Sunday, February 15, 2015

Homily for the Meeting of the Lord and the Sunday of the Last Judgment

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Dear brothers and sisters, one of the wonderful aspects of the liturgy is timelessness. Normally we think of time as like a line: past, present, and future. The past is consigned to oblivion and we hope or worry for the future. However, in the Church, in Christ, the divisions of time are overcome, and the past, present, and future come to dwell in one another, not as a closed circle, but morel ike an endlessly ascending spiral. Today both the past and the present come to us in the celebrations of the Meeting of the Lord and the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We are celebrating two meetings of the Lord: one in Jerusalem two millennia ago, and one at the end of time.

Let us first go to Jerusalem, to see with the eyes of faith what happened there. The temple is full of crowds coming and going, unaware that One who is greater than the temple is present. Christ was brought to the temple in accordance with the divine command to Moses: “Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is Mine.” His holy Mother also presented two turtle-doves in order to purify herself, for the Law of Moses also stated that a woman is considered ritually impure for forty days after giving birth. Thus, this feast is often called the “Purification of the Virgin,” which is why we are wearing blue vestments.

Although the Child and His Mother followed the Law, they did not have to submit themselves to it. Just as the Son out of His own free will humbled Himself and took the form of a man, He also submitted Himself to the Law which He Himself had issued. As for the Mother, she conceived and gave birth to her Son in a miraculous way, through the Holy Spirit, and had no need for purification. Tradition tells us that the High Priest, sensing the purity of the Theotokos, put her in the court reserved for virgins, which enraged the Pharisees.

At the Temple, there was a holy elder named Simeon who knew that this little infant was indeed the Christ, the Lord of all. He took up the child into his frail arms, and said: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

There came another woman, a prophetess named Anna, who stayed in the Temple and prayed to God night and day. She also recognized the Christ-child, and preached of Him to everyone in earshot. Why were these two, Simeon and Anna, able to recognize Christ? It was through the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who was with Simeon, and which told Him that he would not see death until he saw the Christ. Simeon waited patiently, faithfully, never losing hope that he would see the promised Messiah. Likewise, the prophetess Anna also had the Holy Spirit and prayed constantly. Without the Holy Spirit, we fail to recognize Christ and become like the Pharisees, who were so blind that they could not acknowledge the miracles of Christ as the work of the Spirit and instead said it was the work of the devil.

When Simeon blessed the Mother of God, he told her: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” This prophecy was partially fulfilled in the Crucifixion of Christ, which indeed pierced the heart of His Mother. Moreover, this prophecy will be fully fulfilled at the Second Coming. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and the thoughts and deeds of all will be revealed.

Thus, coming from Jerusalem, let us now stand with fear and trembling at the Dread Judgment Seat. A hymn from yesterday evening’s Vespers tells us: “The trumpet shall sound and the graves be opened: all mankind will arise in trembling; the righteous will rejoice, as they receive their reward, but the wicked will depart to eternal fire with wailing and horror.”

And as we stand before the Judge, what will He say to us? In today’s Gospel, the Lord presents a parable which describes the Last Judgment. To the righteous He will say: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in . . .” When asked by the righteous where and how He was fed, and given drink, the Son of Man answers: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The unrighteous, on the other hand, did the opposite, thus Christ says to them: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels . . . Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

My brothers and sisters, the image of Christ is not only seen in the Holy Icons, for we—human beings—are all created according to His Image. In this church we rightly venerate the holy icons, which are made of wood and paint. We should also venerate the living icons of Christ, especially the poor, for Christ was born and lived in poverty. Rich or poor, great or humble, nice or annoying—we are all cut from the same cloth and go to the same end. Why, then, do we complain about each other, do evil to one another, or fail to recognize the divine image in one another?

During the Great Fast, let us also, alongside prayer and fasting, do good to one other, and overcome the divisions between us. Through loving our neighbor we will rejoice and reign forever with Christ the Lord, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is due all honor, glory, and dominion, unto the ages of ages.

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