SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF THE DREAD JUDGEMENT11 min read
By His Eminence, Archbishop Tikhon of Omsk and Siberia – First Hierarch of the Russian True Orthodox Church – Unofficial Translation
2021, Omsk, Siberia
“But whenever the Son of Man should come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory. “And before Him shall be gathered all the nations; and He shall separate them from one another, even as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the young kids. “And indeed He shall set the sheep on His right, but the young kids on the left. “Then shall the King say to those on His right, ‘Come, ye who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom which hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. “‘For I hungered and ye gave Me to eat; I thirsted and ye gave Me to drink; I was a stranger and ye brought Me in; “‘naked and ye clothed Me; I was sick and ye visited Me; I was in prison and ye came to Me.’ “Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungering and fed Thee, or thirsting and gave Thee to drink? “‘And when did we see Thee a stranger and brought Thee in? Or naked and we clothed Thee? “‘And when did we see Thee sick, or in prison, and came to Thee?’ “And the King shall answer and say to them, ‘Verily I say to you, insofar as ye did it to one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it to Me.’ “Then shall He say also to those on the left, ‘Go from Me, ye who have been cursed, into the fire, the everlasting one, which hath been prepared for the devil and his angels: “‘For I hungered and ye did not give Me anything to eat; I thirsted and ye did not give Me anything to drink; “‘I was a stranger and ye did not bring Me in, naked and ye did not clothe Me, sick, and in prison, and ye did not visit Me.’ “Then shall they also answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see Thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and we did not minister to Thee?’ “Then shall He answer them, saying, ‘Verily I say to you, insofar as ye did it not to one of the least of these, neither did ye do it to Me.’ “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” (St. Matthew 25:31-46)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Sunday gospel paints a picture for us of the last day of the present world, the great day of the Lord’s Second Coming, which will be a day of fear and despair for some people, and a day of joy and comfort for others. This day, which will irrevocably decide the fate of all people for eternity, is the day of the Final Judgment of God.
We know that the events foretold in the Revelation of St. John the Apostle will happen sooner or later. And this will happen when mankind, by virtue of an extreme deviation from God, loses the possibility of replenishing the Kingdom of God with worthy people and thereby loses its right to exist in the eyes of God. For then the continuation of human history would become meaningless.
This picture of the Last Judgment, which may overwhelm us, does not break the orderly sequence of Gospel readings; on the contrary, it gives them meaning, clarifies, summarizes all that has gone before in the Church and all that must happen in the future. The parable in which the Lord described this last and greatest event to take place at the boundary of time and eternity will happen verbatim, and we believe it, because our Lord is filled with love for people, and in perfect love, there is no unrighteousness and no delusion.
This parable culminates, if I may say so, in the words of the King to those on the right: “Come, ye who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom which hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” After all, to be among those who will be placed on the right side is the goal of our lives. But we frivolously give it little thought and even forget about it. For most people, the thought of the Last Judgment gives a depressing impression, and this is also true for those who contemplate and pray for the salvation of their souls. It seems to them that the words of the Lord addressed to the righteous have little to do with them, they more apply to themselves the words of rebuke spoken against sinners.
Of course, Christian humility indicates to us our constant deviation from the commandments of God and awakens in us the reproaches of conscience, but the fate of sinners cannot and should not overshadow the picture of Divine mercy, the bright paradise promised to the righteous. And if in our hearts we feel ourselves closer to the left side of the coming judgment of the human race than to the right, it is not because of humility, but because we are cut off from the merciful Christ and His Providence. This is why even Orthodox people try to avoid talking about God’s judgment and the end of life.
If we were to strive, even little by little, to continually confront and struggle against sin, then this very constant struggle would change our mood, and the memory of the pictures of Christ’s Last Judgment would not make us despondent but would infuse into our souls a joyful anticipation of the encounter with Christ.
What prevents us from experiencing this joy of our upcoming encounter with the Lord? Our sins.
We sin so much because of our weakness. The Holy Gospel says: if ye forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their transgressions, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15). And again: Do not judge, that you will not be judged. And since the Lord said so, then it will be so. The Lord will not judge such a person and forgives him everything. So – Cease judging, that ye be not judged (St. Matthew 7:1) – this is written in the Gospel. We should try to fulfill this commandment.
Of course, we break many of the commandments because of our weakness, which is connected with our nature. And what is the reason for the condemnation? With what need? Eating, sleeping, or drinking? With nothing after all! See how wisely such a commandment is given for our salvation. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. And so it is indeed. It is helpful to remember the words of the Fiftieth Psalm: “…For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 50:5). I will take it out – it means “always”, that is, you must always keep your sinfulness before you.
And therefore, every sin you see around you should remind you of your sinfulness. That’s what the saints have always done. When they saw their neighbor’s transgressions, they tried to avoid condemnation and remembered their own sinfulness. Through this feeling comes, by God’s grace, humility, that is, a real awareness of one’s weaknesses. And this feeling was inherent in all the saints. One of the most recent and dearest saints, St. Seraphim of Sarov always said about himself: “I, the wretched Seraphim.” We call some abnormal, underdeveloped people poor, but he spoke about himself like that … Holy forefather Abraham said about himself: “I am dust and ashes.” Venerable Macarius the Great: O God, cleanse me, a sinner, for I have never done anything good in Thy sight. The Venerable Anthony the Great said, “I am not a monk, of course, but I have seen monks.” This was the state of the saints all the time, such humility.
How are we different from them? First of all, by not having that humble feeling all the time. That is, sometimes you feel so, it seems, sinful … And at other times you are a judge, a teacher, a mentor, and even an accuser of another. And you don’t know about yourself, what you can do yourself. It is precisely this spiritual impermanence that is inherent in us. We don’t have consistency. That’s what we need to work on. The Holy Fathers said that there is a kind of “memory of the heart” that captures everything, our entire life – both internal and external. And then at the Last Judgment this book written in the depths of our soul will be opened, and only then will we see what we really are, and not what our inflamed pride has painted us to be. Then we will see how many times God’s grace has called us to salvation, punished us, graced us, and how stubbornly we have resisted grace and sought only sin and passion. Even our good deeds will be eaten away like worms by hypocrisy, pride, and secret calculations. Let us try, while we have time for earthly life, to cleanse ourselves of these destructive passions and habits.
Only in paradise, in eternal life, will one learn the mystery of suffering, and understand that here on earth, sorrow, toil, sickness, and grief are God’s great blessings: one drinks from the cup from which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself drank. So in eternal life we will thank our enemies, we will thank those who slandered us, those who treated us unjustly, because they, unknowingly, contributed to our salvation. Here on earth we do not understand many things, but here we see only the first page of the Book, which will be opened in eternity, and there we will understand the depth of the wisdom of God, all the power of His love.
This parable of the Last Judgment draws attention to the enmity between men and God. Let us remember how they objected to Him in judgment: both the condemned and the acquitted met His judgment with the same speeches, but these speeches are directly opposite in their moral sentiments. It seems inconceivable to both of them that God could be in a position of such humiliation. But God answers them with His irrefutable word. In addition, both perceive His judgment as erroneous. But sinners do so because this judgment is too harsh for them, and the righteous do so because it is too merciful. Sinners think they have nothing to reproach and condemn, while the righteous find everything they have done so insignificant that their reward seems undeservedly great. Therefore, sinners stand before God in a state of bitterness, and the righteous in a mood of humility. We need to know that God’s judgment is only an expression of the moral state of the people standing in judgment, and His verdict is the result of the unrepentant malice and hardheartedness of some and the repentant reconciliation of others.
The hardheartedness of unrepentant sinners is a terrible condition; it speaks of a complete coldness of heart and a complete alienation from love. With this attitude, they have lived their lives, and with it, they will appear before the Judge in His glory. Some wonder: couldn’t they have softened if they had been given mercy? No, such unrepentant hardheartedness cannot be shown mercy, for mercy makes them more hardened.
So, there will be no more time. The wavering between good and evil is over. The Lord judges the moral state in which He has called people and in which they stand before Him. “And he shall set the sheep on the right side and the goats on the left,” we have heard the Lord define. This division will not be made in the way people are used to dividing society in ordinary life, not between scholars and non-learners, nobles and lowly by birth, rich and poor, friends and foes – but solely between the good and the evil. And since the Lord expects mercy and reconciliation from us, let us strive to develop in ourselves those saving qualities with which we might please our Savior and be justified at His judgment, and let us flee from the wicked persistence in sin and the false shame for which madmen reject the Lord’s call to repentance. May the Lord deliver us from destructive hard-heartedness, and open to us the door of repentance, for where there is repentance, there is also the hope of salvation.
And not a single day should be lost to repentance, for every day of our life may be the last, may bring destruction to this world, for according to the word of the Lord, that day will come as a thief in the night. And so, as St. Gregory Dvoeslov says, whoever does not rejoice in the approach of the end of the world proves that he is a friend of the latter, and through this, he is an enemy of God. To grieve over the destruction of the world is characteristic of those who have rooted in their heart love for the world; those who do not desire a future life and do not even believe in its existence. Let us examine ourselves more often, brothers and sisters, by this criterion.
Speaking of the picture of the Last Judgment, we can try to imagine the many different faces we will see in that Judgment. According to eyewitnesses, on the west side of the Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Kiev, remarkable for its frescoes, over the very entrance to the temple, there is a wonderful image of the Last Judgment. First of all, it is the sea of people, their faces, their eyes that amazes those who look at this fresco. There are faces that express despair, terrible sadness. All lost life trembles in them. There are others filled with malice, hatred, grumbling, envy, and insatiable desires. Their life has passed, but something is gnawing at them and will gnaw forever. But here are other countenances – quiet, calm, joyful, and happy. And the closer we get to the Throne, the clearer these countenances become. And over the Throne shines the Cross. The Lord Savior of the world Himself is seated on the Throne, and around Him are John the Baptist, the Apostles, and all of God’s saints praying and celebrating. But here we see Our Lady leaning over the shoulder of Jesus Christ. She alone still pleads for the salvation of sinners, for mercy for all the hopeless. She was given this power to intercede to the end before the mercy of God.
Let us not give in to despair, for it is the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ who prays for us, and to Her, even Almighty God cannot be denied. She is the Recovery of the Dead.
In humility before the greatness of the Creator, let us remember this terrible event, which the Holy Church reminds us of today. Let us resist sin every day of our lives, remaining sober, waiting for the voice of the trumpet that calls all mankind to the terrible Throne of the Righteous Judge, and humbly cry out to Him: “Have mercy and spare, O Lord, Your creation.”