Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
Christ is in our midst! He was and is and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός έν τώ μέσω ημών. Και ήν και έστι και έσται
O God, You are my God, I seek You, my soul thirsts for You, my flesh faints for You, as in a gray and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on Your name. My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat and my mouth praises You with joyful lips, when I think of You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night. For You have been my help and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God, all who swear by Him shall glory; for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
On Sunday February 19th (Meat-Fare) Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: St. Theodore of Sanaxar Monastery, Holy Apostles Philemon and Anrhippos of the Seventy and Holy Martyr Apphia; Confessors Evgenios and Makarios; Holy Martyr Philothea the Athenians; Saints Maximos, Theodotos, Hesychios, and Asclepiodota of Ardianopolis; St. Nicetas of Epirus (1809); St. Evgene and Macarius at Antioch; St. Ravoulas of Samosata; St. Conon of Penthoukla.
+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyr and Confessors, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 8:8-13, 9:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 25:31-46
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION AND CONTEMPLATION
"He who holds possessions as the gifts of God...and knows that what he possesses is for the sake of others, is blessed by God and poor in spirit." (St. Clement of Alexandria)
MEAT-FARE SUNDAY: THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT
In the book Great Lent by Father Alexander Schmemann we read: "It is love again that constitutes the theme of "Meat-Fare Sunday." The Gospel lesson for the day is Christ's parable of the Last Judgment (St. Matthew 25:31-46). When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment? The parable answers: love--not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous "poor," but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes encounter in my life...
Christian love is the "possible impossibility" to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a "good deed" or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For, indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the "other"--- his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity-- and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal "root" of a human being, truly the part of God in him? If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the "soul" or "person" He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no "Impersonal" love because love is the wonderful discovery of the "person" in "man," of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is "lovable" in him, of that which is from God.
The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for "humanity," yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ's love. We know that all men ultimately need this personal love...The recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that men are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ's love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged. For "inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me..."
According to the holy Gospel lesson of Meat-Fare Sunday Our Lord Jesus Christ, "will sit on the Throne of Glory," and all of the nations will be gathered before him. He will separate them "as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats" (v. 32). The sheep will be placed on His right hand, and the goats on the left.
To the sheep, He will say "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (vv. 33-34). This Kingdom is offered to the sheep because of their compassion and service to those in need. Jesus says, "...for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me." The sheep, who are the righteous for the Kingdom, will ask how this could be so. They will ask Jesus when was He hungry or thirsty, a stranger, naked, and in prison. He will answer them by saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to me" (vv.35-40).
Christ the King and Divine Judge, seated on His Throne of Judgment, will then turn to the goats on His left and say, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (v.41). He will condemn them because they did not feed Him when He was hungry, give Him drink when he was thirsty, take Him in when He was a stranger, clothe Him when He was naked, visit Him when He was sick or in prison.
Jesus concludes His words on the Last Judgment by stating that those on the left "will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (v. 46).
On the past two Sundays of the Triodion (Pre-Lenten period), the focus was placed on God's patience and limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept every sinner who returns to Him. On this Third Sunday, we are powerfully reminded of a complementary truth: no one is so patient and so merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. The God of agape is also a God of righeousness, and when Our Lord Jesus Christ comes again in Glory, He will come as our judge. Such is the message of Holy Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes.
In the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom the officiating priest prays: "Therefore, remembering this command of our Savior and all that He had endured for us: the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into Heaven, the Session at the Right Hand of the Father, and the second and glorious coming again." Therefore our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has accomplished all except one and that is His Second Coming which Christians have been anticipating throughout the centuries. "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (St. Matthew 24:43-44).
The Lord's purpose in this discourse is not to make the disciples "experts on prophecy." It is rather that they may "watch" (v.42) and "be ready" (v.44), continually engaged in virtuous action, obeying His Commandments--remembering that we cannot know the time of His Coming.
Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church sets before us the eschatological dimension of Holy Lent: the Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior, for the Eternal Passover in the Age to Come, a theme that is also the focus of the first three days of Holy and Great Week. But the judgment is not only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.
The Church gently and lovingly ushers us slowly into the Holy and Great Lent beginning with Meat-Fare Sunday. This Sunday is called Meat-Fare because it is the last day meat, fish (blood fish) or poultry is eaten before Holy Pascha (Easter) for those keeping the Lenten Fast. The Last Pre-Lenten Sunday is called Cheesefare Sunday and the Sunday of Forgiveness. This is the last day dairy products are eaten before the Fast.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God