Do We Really Believe?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:31-46)

Our Christian faith is requires conviction. One of the reasons that we celebrate and often remember the martyrs, those who die for their faith in Jesus Christ, is because of their courage and conviction. They believe in Jesus Christ with unshakeable belief. They have conviction in their faith. They believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He was crucified and that He defeated death itself and rose again from the dead. That is part of the Christian faith. We have to have this as a firm conviction. Likewise, as Christians we must also have a strong and unshakeable belief that this same Lord Jesus Christ will come again and will be seated on the throne to judge all nations and all people.

The One who descended to us in lowly human form will come again as a the radiant and victorious King of kings. The One whose victory began on the wood of the cross. This One comes again to judge all, the living and the dead. Today we find ourselves being reminded of these things that we often take for granted. The Church is a loving mother who doesn’t desire to see her children lost forever. She doesn’t want to see us confused and disoriented in life. She doesn’t want to see us drowned in the sorrows and cares of this life because there is more to life than this. This life is a beginning for us.

The Holy Orthodox Church doesn’t want her children to be unprepared or caught off guard. So she prepares us. As we are now about one week from the start of Great and Holy Lent, we are reminded that the king and judge of all is indeed coming and we will encounter Him. So in order to properly prepare us, the Church acts like a good tutor and gives us all of the questions for the upcoming final exam. But she goes a step further by also giving us the answers. The answers actually come directly from our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us who will be numbered among His sheep and who will be numbered among the goats. He separates them. But what are the criteria for being sorted into the two group? Only this: How do we treat those in need? The hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and the prisoners. In other words, those who are in the worst position in life. What do we do for those folks, how do we serve them, how do we love them? That’s it. It is elegantly and painfully simple. We won’t be judged by our bank accounts, or our titles or our social media reach or our beauty or our physical strength, but we will be judged on the beauty of our souls and the strength of our character as demonstrated through our service to those in need.

Listen to one of the hymns for this day,

“I think upon that day and hour when we shall all stand naked, like men condemned, before the Judge who accepts no man’s person. Then shall the trumpet sound aloud and the foundations of the earth shall quake, the dead shall rise from the tombs and all shall be gathered together from every generation. Then each man’s secrets will be manifest before thee: and those that have never repented shall weep and lament, departing to the outer fire; but with gladness and rejoicing the company of the righteous shall enter into the heavenly bridal chamber.

How shall it be in that hour and fearful day, when the Judge shall sit on his dread throne! The books shall be opened and men’s actions shall be examined, and the secrets of darkness shall be made public. Angels shall hasten to and fro, gathering all the nations. Come ye and hearken, kings and princes, slaves and free, sinners and righteous, rich and poor: for the Judge comes to pass sentence on the whole inhabited earth. And who shall bear to stand before his face in the presence of the angels, as they call us to account for our actions and our thoughts, whether by night or by day? How shall it be then in that hour! But before the end is here, make haste, my soul, and cry: O God who only art compassionate, turn me back and save me.” -Four Stichera at praises, Matins, Meatfare Sunday

We hear these things and we might say to ourselves, it seems a bit dark and foreboding. That is true, but only if we hear these things and remain unchanged. They are not given to scare you but to warn you of another reality that is more real than anything you think you can comprehend. When we are in the presence of God nothing can help us but the love we have acquired and shown to others. Love is what makes us able to stand in the presence of God because God is love.

Why should you wait until tomorrow to change or take your life more seriously? How do you know that tomorrow will come? Today is the day of salvation if you hear difficult and good words and you apply them to yourself with faith and conviction. Today is the day to receive new life and boldness before the throne of Christ. But we receive this by going out of our way to serve others whenever and in whatever way that we can. We can do this anywhere can’t we? We can practice by serving our families, our spouses, our brothers and sisters, our church community with great joy and enthusiasm. And then this joy will overwhelm us and energize us to go further out of our comfort zone to serve others is greater need. This is our path, my beloved. This path starts with self-denial. We start fasting for many reasons and one of them is in order to develop the ability to deny ourselves. The ability to give up our attachments and to think nothing of them.

St. John Chrysostom tells us that not only can we be saved but we can become equals to the apostles themselves through self-denial. He writes,

“The saying is not mine, but the blessed Paul’s. For when he had said, “Covet earnestly the best gifts, and yet I will show you a more excellent way; [1 Corinthians 12:31] he did not speak next of a sign, but of charity, the root of all our good things. If then we practice this, and all the self-denial that flows from it, we shall have no need of signs; even as on the other hand, if we do not practice it, we shall gain nothing by the signs.

Bearing in mind then all this, let us imitate those things whereby the apostles became great…. From all worldly things, therefore, let us withdraw ourselves, and dedicate ourselves to Christ, that we may both be made equal to the apostles according to His declaration, and may enjoy eternal life; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.”

+ St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46

Source: Sermons