Today is the next to the last Sunday before Great Lent and is called Meatfare Sunday. Again, the Holy Church takes special care to dispose us to actively repent.
The Holy Church edified us in the two preceding weeks with clear examples of how to fast properly and what repentance should be like. However, lest we think that we can do anything and think whatever comes to our minds, expecting the Lord to forgive unconditionally, we are reminded that the Lord is not only infinitely merciful (for He sent His Only-begotten Son to save the human race), but is also infinitely just.
All this is described concisely and to the point in today’s fearsome and majestic Gospel reading which tells about the Lord’s Second Coming and ends with two verdicts. Those who were on His right hand, that is the right side, heard, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...” (Mt. 25:34). The whole aim of God’s Providence after the fall of man has been to prepare the Kingdom of God for the people who had lost Paradise. We should think how the Lord created Paradise for the first people, where it was, and compare it to the Kingdom of Heaven and where it is! In Holy Scripture, it does not say that the angels lived in Paradise, although apparently they were there, but their real home was HEAVEN. That means that man lost Paradise (which was on earth), but is to gain HEAVEN instead of Paradise, that is, he received more than what he lost.
Getting back to the Gospel description of the Last Judgment... “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mt. 25:41) The reading ends with these words, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Mt. 25:46).
Even the most insensitive soul would not shudder at the mere mention of such a truly fearsome prospect. The Holy Church teaches us that in actuality it will be something that surpasses all our human understanding. It is worth noting that the Kingdom of Heaven is prepared for man in return for repentance, and eternal torments prepared for the devil and not for man, but man can receive them like a reward from the devil, in a way of speaking.
What wails of despair would be wrenched from those who during their lifetime mocked the faith and Church, either in word or thought, and even mocked the Last Judgment itself. They in their pride considered themselves to be ‘too smart’, ‘too all- knowing’, or ‘too highly educated’ to believe in what the Holy Church was teaching.
Human knowledge is based on the empirical method, drawn from experience, the gathering and research of facts, making up theories, etc. This all takes place in time, and the more time there is, the more knowledge...but the life of a man is just a few decades long, and his memory better be true. The devil has existed for many thousands of years, and his memory is unchanging since he is a spirit, so he knows all about our empirical knowledge, and he can use it to the detriment of our salvation.
All this will be made clear in the Last Judgment, and no human tongue would be able to express the infinite despair that will overtake the condemned. Everyone will see himself laid bare, and will realize that he is revealed to all, what kind of person he really is, in all his deeds and thoughts.
We all know the answer! We need to repent!
The power of true repentance is such that it blots out all our sins, as if they never existed, making white again the cloak of our human soul. Even the greatest sinner can show himself at the judgment and be proclaimed sinless and righteous. That is why the Holy Church reminds us of the Last Judgment before the start of Great Lent, so that we would rouse ourselves out of the light-minded complacency and sinful slumber in which we usually live, and decide to repent for real.
This, in the most general, concise, and basic terms, is the teaching of our Holy Orthodox Christian Church about the Final Judgment and the utmost need to repent, what She has always taught.
Unfortunately, this does not at all appeal to today’s “MODERN” man who “is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22), as the Apostle Paul so aptly put it. Today’s man wants to do whatever he pleases, with impunity, without apology, without any thought to possible consequences.
So in our evil times, we are witnessing the rise of a completely new and heretofore unheard of teaching in our Church, that the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment are to be understood in some ‘allegorical’, ‘metaphorical’ way, that is, not literally. Those who spread this teaching totally and with great aplomb ignore Holy Scripture, claiming that it was all made up by ‘ignorant’ fanatical monks.
Already long ago, our Fathers of the Church warned of the cunning of Satan and his servants who in the latter times would use texts from Holy Scripture with distorted interpretations. (Indeed, all sects are based on distorted interpretations.)
Therefore, the only true way for us to gain salvation is not to philosophize cunningly, but in all things follow the age-old, unchanging teaching of our Holy Orthodox Church – believe as ALL people ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE believed (St. Vincent of Lerins), and drive out of our midst all the new false-teachers, even though they may hold church ranks and wear sacred vestments.
We know from the Word of God that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Amen.