The gospel reading for today:
Therefore, when the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his holy angels with him, then he will sit upon his throne of glory. And all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate them from each other just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I hungered and you gave me to eat; I thirsted and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you gathered me; naked and you clothed me; I was ill and you covered me; in prison and you came to me.’ Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and we fed you, or thirsting and we gave you to drink? When did we see you a stranger and we gathered you, or naked and we clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison and we came to you? And, answering, the King will say to them: ‘Amen, I say to you, inasmuch as you [pl.] did so to one of these brothers of mine, the least, you did so to me.’ Then he will also say to those on the left: ‘Go from me you cursed ones to the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink; I was a stranger and you did not gather me; naked and you did not clothe me; ill and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or ill or in prison and we did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them saying: ‘Amen, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do so to one of these least, neither did you do so to me.’ And they will go into eternal Hell, but the just into eternal life.
(Matthew 25, 31 – 46)
This gospel reading has some of the deepest thoughts of the whole Gospel. For the Gospel is not merely a matter of words but of spiritual meanings conveyed into our hearts. The Gospel renders spiritually present to us that of which it speaks. Here it speaks of the Last Judgement, rendering it present to us (as in a glass darkly). The reading begins with the Second Coming. Christ will come in his glory with his holy angels and will sit upon his throne of glory. No longer is it a matter of the Suffering Servant who is crucified, of the Suffering Servant who is not comely to look upon, but of the King of Kings coming in glory with his holy angels. And his glory is the effulgence of his divinity. We are confronted in this gospel passage with that reality, the reality of the divinity of Christ as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Then a scene is portrayed of cosmic proportions: all the nations will be gathered before the King sitting on his throne of glory. These are all the souls who have ever lived and died. This is the resurrection of the dead. We will be present then.
Then the King will separate the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on the left. We will be there.
Notice that those even on the left will acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. It is a truism that the light of the Divinity, apart from the fact that it can present itself either as the Dove or as a consuming fire according to the intention of God, presents itself differently to those who are of Christ and those who are not. Those who are of Christ rejoice to see Christ’s face; those who are not, tremble—but they know who he is.
Then the King of Kings will call those on his right to enter his Kingdom.
What criterion does the King of Kings provide for placing someone on his right and someone on his left? Mercy. Those who show mercy to their neighbour will be saved; those who do not will be damned.
There are a number of things that Christ does not say here. He does not say to the saved, ‘You said many prayers; you fasted; and so on.’ He says, ‘You showed mercy to my brethren, the least of them, and therefore you showed mercy to me.’ As the Lord said to the teacher of the Law in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, ‘Go and do likewise.’ Or as the Beatitudes say, ‘Blessed are those who show mercy, for they shall be shown mercy.’
The primary goal of Lent is repentance, and our primary goal is love so that we are able to show mercy. This is important to understand both for the Orthodox monastic and for the Orthodox layman. Our ascetical practices, including our Lenten ascetical practices, must be tools to help us to repent; they must lead us to love both for God and for our fellow man as we keep the Commandments.
It is in this general context that one should look at the meaning of the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
A good Lent to all!