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This Sunday is known as “Judgement Sunday” or “Meatfare Sunday” and is the third Sunday of the four that precede Great Lent, which are called the Sundays of preparation for Great Lent. The Gospel reading is from Mathew (25:31-46).
Meatfare Sunday is the last day we are permitted to eat meat before Lent commences, then from Monday, we commence our abstinence from meat at our Christian tables. The following Sunday is known as Cheesefare Sunday, whereby following the same rules, it is the last day we are permitted to consume dairy products. It is from then onward that we begin the full fast of Zaffar (meat and dairy products).
We can see that on the former Sundays, i.e. ‘the Pharisee and Publican’ and ‘The Prodigal Son’, the importance of preparation for Great Lent through the virtues of humility and humbled prayer, and the importance of repentance or the return back to God. But for this particular Sunday, the themes of the last judgement and the importance of good works are highlighted.
On this Sunday, the Church stresses that fasting from food alone is not enough if it is not accompanied by good deeds. Sunday’s Epistle explains this notion with the apostle Paul saying: “Brethren, the food is not bringing us closer to God, because if we eat, we do not increase and if we do not eat, we do not lose.” (1 Cor 8:8). Therefore, the blessed fruit that results from our fast comes about through how we act when we are fasting according to Jesus’ teaching about who will be judged.
Christ teaches us about the day of judgement through a very descriptive and detailed account unlike all other parables He has told. This confirms the fact that the judgement will indeed occur. We say in our Creed that Christ will “come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” This tells us that the judgement will take place at the second coming of Christ. The Lord Jesus will hand down His judgement to everyone, without exception “All the nations will be gathered before Him” (v32).
As always, we pray to the merciful and compassionate God with this in mind, for Christ to forgive our sins and humble us to struggle with our cross with our heads bowed down and our spirits high. But we must not make the mistake of isolating the judgement of God from His other qualities; which are that He is a fair judge, and He will reward everyone according to their works and deeds.
The Lord says that he will segregate all humanity into two groups; some as sheep and others as goats. He used this distinction on the basis that both sheep and goats are herbivores, but they differ greatly in terms of their behaviour. The sheep are known to be meek and peaceful, living together among the flock that knows the voice of its shepherd and follows him (John 10:14-16). But the goats are a symbol of gluttony and lust, preferring to live alone with aggressiveness and ferocity.
The final judgement will be based on the pillars of love and acts of compassion. How did you treat your neighbour? How did you show them love? The Lord Jesus has placed love and compassion as a criterion for judgement and for the separation between those on the right and those on the left. In other words, those who are saved and those who are condemned. “I was hungry and thirsty, a stranger and sick or imprisoned.” What have you done for me? This is the final question on the day of judgement.
Jesus united himself with the tormented, the suffering and the outcasts; He called them “my little brothers” (v40) and taught us that everything we do to one of His “little brothers” we do unto the Lord himself. Therefore, serving the needy, suffering and the stranger is ultimately a service to God; the path to God passes through our neighbours.
John the Evangelist says:
“Oh my children, we do not love by speaking or by the tongue, but through work and truth” (1 John 3:18) “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
The beloved Apostle adds:
“If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? He who loveth God loves his brother also.”
1 John 4:20-21
St James the Apostle asks:
“What doth it profit, though a man who says he hath faith, and does not have works? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
The Early Church realised the importance of serving others by the way of love and compassion; St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, is an important role model of this virtue. So is the great St Basil (+379) who embodied the acts of selfless deeds. He built a large ministry outside the city of Kayseri Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), in another city called the City of Love (or Basiliad), which acted as a refuge for the poor– a hospital, hospice, an orphanage and contained vocational schools to secure work and living for the needy. This complex ministry of hospitality and community for the suffering earned the world-renowned reputation for being the first of its kind to embody Christian charity work or Christian philanthropy.
Saint Maximus the confessor says:
“Just as the thought of fire doesn’t warm the body, so faith without love does not actualise the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.”
Judgement is a real fact that requires us to be watchful of our deeds, it requires us to carry out acts of love and charity towards those near to us. We will not be judged on the mistakes we make, but on the good we were able to do, and didn’t. If the Lord takes his time, this should not make us fall in to laziness and complacency. Instead, let us light our lamps with the oil of love and good deeds and wait patiently.
“Behold, the Judge is standing at the door. Be patient, establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
+ Metropolitan Basilios