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Σάββατο, 22 Φεβρουαρίου 2014

Meat-fare Sunday OR THE SECOND COMING (Matthew 25:3l-46)

   
The fathers of the Church, guided by  the Holy Spirit, consecrated the Triodion as a  time of preparation for the fast of Great Lent,  which in turn is to be a time of preparation for  the feast of our Lord's Resurrection. 

With this in mind, the Church teaches  us on the first Sunday νf Triodion that, if we  are humbled, God welcomes us into His  Presence, whereas, if we are proud He turns  His Face away from us. On the second  Sunday the Church gives us an example of  repentance in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

Today, the Gospel reminds us that we are  responsible for our acts and that one day we  will have to account to God for them and  furthermore, will be rewarded or punished  accordingly.  In today's Gospel our Lord refers to  three things. His Second Coming, the  Resurrection of the Dead, and the Last  Judgement. 

When our Lord lived on earth amongst  us He chose a position of great lowliness. He  was subjected to hardship and poverty. Many  of His fellow men despised and hated Him to  such an extent, that they eventually brought about His death on the Cross. But, although  our Lord died on the Cross, Hell was not able  to hold Him. On the third day He rose from  the dead, overcoming Death by His Death,  and giving new Life to the world. 

At His Second Coming, however,  things will be quite different. Surrounded by  His Angelic Hosts, He will come in glory,  seated on His Throne of Judgement. All the  nations and people will be gathered before  Him and no man, on that day, will be able to  hide from the Face of God. "And He will  separate them one from another as a shepherd  separates the sheep from the goats, and He  will place the sheep at His right hand, but the  goats at the left" (Matt. 25:32 33). 

It is of the utmost importance to know  that God created the Κingdom of Heaven  before He created the world (Matt. 25:34).  When He created man, He did so with the  intention that he should enjoy all the fruits of  the creation and participate in the glory of the  Κingdom of Heaven. God wanted man to be a  small ‘god’, just as He said "it is written that Ι  said, you are gods" (John l0:34). But man,  through disobedience, destroyed God’s plan  and found himself exiled away from God. In  his state of sin, he gradually moved further  and further away from God. Man is  responsible for all his actions, every one of  them, be they good or bad. Animals are not  responsible for their actions. Man, because he  was created in the "image and likeness" of God (Gen. l:26), has not only freedom to  choose what he will do, but also bears full  responsibility for the outcome of his actions.  It is exactly this freedom and responsibility  that distinguishes man from the animals. 

Concerning His Second Coming, our  Lord teaches us that it will be so awesome and  terrible that even the Aεgels will tremble with  terror. Before His universal court, all men's  consciences will be exposed, like so many  open books (DanieI7:9-ll). Each one will be  examined and judged according to his good  and bad deeds. Good deeds are those that give  glory to God and which are motivated by love  for Him and for our fellow men. Bad deeds  are those motivated by pride and self-love. 

They lead away from God and estrange us  from our fellow men.  If we look carefully at today's Gospel,  we shall notice that our Lord in describing the  examination and judgement of those brought  before Him, does not mention obvious mortal  sins, like e.g. murder, theft or adulatory, but  rather concentrates on the lack of compassion  and mercy for fellow men. This is because  one may lead an apparently virtuous life, not  murdering, not stealing nor worshipping false  gods, etc., but, if one lacks charity, one is  nothing in the eyes of God. Let us remember  what St Paul teaches us in l Corinthians, "if I  speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but  have not love, Ι am a noisy gong or a clanging  cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and  understand all mysteries and all knowledge,  and if Ι have all faith, so as to remove  mountains, but have not love, Ι am nothing. If  Ι give away all Ι have, and if Ι deliver my  body to be burned, but have not love, Ι gain  nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not  jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. 

Love does not insist on its own way; it is not  irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at  wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all  things, believes all things, hopes all things,  endures all things. Love never ends" (I  Corinth. l3:l-8). Sin, whatever form it takes or whatever  quality it has, is that which goes against the  Essence of God and which destroys His  likeness in man. 

For this reason sin, by its  very nature, is condemned. Any man who sins  and does not show repentance and does not  confesses is ensuring condemnation for  himself on the Day of Judgement. Our Lord  emphasises especially the condemnation of  those who failed to show love for their fellow  men. But at the same time He emphasises the  reward of those who, were compassionate.  Sinners find themselves condemned to  eternal punishment. In today's Gospel we see  that Hell was not in the first place created for  the punishment of mankind. It was created for  Satan and thus condemns himself to eternal  punishment. The just on the other hand will  enjoy the Κingdom of Heaven. They will be  saved because of their faith in and love for  Christ, which they made manifest in their acts  of mercy and compassion towards their fellow  men. Α good Christian loves Christ through  his fellow men. Christ comes to us in the form  of the poor, the sick, the orphans, the captives  and it is up to us whether we receive Him or  not.  In short we could say that today's 

Gospel teaches us three truths. First, that after  the Last Judgement there will be two real  spiritual conditions, namely eternal life and  everlasting death. Secondly, that God created  the Κingdom of Heaven for man, which was  prepared from the foundation of the world.  Hell was created only for Satan and his  angels. Sinners, of necessity, go to hell  because they do not do the Will of God, but  that of Satan. Thirdly, that our Salvation  depends on our faith in Christ and our love  towards our fellow men. As long as we are alive, we have the  opportunity to repent and to work out our  salvation. The moment we die, though,  judgement takes place, and our condition,  either joyful or sorrowful, is set for ever. St  Paul teaches us "and just as it is appointed for  men to die once, and after that comes  judgement" (Hebr. 9:27). 

Ι pray that we may all have as our aim  the love of Christ and our fellow men, and  that with hope and trust in the mercy of God,  we may come to enjoy the Κingdom of  Heaven that was prepared for us from the  beginning. Amen. 

By 
His Eminence  Metropolitan Panteleimon of   Antinoes

source: Orthodox Newsletter of St Theodore, Lanham 

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