on that which is truly needful - the salvation of the soul.
The Great Judgment is not a special cruel and unusual torture designed
by God to keep us all “in line”, it is not some fearful pendulum of doom
hanging over our heads. It is, rather, the reminder that there is an
endpoint to this life and to this world. It is a cry and call to prepare
ourselves so that when that time comes, we can meet it with confidence,
even with joy, not fear or anxiety. This “endpoint” marks the transition
from the world as we know it today: fallen, imperfect, subject to
corruption, filled with creatures who are ruled by their bodily passions
and fears into the world which will be restored to the state in which it
was created: a place, immortal and everlasting, which expresses the
glory of God, filled with creatures who are ruled by God’s grace. Thus
we hear that in the world to come, the lion and the lamb will lie down
together and that there will no longer be strife in the world. This is
the world in which God will again walk with us as He walked with our
first parents, Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise. This is the world
for which we hope and desire. This is the heavenly Jerusalem which shall
descend upon the earth at the time of Christ’s coming. The Great
Judgment is the portal into this world, it is the gate that leads us
into this great and eternal paradise.
However, in order to approach and pass through that gate we must be
prepared. For that we are given our life on this earth as a time of
preparation. We prepare for this event first by being cleansed of our
sins which tie us down and make it impossible to pass through that
portal into paradise. We accomplish this by confession and repentance -
in other words, we acknowledge and recognize our sins and then we turn
away from them, eliminating them from our lives, resisting the
temptation to return to them. This is the essence of confession and
repentance, and God gives to us His grace to help in this task. When we
confess our sins, when we bring them to the priest in the sacrament of
confession, God forgives our sins and through the prayers of the priest
He showers down upon us the grace of His Holy Spirit which rejuvenate
us, heals us and strengthens us so that we can meet the next temptation
to the same sin with a renewed resistance and with greater strength. In
this way we grow and develop spiritually.
It is not enough, however, simply to eliminate sin. Whenever we
eliminate something from our being a great “hole” is left, a vacuum that
must be filled. The vacuum that remains when we eliminate sin from our
lives must be filled by the qualities that bring us nearer to God rather
than separate us from Him. Those qualities are what we call the virtues
- such as humility, mercy, forgiveness of others, holiness, and so on.
The life filled with virtues is described for us by the beatitudes in
the Gospel (Matthew 5: 3-12) which we also sing at each liturgy.
The discipline of developing the virtues is much more than just
eliminating sin. We first must detach ourselves from the things of this
world which, though not sinful in themselves, tend to inflame the
passions which lead us into sin. For this we have the discipline of self
denial - most commonly practiced in fasting. It is only appropriate that
we should recall this right before the beginning of the Great Fast. By
fasting, we purposefully and in an orderly and disciplined fashion
abstain for a period from those things which can be used to strengthen
the passions. We discipline first of all the belly which demands to be
filled with delicacies and inordinate quantities of fine foods but which
must be satisfied with simple and basic foods in moderate amounts. We
discipline the tongue and indeed the whole body by our increased prayers
during the fast when rather than idle or sinful talk we engage in
speaking the soul strengthening words of the prayers and hymns of the
Church. St John Chrysostom also instructs us in a manner of fasting
which is beneficial to the whole soul:
“Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see a poor man, take pity on him.
If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him.
Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the
feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is
Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and
devour our brothers?
May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to
complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us.”
It is by such a fast that we not only detach ourselves from the world
but by which the virtues are planted, nurtured and developed within us.
Although, during the fast we attend more frequently and more intently to
these things, in fact our whole lives should be focused on the positive
development of the our soul. God does not want us to be afraid of Him as
a powerful and arbitrary master, rather He desires that we love Him as a
kind and compassionate Father. He warns us of the coming judgment not to
strike fear into our hearts, but rather to inflame us with a greater
desire and zeal toward the working out of our salvation. He wants us to
succeed and gives us every aid and help to do so. The Second Coming of
Christ in glory and the Great and Final Judgment will be events of great
awesomeness, filled with wonder and the power of God. If we are not
ready, if we have wasted our lives in idleness thinking that there will
always be more time to repent - or if in fact we have chosen to reject
God, to serve ourselves, our own desires and passions, instead of Him
then this great and awesome event will awaken the fear of judgment
within our hearts. But if we have instead spent this life serving God,
working to cleanse our soul of sin, and to free ourselves from the
things of this world, developing within ourselves the virtues which make
us like Him, then we this great and awesome event will awaken within us
great joy, such as we have never known and we will rush to meet Him as
He comes and stand before Him with hope, not in our own strength and
worthiness, but in the grace that He has bestowed upon us Himself which
we have assimilated and made a part of our very being, becoming like Him
inasmuch as it is possible. This is the Great Judgment that brings not
fear but joy that does not crush us under its weight but which opens the
gates to paradise. Today we hear as if from far in the future the words
that we hope for at the Great Judgment, “Well done my good and faithful
servant, enter thou into my Kingdom”. Those words, that hope is our
encouragement, it is that which spurs us on to even greater efforts,
preparing with anticipation for the day when we shall hear them from the
lips of God Himself and when we shall be conducted by His Holy Angels
into His everlasting presence.
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)