I really like words. In his classic book, On the Priesthood, Saint John Chrysostom in his advice to your priests, said, “words are you weapons, learn how to use them.”
I especially like words that carry an impact, words with clout, yet words that are really are not a large part of our daily conversational language. The one word that’s been on my mind recently is jarring. It’s a good word; I like it. Jarring usually occurs when there is some sort of upheaval in our life; sickness and death will certainly jar us. Unfortunately, thinking about judgment doesn’t jar us, but it should; it absolutely must.
So, we have arrived at still another Sunday of the Final Judgment, this the 2019 edition. We know the story of the Final Judgment pretty well by now; it is quoted extensively. Its themes and admonitions are quite familiar to us. The story (Matthew 25:31-46) determines everything, for everybody, and forever; not too much gray area.
But is it jarring to us? I think not.
Know that at the end of our earthly journey, and we die, we are immediately in the presence of the glorified and risen Christ. That’s Orthodox dogma, so there is no discussion necessary; and it is certainly non-negotiable.
Think about our legal system these days. There is a jury, a judge, a prosecutor, a defense lawyer; then there are appeals, mistrials, retrials. At the end, finally, there will be a conviction or an acquittal. What a strange judgment this is, Chrysostom adds. When Christ returns, and separates the sheep from the goats, that is what remains: conviction or acquittal. We understand that our judgement will be based solely on whether we loved, or not. The only way we can prove our love for God, is by loving our neighbor.
Saint John Climacus, who we will hear again from in a few weeks, says that man’s mind and heart “is irrigated by the putrid sewage of our his own vainglory.”
What has happened is that our hearts have been darkened by sin and have become corrupted. The attachment to sin, passions, and love of self, and the unbelief that God loves us, and only desires that we love him in return, sadly, doesn’t move the needle much. Man has lost his sensitivity to be kind, gentle, compassionate – and ultimately, to love and to be like God.
Saint Cyprian of Carthage was a bishop from northern Africa who lived in the third century.
He contends that we can die as a martyr and still not be saved. He lists vanity, pride, and the judging of others as reasons why.
The teaching on the Final Judgment needs to shake us up. Sickness, death, and judgment are life events – and they are all jarring.
Father Marc Vranes
Sermon delivered on March 3, 2019
Holy Trinity Orthodox Church