My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.
"Then they also will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You
hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, AND
DID NOT MINISTER TO You?’ Then He will answer them, saying,
‘Assuredly, I say to you inasmuch as YOU DID NOT DO IT TO ONE
OF THE LEAST OF THESE, YOU DID NOT DO IT TO ME" (St. Matthew 25:44-45).
As we approach closer and closer to the Holy and Great Lent, it is a common practice for all of us, without exception, to turn our attention to prayer, vigils, and fasting. These pious and most beneficial spiritual exercises are part of our discipline and necessary to our ascesis. However, one must not neglect to pay attention to other duties which we have that are even more significant and spiritually profitable and indispensable to our salvation.
As Orthodox Christians, we absolutely expect and await the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We refer to the Second Coming as the ‘Final’ Judgment of humanity. Jesus Christ says, "When the Son of Man COMES in HIS GLORY, and the Holy Angels with Him, then He WILL SIT O THE THRONE OF His glory. All the nations will be gathered BEFORE HIM, and He will SEPARATE THEM ONE FROM ANOTHER, AS A SHEPHERD DIVIDES THE SHEEP FROM THE GOATS. AND HE WILL SET THE SHEEP ON HIS RIGHT HAND, AND THE GOATS ON THE LEFT" (St. Matthew 25:31-32). As you can plainly see that ACCORDING TO OUR LORD CHRIST HIMSELF that there is A FINAL JUDGMENT that will take place and AN ACCOUNTING GIVEN BY ALL OF US WITHOUT EXCEPTION. NO ONE CAN ESCAPE THIS JUDGMENT. Everything which we have done and not done will be revealed, in other words, acts of commission and acts of omission will be revealed before all. Including thoughts and feelings, i.e., "logismoi" (wicked thoughts) and feelings of hatred, pride, contempt, apathy, uncaring, selfishness, etc.
Prayer, fasting, and vigils are spiritual tools to help us in our quest to strengthen our spiritual discipline, but the criterion of Our Lord Jesus Christ for one to be saved is much greater than this. He Himself makes it abundantly clear that His standard of judgment IS UNCALCULATED MERCY TOWARD OUR NEIGHBOR, OUR FELLOW MAN, THE NEEDY. IN THEIR WORDS, WORKS OR ACTS OF MERCY, OF COMPASSION, OF AGAPE TOWARD THOSE WHO ARE DEPRIVED OF EVERYTHING, INCLUDING LOVE AND COMPASSION. Saving faith produces righteous works. Jesus’s earthly life is one of GREAT MERCY AND COMPASSION. Our philanthropy or charity to the needy IS DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO His Person, to Himself.
"When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it TO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE My brethren, YOU DID IT TO Me." (vv. 38-40). How much more clear can the Lord be? It is urgent that we begin to pay greater attention to our fellow man. We all witness daily the struggle and suffering of men, women, and children who have no means of support, who are homeless, who are abused, who are neglected, sometimes, even from their own family members. Those who are in prison and those who have been abandoned by all. Our Lord and God Jesus Christ IDENTIFIES HIMSELF WITH THE POOR AND THE OUTCASTS.
What good is it to robotically or mechanically adhere to certain spiritual traditions of our Faith and ignore the most pressing and important ones such as the commandments of our Savior? Hear what Saint James (Iakovos) the Holy Apostle and Brother of the Lord says about helping those in great need? "What does it profit, my brethren if someone says he has faith but does NOT have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily bread, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, WHAT DOES IT PROFIT? Thus also FAITH BY ITSELF, IF IT DOES NOT HAVE WORKS, IS DEAD. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith WITHOUT WORKS, and I will show you my faith BY MY WORKS" (St. James 2:14-19).
You see the genuine faith that saves IS A TOTAL OR COMPLETE FAITH: not just the mind believing and the tongue confessing, but which reveals one’s TOTAL COMMITMENT TO GOD, FAITH. "faIth alone" is empty faith, inert faith, static faith which does NOT save! We must cultivate our faith and nurture our faith in God and love for Him through our works of mercy.
Saint Paul says that the invitation of Christ involves a readiness to be shaped by the Holy Spirit, as in Romans 8:4; and 8:11, A self-giving service of love to others, as in 1 Corinthians 13, and his epistle to the Galatians 5:13. The imitators of Christ in his epistle to the Ephesians 5:1. We, as Christian believers must reflect all those things humanly possible which our Lord said and did while on earth. Whatever is impossible for man, is possible for God! "Be ye, therefore, imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk-in love, even as Christ also loved you."
Those who are foolish view everything revealed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as elective or optional. The salvation of one’s soul is NOT something to take lightly, my good people. It requires OBEDIENCE to the Will of God, to His Divine Teachings, to His Holy Commandments. It is not something to toy with. It is a matter of life and death! Jesus Himself threatens those of us who ignore His command to help the poor and indigent by saying, "And these will go away INTO EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS INTO ETERNAL LIFE" (v. 46). And as Saint Theophylaktos states: "He sends those on the left into the fire which has been prepared for the devil. For as the demons are without compassion and are cruelly and maliciously disposed toward us, it is fitting that they WHO ARE OF LIKE MIND WITH THEM, AND WHO HAVE BEEN CURSED BY THEIR OWN DEEDS, SHOULD MERIT THE SAME PUNISHMENT."
As a young child in Greece, I had the opportunity to experience an act of kindness and compassion. It was in the year 1948, soon following the civil war with the communists in Greece when we, a family of seven, were uprooted from our village of Zaharo in Peloponnessos, southern Greece. Our house was bombed WITH US IN IT. By the grace of God and the holy intercessions of our Patron Saint Spyridon we were saved. We were not homeless. My good and pious parents had a strong faith, but they knew that we could not stay in our village any longer and had to relocate to the capital city of Athens. My father had an acquaintance in Athens, an Archimandrite who he felt could help my father to find a job and to resettle in the city. He wrote to him and then took my sister Ioanna and me on a train to Athens; I was five years old and Ioanna around ten. We arrived in Athens and went directly to the Archimandrites’ house. There, my father was treated with respect and we were all offered refreshments. Father was polite and listened attentively, but regretfully, he told my father, there was nothing he could do to help us. We left his house in the early evening without having any place to go. Everything was closed in the city except for a taverna nearby. Athens was cold and damp and the clothes that we wore were not for the cold weather in the city. Having not very much money or a place to stay, my father decided to go across to the opened taverna to eat something and to think of what to do. There was only one customer that was still there. When the stranger saw us, he immediately realized that we were not from Athens, but from the country and poor. He recognized from my father’s facial expression that we were in trouble. He came over to our table, introduced himself, and said to my father, ‘I see you are not from here. Do you and the children have a place to stay? My father explained our predicament to him in some detail. He said to him, ‘not to worry and you and the children will come with me to my house. My house is not very big and we don’t have beds, but we can all sleep on the floor together and you are welcomed to stay with us for as long as you need. I have a wife and two young daughters. His kindness, his compassion, his act of mercy, and his family’s, saved us literally. This is what our Lord Jesus Christ is speaking about. It wasn’t only the offer to stay at his house but HIS COMPASSION! That is what is meant by an act of mercy. What it means to think, feel and act as a fellow human being. There are some who feel it is about the monetary gift, it is not. IT IS ALL ABOUT LOVE AND COMPASSION!
"THANKS, BE TO GOD!"
" Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George