Fasting, Love, and the Last Judgement

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit. Amen. Today is both Meatfare Sunday and the day
in which we remember the Last Judgement. The readings we have just heard are from the Epistle
of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians and the Gospel According to Matthew. Both of these
readings speak to both of these aspects directly. And in really complementary ways, they’re
very very profound readings that we heard this morning. With Meatfare Sunday of course
our preparation for Great Lent begins to take on already this week, not next week, this
week it begins to take on a very concrete dietary aspect. As the name indicates today is the last day
for eating meat, lent into the forty days of Lent and then to Pascha. So today begins
as it were a warm up, a warm up for the exercises for the asceticism that lies ahead of us.
Now it’s very very easy to miss altogether the point of these exercises of these practices.
The purpose of all of these efforts is not simply to do what is expected of us but to
allow ourselves to be weaned from the dependency on everything that might separate us from
God. Anything that might separate us from God, that we’ve become dependent upon rather
than Him. We need to be weaned away from that. Not because those things are in any way bad
at all, but because they distract us from God. It’s because of how we relate to these things
not because of what they are. It’s not because it’s meat, it’s not because it’s milk, it’s
not because it’s food, it’s not because it’s whatever else it might be. It is because we
have become dependent upon these things and we think that is where our life lies. I often ask my students at St Vladimir’s Seminary
when they first come in, in their first year, first week, I ask them “how many people here”
I say, “cannot do anything until they’ve had their cup of coffee in the morning?” Invariably
half of a dozen hands go up if not more. And I say “you bunch of idolaters.” [laughter] Because the reality is we can do without coffee,
of course we can do without coffee food and drink for a whole day, we can go on water
for a whole week. I mean we can do without these things, not because coffee is bad in
anyway whatsoever, but because we think we depend on coffee. That we can’t do anything
until I’ve had my cup of coffee, or unless I’ve had my meat everyday, or my chocolate,
or whatever else it might be. We’ve made ourselves dependent upon these things, we think that
we’re dependent upon them, but we’re not. And when we think we’re dependent on them,
then they have actually become our gods. We worship them. We live our lives in subservience
to them, and that is what needs to be broken. And we do that when we’re fasting, not in
order to discipline our bodies, but we’re fasting so we can use our bodies to discipline
our minds. We fast from these material things, from these foods, these drinks, from meat,
from whatever else it might be, and thereby our weak little minds come to learn that in
fact we don’t depend upon these things. That I can get up and say my morning prayers before
I have cup of coffee. So that is the point of these practices. Nothing
wrong with the meat, nothing wrong with the milk, nothing wrong with anything of the good
things that God has give us, and there’s nothing wrong with getting pleasure from them. But
if we live for the pleasure, if we think that this is what it’s about, and if we become
dependent upon them or subservient to them, that is a dependence which needs to be broken
and will be broken through the practice of fasting. But then in fact what we heard in the Epistle
from the Apostle Paul was even more dramatic than that. He says food is not the issue,
it makes no difference to God what is in my stomach, God is not concerned with what food
is going into my stomach, or what my diet is, we are free in all of this. And it’s this
freedom that we have which makes whatever we do of any value anyways, not because we’re
slaves but because we’re free, that we undertake these things. So if we freely, willingly and
in fact eagerly undertake the disciplines which the Church sets before us in the weeks
to come then we might just begin to realize that we don’t depend on our creature comforts,
and only then might we come to realize that we depend upon God. Because in truth most
of us don’t think that most of the time. We think we depend upon our jobs, upon our houses,
upon our coffee, upon our chocolate or whatever else it might be. Only then, only once you’ve broken those forced
dependencies, only then will we come to know that we depend on God, only then will we come
to know God truly and only then will we come to know God acting in us. But in fact, the
freedom that Paul was speaking about was even more radical still, because in his letter
to the Corinthians he was talking about the freedom to eat meat which had been offered
to pagan idols, in pagan temples. Eating food that has been offered to idols, that is the
very paradigm, the very height of religious devotion, after all it is in fact what we
are doing, we come together as the body of Christ to partake in His Body, our central
act, our central sacramental act is one of eating. So when Paul says that in fact we’re
free to eat the meat which has been offered to pagan gods and pagan idols in pagan temples,
it is a really dramatic statement. Some really strong language indeed. But he says we can
only do this because we know that the pagan idols are non-existent, they don’t really
exist, they’ve got no substance, and therefore there is no pagan idol, there is no pagan
god, it doesn’t exist, the food that has been offered to them is completely free for us
to eat. But then he warns us, if our eating such food,
and this freedom to eat this food is really the height of freedom, if our freedom to eat
this food causes a scandal to our brothers, perhaps leads them astray, such that they
might also eat food offered in a pagan temple while they think that the pagan god is real,
we’ve led them astray in that case, and we’ve misused our freedom to the destruction of
others. And we are responsible then for having misused our freedom in a way which has injured
the very one for whom Christ has died for. So as we move ever closer to Great Lent, we’re
reminded that we are totally free, with a provisor that whatever we do must be done
for the building up of the body rather than the destruction of the body. The building
up of the body. So having being confirmed in our liberty and
having being warned what a dangerous liberty it is, and having heard over the last two
Sundays, with the Publican and the Pharisee, and the Prodigal Son, having heard about God’s
inexhaustible love, about God’s inexhaustible patience, that He’s ready to receive every
sinner who returns to Him, whenever they return, we are then reminded in today’s Gospel of
the opposite side of the same truth. That the God who receives sinners back does so
as their judge. As we heard today in the Gospel, when Christ
comes sitting in Glory, Sitting upon His Throne, when Christ comes again in Glory, He Comes
as our judge. Let’s make no mistake about that. We enter Great Lent with this image
before us, we enter Great Lent with a period of preparation for the return of our Saviour,
we’re waiting for Him to come and that waiting will intensify all the way through Great Lent
and especially during the opening days of Holy Week when we wait for Him to come as
a Bridegroom in the middle of the night, the one Who will return unexpectedly in the middle
of the night, the one who will take us as He finds us, and in both cases, today and
when He comes in the middle of the night at Pascha, we are presented with a humiliated
Christ, the Bridegroom, the Man of Sorrows. So in today’s Gospel, Christ identifies himself
precisely with the lowly, with the outcast, with the unwelcome, the hungry, the sick,
the ill, the destitute, the stranger, the one in prison, those are the ones whom He
identifies himself with, they are His brethren, and what we do to these we do to Him. In all of this, Christ is not a judge in the
sense of somebody who takes records, evaluates the evidence and then pronounces a sentence.
Not a judge like that at all, definitely not. God bestows His bounty and His love upon the
sinners and the righteous equally, rather the reason He’s a judge is because it depends
upon us. It depends upon how we react to Him. St Ireneaus points out that the word judge
when we describe God as a judge, He’s really recognizing our choice, what have we chosen
to do, whatever we choose to do He will recognize it. So it all depends on us, depends on our
state, depends on how He finds us. And how we will respond to Him when He comes
again depends on what habits we build up now. What habits we build up now, this will determine
whether we become a vessel of His judgement or a vessel of His glorification. So His judgement
is one we’re bringing upon ourselves even now in every action we do, in all our dealings
with others, here and now, everyday, every moment we are working out our judgement. And
notice at what is expected of us, is nothing particularly great, there was nothing said
in the Gospel about did you fast or did you not fast, nothing about that whatsoever. Instead
we are presented with people, the poor, asking for food, just for some bread, not for a banquet.
We’re presented with others who are asking for a roof, a piece of clothing, some cold
water, a visit, very little, they’re not asking much, and they’re certainly not asking for
anything which is not in our power to do. Now in all of this, we are presented with
people asking us for this, if we harden our hearts against them, if we fail to respond
to the opportunities that Christ gives us in them, then we are already passing judgement
on ourselves. If we are building up hardness of heart in our daily actions with other people
now, that hardness of heart will form a habit which we won’t be able to break. If we cannot receive Him even now in His brethren,
we will no longer know how to receive Christ when He comes again. When Christ comes again in Glory, which He
will do, we will be told to depart into eternal fire. Fire which wasn’t prepared for us, it’s
prepared for the Devil. If we cannot respond to our neighbour in need even now, then the
very glory and splendor of Christ, when He returns, will simply be too much for us. For
others it will be joy eternal, for us it will be pain and searing pain, for it is the same
Christ in each case, if we cannot respond to Christ in our brethren now, there’s no
way we’ll be able to respond to Him when He comes in glory. It’s the same Christ in both
cases, even if we don’t recognize that. But that’s not our proper inheritance, that
is not what we are called to do, that’s not what we are created to be like. It’s striking
in the Gospel reading today, that those who did open their hearts, those who did open
their goods, their time, their homes to others, they were also surprised at Christ’s words.
They said “when did we do this to You?” Just think about that, they were doing all
these things and they said, “when did we do this to You?” So they were not serving the
poor out of a sense of duty, they were not saying “well Christ told us to do this therefore
we better do it and doing this we’ll be rewarded for it” No, they weren’t doing it like that at all,
they were simply acting out of love. And in doing so, acting out of love, they begin to
acquire a heart of love. A heart of mercy, a heart of flesh and blood, a heart of love,
a heart which opens them up to receive the glory and splendor of Christ when He comes,
and that Christ says, that is the inheritance which is been prepared for us from the foundation
of the world. Seeing God in one’s neighbour, responding in a Christ-like fashion, that
is what it is to be in the image of God, that is what it is to be living in the paradise
of God, in the Kingdom of God, that is what it is to be a Human Being. So let us pray then, as we prepare ourselves
for the approaching Lenten season, and also as we prepare ourselves more generally, let
us pray that we are able to see every moment, every single moment of our life as being under
the judgement of God and under the judgement of the returning Christ, because it assuredly
is. Amen.

6 Responses

  1. Eastern Orthodox Christianity in America says:

    Augustine's soul-destroying churches – both RC and Protestant – are remedied by the Father Irenaios, our own spiritual father whose writings led us into the Holy Orthodox Faith out of the quagmire of Gnosticism prevelant in the western ideologies/philosophies and academia.

  2. Iman A. says:

    You are very ignorant. Fasting and Prayer is not of the Anti-Christ. It is Jesus who who HIMSELF fasted in the desert for 40 days and nights, it is Jesus HIMSELF that taught the disciples to PRAY the Lord's Prayer. If Jesus did and taught these things HIMSELF, then how are these things against Christ.

  3. Iman A. says:

    I need not to watch your video to know where my God is. My God is everywhere and He is Eternal. He dwells in my heart, my home, my Church, my life…He is EVERYWHERE. For my God can not be described or explained in these theories that you come up with in your piety YouTube videos. He is infinite! If you really seek to fully understand Him and obtain His Truth, leave your theories and submit to Him. And in submission will you never ask again, "Where is God?" because you will know he is with you.

  4. Iman A. says:

    You really are funny sir. I'm going to stop responding to you. You obviously have no knowledge of my God, but heed my warning: Fear Him! I am far from a liar and a hypocrite. You can't be mad because no one wants to watch your stupid videos. I need not to look at a video to understand Him, but I rely on my Bible to understand Him. The only Truth is in His Word. His Truth is not the words of some HERETICAL old mad man that makes horrible YouTube videos all day.

  5. Iman A. says:

    Paul never stress that the Word of God cannot be Written. He ha written the word of God Himself! Get off of here!

  6. tabrizi79 says:

    This was amazing, many thanks from a Muslim. If you don't mind, I would love to have the transcript of this talk. 

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