Monday, 27 February 2006

Sunday of the Abstention from Meat

Sunday was the Sunday of Abstention from Meat, eight days before the beginning of Lent. The Gospel reading was the Gospel of the Last Judgement, when Jesus Christ will sit on his throne and separate the sheep from the goats. We would like to say a few words about how the Orthodox Christian views the Last Judgement. One way to view the Last Judgement is with indifference. That is not suitable. The next way is with fear. A little fear never hurt anyone. The next way is to await a reward for one's good deeds. The final way is to await the Last Judgement in an expectant attitude of love, as the good and faithful servant. This is the best way.

We have been discussing Elder Porphyrios' remarks in Wounded by Love in the last few posts, so let us remark on how he approached his end. In his testament, he stated that he viewed himself as the worst of sinners. That is remarkable. Elder Porphyrios was a saint and a miracle worker. But, he said, although he was the worst of sinners, he left himself in the hands of the love that Jesus Christ has, resigning himself to the best that Jesus thought for him. Forty days after his death, Elder Porphyrios healed a group of heart patients, the first major miracle after his passing.

We say this because we want to point out that there is a way to view the Last Judgement which is not suitable. This is with an attitude of arrogance: I'm saved, whatever I do, and you're not. What I should do is put you up against the wall until you get saved too. Then we can both be saved whatever we do.

It takes work to arrive at a love which views the Last Judgement—and our own death is our own little Last Judgement—with love and expectancy. We start off with an attitude of fear, working our way through the attitude of the worker expecting his wage, to the attitude of the son waiting to return to his Father and to his Brother Jesus. But to start off with an attitude of arrogance is to short-circuit the whole spiritual journey.

There is another part of the Gospel passage that interests us. This is the very famous statement by Jesus Christ that when he judges he will say to each one that he has done thus and so 'unto me'. And when the nations ask him, when did we do that to you, he will reply, 'As you did unto the least of my brethren, you did unto me.'

Why should it be so? Why should whatever we do unto the least of Jesus' brethren—the most sinful of clergymen, the most nondescript and lowly believer, the most tepid and lukewarm Orthodox Christian—be something that we have done unto Jesus himself? In this is a mystery, the mystery of Christian salvation. For as St John Chrysostom interprets Romans, when we are baptized with an Orthodox baptism, we die with Jesus Christ and shall surely live with him in a resurrection like his. It is our baptism that makes us members of the Body of Christ, whose head is Jesus. What these images convey is the intimate mystical union of Jesus with the Church, and with each believer, so that the body of believers comprises his body; and so that after our death, whatever we have done to the least member of the body of Jesus Christ is reckoned as having been done unto Jesus himself.

We can now see a little more clearly the role of love in our expectation of the Last Judgement: In cultivating true Christian charity—not sentimental affectionateness and backslapping—for each member of the Church, we are cultivating love for our Master, Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is a classic rule of discernment based on the Gospel: when someone comes to you as a Hesychast saint, look at his fruits: does he have real Christian charity? Not just in his words, but in his deeds? We don't look at the clothing of his words, but at the heart of his actions: does he show true Christian charity?

Moreover, in our own lives, do we cultivate true Christian charity towards our brother—and, as St Paul says, towards all men, starting first with the household of faith—or are we merely pretending to pray to our Master: 'Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.'? If we cultivate true Christian charity, it will spill over into our hearts and we will no longer fear the Last Judgement, but as sinners awaiting the mercy of their Master, we will say: Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.


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