Today marks the Sunday of the Last Judgment in the Orthodox Church. Often called Meat-Fare Sunday (as we begin our abstaining from animal products this week with meat only), it is the third Sunday using the Triodion (the liturgical book containing the prayers and hymns for the entire Lenten season leading up to Pascha).

In Matthew 25:31-46, a parable is told by Christ about His second coming and the Last Judgment.847315000_13adb5a483_z

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one form another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous will answer Him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me. Then they will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You? Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to Me. And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

What is the criteria for the Last Judgment? What is the meaning of this parable? LOVE. It is imperative that we love any person that God places in our path during this earthly life. Not just our parents, children and spouse.  We, as Christians, are called to care for all of society, every person, every walk of life. Christian love is the ability to see Christ in everyone we meet – YES, even those that do not show love to us. Even those that show us only contempt. Even those whose physical appearance, social status, and way of life does not match our own. For in each person we encounter, each relationship we have, is an opportunity to not only bring us close to that person, but to God Himself.

There are people who are hard to love or show love to. Whether it be our parent, brother, neighbor, or the politicians practicing ways of life in opposition to Christ.  Whether it be a sister, a child, a cranky clerk at the store, or someone who has physically harmed you. Whether it be a spouse, a cousin, a beggar, or someone that has been responsible for the death of another.  What of these? You know who they are.  That person or persons that bring up anxiety and pain within your heart.  What of these?  These are the ones we need to pray for - for in prayer we are loving them.  We are lifting them up to God.  And in that prayer, we just may find other ways to show love to them - for not only are we lifting them up to God, we are lifting up ourselves to God.  For in loving others, we are loving Christ.

 

  Kondakion (Tone 1)

When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory,

All things shall tremble

And the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat;

The books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed!

Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,

And make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, righteous Judge

Resources and Other Sources of Interest:

Sunday of the Last Judgment

The Third Sunday of the Triodion Period: Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday)

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

On this third Sunday of preparation for Lent, we read the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32.  This Sunday's theme, as was last week on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, is repentance.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670 (detail)

 

Jesus tells the parable of a man with two sons.  The youngest son asks for his inheritance, leaves home and squanders it away.  He is left with nothing and nowhere to go.  Finding a job feeding swine and still finding himself hungry, he realizes that his father's hired servants always had enough to eat.  He decides to go home and ask his father for a job.  But upon his arrival, his father welcomes him and chooses to celebrate saying, "For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 20-24). They have a feast! The older son, coming in from working that day wonders what the celebration is for and becomes resentful upon learning it is for his brother.  He has been ever faithful to his father and his father has never given him such a celebration.  Yet this brother, who squandered all he was given is honored with a lavish feast!  The father says to his angry son, "You are always with me, and all that I have is yours," but explains that his brother is cause for celebration as "your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (vv. 31-32)

The parable demonstrates that repentance is a man's return from exile.  Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent:  Journey to Pashca  "A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance."  The prodigal son felt his exile.  He was enslaved to strangers and hunger.  He returned back, repentant, to his father's home, admitting his sin.

This parable offers hope to those who have fallen into despair with their sinful ways. It allows us to see that we must recognize and admit to our own sinful ways and return to God through repentance.  Just as the father of the prodigal son hoped and waited for the return of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father is patiently waiting our return to Him.

I think we can look at this parable in two ways. The obvious one is described above- that of repentance and the need to repent of our own sins. But I also see forgiveness being taught here...do you?

As much as we are the prodigal sons of God who must look into our souls and see the sin there and repent of it- we must also look around at the prodigals around us - AND FORGIVE THEM.  Just as the father took his son in and celebrated with a big feast- we must recognize the prodigals around us and take them in.  They may not always be as recognizable as the prodigal son who came home, homeless, hungry and shamed. That doesn't release us of our need to forgive them.  It is not up to us to determine if someone is truly repentant  or not.  It is up to us to forgive them.  For in our inability, or rather stubbornness, to do so, we are also being sinful. And then it goes around again- we must be repentant of our sinful nature to hold grudges, anger and resentment.

So take this opportunity as Lent approaches.  Look into your heart.  What sins must you overcome?  Is there someone you need to forgive?  Or someone you must ask forgiveness of?

Kontakion: (Tone 3)

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.

 

Sources and Related Resources:

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

The Second Sunday of the Triodion Period: The Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Repentance of the Prodigal


*Note:  The above book, Engaging Today's Prodigal, is NOT an Orthodox source.  However, this reader did find much benefit in its contents and would recommend it highly.

 

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Icon of The Pharisee and the Publican https://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/

Today is the first Sunday of a three-week period before Great Lent in the Orthodox Church. This is a preparatory time for the spiritual journey of Lent. It is a time that Orthodox Christians attempt to draw closer to God through worship, prayer, fasting, and acts of charity(Note: This is not the only time we do that - it’s just a time we set in the church year to be particularly mindful of it.) The Triodion, a special liturgical book used during the Lenten period, will be used today as it contains the hymns, prayers, and services of Lent held between this Sunday and Pascha Sunday. ...continue reading "Sunday Reflections – The Publican and the Pharisee"