Sermon on the Sunday of the Last Judgment 19.02.2023.
Church of the Protection of the Holy Theotokos, Kuvandyk
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today is the second last Sunday on the eve of Great Lent, and it is dedicated to the theme of the Last Judgment. On this day we think most deeply over the Last Judgment and over the destiny of every one of us after the Second Coming, that is, the final placement of souls for all eternity.
The Gospel says that every one of us will have his or her own placement and future life. The Lord divides us into sheep and goats. The sheep will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, while the goats will experience eternal suffering.
I underline the word “eternal”, as it is the most terrifying one. Any punishment having a limited term has a light of hope in the end. It will come to an end one day. When a punishment is not limited by any term and we hear that it will last forever, this is terrifying.
Sometimes the topic of eternal suffering raises questions which people cannot answer. There are many logical and reasonable questions: “What about those people who were born in a Muslim country, or those primitive people dwelling on some islands? What about those people who were born during the Soviet times and in such circumstances simply had no faithful parents and no one to teach them faith? They lived like this all their life and were decent people who observed the law of their conscience. Could it be that the Lord will send them for eternal punishment?” These are very reasonable questions.
In addition, pity and basic human sympathy cause people ask the following question: “If we take a Christian who seems to have the desire but cannot succeed, after all, every one of us falls and rises from confession to confession again and again, will such a Christian inherit everlasting suffering?”
Others ask God this categorical question: “If You knew in advance that nothing will work with me, why did You create me at all? To live this short life and endure terrible never-ending suffering?”
People ask many critical questions like these. No priest, if he leads a sober life, can answer all of them completely. Sure, one may answer a question with some thoughtlessness, but thoughtlessness will not satisfy people. One may even argue away, explain away, quote something, but people’s hearts will not accept this, as they will not get the answer.
The answer to this question is in fact clear. We are very limited in our understanding of the wisdom of God. The main thing we should realize is that we cannot understand everything. This should calm us down to an extent and quiet down our trust in ourselves. “Lord, I realize I cannot understand everything, but I simply trust You. I have no choice. My ancestors trusted You, my parents did so, saints also trusted You and they succeeded. Those people who tried to find the answer to every question, they lost their trust in You. It is impossible, and they lost their trust. Christians are good and sober people and they have always lived according to other principles. I might understand something and I might not, something may be simply beyond my comprehension. Lord, the only thing I realize is that I am limited and Your wisdom is limitless. I simply trust You.”
This is true and profound faith. This faith does not come from knowledge, but from an inner disposition towards God. “Lord, I simply believe that You are Love and Great Wisdom. I simply trust You. I do not seek an answer to every question that comes to my mind, in my reflections, from evil thoughts, and from those people who tempt me. I simply trust You. Glory to God for the things I understand and glory to Him for all the things I do not.”
This is how our ancestors lived. They lived according to the principle: where everything is simple, there are a hundred of angels in this place, where everything is complicated, there are perpetual temptations there. These temptations are related to doubt. Doubt gives birth to distrust, even distrust towards God. “Lord, I do not understand and I do not accept this. This is why I distrust You, and our relationship breaks. My relationship with You, Who is the main Purpose, ruins.” And outside of You everything ruins too. There is no point outside of God. When people do not understand the reason for their life, it becomes hard to live for them.
Every person bears sorrows throughout his or her life. Raise your hands those of you who are deprived of sorrows. If your children do not fall ill, you become sick, your friends betray you, your own sins ail you, your traits of character torture you, cowardice, hatred, anger, jealousy, any dirt which dwells in us, tortures us. If there were no God Who fills everything with meaning, it would have been totally unbearable. When there is God, there is a point. In this case, even your child’s sickness and, forgive me, even your child’s death becomes filled with a deep meaning which you cannot understand, but which you accept, trusting God and believing He placed meaning in this. Then you can bear and overcome this.
The main mistake made by Christians is when they try to downgrade God with His limitless Being to the level of human comprehension. This God loses His greatness and limitless wisdom. You try to limit Him to your understanding and you thereby make an idol out of God. You downgrade Him to a human level. Let Him remain the Unfathomable God.
At a certain time during the Liturgy, before the moment of consecration of the Holy Gifts, a priest says secret prayers in the altar, and he addresses God with a very exact word “unfathomable.” He is not completely unknown, and at the same time not fully comprehensible. He is unfathomable. God opens His wisdom in part, while another part is covered with Divine darkness and remains unreachable for our understanding. He is God because He is beyond our comprehension. However, He is great and benevolent, we know this from living our spiritual life. How many times did we simply trust Him without trying to understand everything in detail and everything was alright? But when we argued with Him at moments we did not understand His benevolent providence, everything went badly.
Christian wisdom is called humility of mind. It is not simply wisdom, but wisdom dissolved by humility. Humility is understanding yourself. It is understanding the greatness of God and understanding yourself as a limited person.
It is a great deal and a great virtue to live with God and trust Him without any conditions. “I simply trust You because I simply love You so much. Let it be as it is going to be. Let it be as You bless it!”
Glory to our God, always, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages!