upon the many evil things that I have done,
I tremble for the fearful day of judgment.
But trusting in Your merciful compassion,
like David I cry to You:
Have mercy on me, O God, in Your great mercy.”
Thus goes a special hymn we chant during the Triodion period in the Orthros service, sorrowfully, in Tone Plagal of the Second (hear it chanted in the video to the right). Let us reflect on this short hymn, because it expresses admirably the ethos and phronema, the correct mindset and attitude a Christian should have, and it provides a beautiful commentary on the Gospel we hear on the Sunday before Great Lent, which gave the name to this Sunday: “Judgment Sunday.”
Let us examine our conscience
In the first place we are moved, together with the sacred hymnographer, to take a retrospective look into our lives, and ponder upon our actions. Do we ever do that, my dear brothers and sisters? If we do, how often and how thoroughly? And what do we do as a result? Unfortunately, by dear Christians, my experience tells me that we are not accustomed of examining our conscience, and when we do, we go about it in a very superficial way, and very quickly we exonerate ourselves of any wrongdoing. Even on our death bed, in searching our lives, all we find is that we have lived good lives, not having murdered or robbed anyone.
It is precisely because of such woefully imperfect, totally inadequate, and most superficial “examination of conscience” we make, that the Lord brings before us today the scene of the Great and Fearful Judgment. Notice well, dear Christians: The Lord will not ask us, “Have you murdered anyone? Have you robbed anyone?” but instead He will reveal to us our spiritual poverty, showing us that we have lived a selfish life, totally oblivious to the plight of our fellow human being.
The hymnographer trembles when he ponders upon his life, which he calls wretched, because he discovers “the many evil things” he has done–not one or two, but many evil things. How come we don’t discover these things in our lives? Last Monday, in our Bible Study class, we said that God gave us a conscience, which was compared to a knife: We can keep it razor sharp, or we can let it rust and become dull. So with our conscience: we can let it become dull, or we can keep it sharp at all times, utilizing this useful gift of God. Our conscience is like a muscle–if it is not used, it atrophies, it loses its flexibility, and it’s almost useless. We have the responsibility to maintain our conscience sharp. And just because we don’t feel guilty, it does not mean we are not going to be found guilty at the Great Judgment of Christ.
So my dear Christians, we need to examine our conscience and to accuse ourselves of any wrongdoing, as the prodigal Son did, who said to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Lk. 15:21); and as prophet-king David did, who, after sinning gravely, said, “Have mercy on me, O God... blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:1.2-3). Let us not blaspheme, by saying we have no sins. Let us humble ourselves, discover our many iniquities, and cry out to the Lord, “Enter not into judgment with Your servant; for no man living is righteous before You” (Ps. 143:2).
How we will be judged
Let us comprehend this well, that our defense is not going to be “I have not bothered anyone, I did my business,” but rather, Have I opened the door of my heart to my neighbor, or have I shut it, as I have shut the door of your house, justifying my action with, “Let someone else take care of my neighbor; let the government do something for him; I can’t.” I visited this woman, who is sick. No one goes to visit her. No one knocks on her door to ask her, “How are you? Are you all right? We have not seen you lately. I’ve been thinking of you.” Where is our Christian charity and compassion? How much effort does it take? But this does not seem to bother us. “Eh, I mind my own business,” we say, as if this were the ultimate virtue. The ultimate “business” is to be of service to those in need.
Here then is the need to review our life and make whatever adjustments are necessary. Let me share with you this thought. I think that for us Christians, Judgment is not going to be on what we have done in life, good or bad–this is going to be the case for the non-Christians. For us Christians the Judgment is going to be a personal accounting for what we have done in return for what Christ has done for us. For those who have not known Christ, they will be judged based on whether they have lived according to their conscience, whether they have done right or wrong. For us, however, who call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, much more will be demanded! It is going to be a matter of whether we have loved Christ with the same love He has loved us, whether we have multiplied the gifts He has bestowed upon us and has made available to us through His holy Church, and of whether we lived by the promises we made when we were baptized.
Let us make this point a little more explicit and obvious. If we think we can lull our conscience with the familiar line, “I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t robbed anyone,” let us think again. The question asked of us is going to be, “Have you loved your fellow human being to death? Have you withstood anything on account of the love you have for your fellow human being?” When her child is sick the mother does not sleep; she spends all her time by his bed side, suffering with her child, feeling great pain for her child’s pain. The question that will be asked of us Christians is going to be, “Did you suffer for your suffering brother and sister? Have you done all you could in your power to alleviate their pain and suffering? Have you set aside some of your comfort, your leisure, your enjoyment, your good time, because the thought of your suffering brother and sister was too great and intense to make you relax and to take it easy?” If yes, blessed are you, because you will escape judgment.
The Lord’s look
If you think this is something I have dreamt up, listen to the words of St. John Chrysostom:
“At the Second Coming, those sweetest eyes, full of untold love and compassion and tenderness will stare at us; they will look at us with a complaint, and then we will not know where we are going to go to hide.”
This silent look will penetrate every fiber of our being, this sorrowful look will be intolerable to bear, this look will wound us more than a thousand swords, which will cause us more pain than an infectious wound. Do you want to know something? Perhaps this look of Christ is what hell is: The pain of not having sought Him, of not having loved neither Him nor our fellow human being, for whom He also sacrificed Himself.
Christ will appear before us, my friends, in all His glory, enveloped in His uncreated divine light. If we have not lived in His light, if we have spent our life in the darkness, away from Him, from His knowledge, from His love, then His light will blind us, as the strong sun light will blind someone who emerges from a dark cave, after spending a long time in it. Says the holy Evangelist John: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). So who is not going to be judged? Those who have loved much. They will escape judgment, condemnation, punishment. God’s love was given to us freely, plentifully, undeservedly. They who have responded to His love will enjoy the bliss of His love for all eternity.
On the night in which the Son of God was betrayed by Judas, he was also betrayed by his chief disciple, Peter, “Rocky.” He reneged on his Master, not once, but three times. The third time Peter was not far away from the Master. As Peter himself later narrated this story to his disciple Luke the Evangelist, “And immediately, while he was still speaking [saying that he did not know the Lord], the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:60-61). That silent look of the Master brought the denier to his knees, and make him cry bitterly for his pusillanimity, his weakness, his faintheartedness, and gave him the strength he needed to escape from his cowardice, his selfishness, the fear of his life, and strengthened him to eventually embrace death for the love of his Master Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters: Let us not wait until the Lord casts His sorrowful eye at us at His Second Coming. For by then it will be too late. Let us then prepare ourselves from now, led to His love, to the love for our fellow human being, to the forgiveness and compassion for our suffering brother and sister, to a deep repentance, to a life of adoration, praise, and glorification of the Savior. Amen.
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