The Sunday of the Last Judgment or Meat Fare Sunday

The Last Judgment

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

It is truly right and proper To praise the Supremely Divine Trinity, The Unoriginate Father and Creator of all, The Co-Unoriginate Logos, Begotten Eternally of the Father before the Ages, and without change, And the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds Eternally from the Father.


It is truly right and proper To glorify You, O God the Logos; The One before Whom the Cherubim stand in awe with fear and trembling, The One Whom the Powers of Heaven glorify. In fearful adoration, let us also praise and glorify Christ, the Giver of life, Who Rose from the tomb on the third day.


Let us all praise in a divine manner, and with fervent hymns The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, The Thrice-hypostatic Dominion, the One Kingdom, the One Godhead. Amen.


On March 10th 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, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Quadratus and his Companions at Corinth; Saint Anastasia the Patrician; holy Martyr Marcianos, Saint George Arselaites; Saint John of Khakhuli; New holy Martyr Michael of Thessaloniki (+1544).


 (Gospel reading: Saint Matthew 25: 31-46)

The Saturday before this Sunday is specially consecrated to the commemoration of the faithful departed. There is an obvious link between this commemoration and the recalling of the Last Judgment, which is the principal theme for this Sunday.

The past two Sundays spoke to us of 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 love is also a God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come "as our judge." "Behold the goodness and severity of God" (Romans 11:22). Such is the message of Holy and Great Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the end comes.

This Sunday 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. (This is a theme that will be taken up in the first three days of Holy and Great Week.) Nor is the judgment merely in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts towards others and in failing to respond to these opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.

This Sunday is called 'Meat-fare Sunday', because it is the last day on which the consumption of meat is authorized. From the next day, Monday, one should, if one can, abstain from meat until Holy Pascha. On the other hand, the use of milk, butter and cheese is allowed during all the days of this week, including Wednesday and Friday. During the Divine Liturgy a portion of the first Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (8:8-13 and 9:1-2) is read in which the Holy Apostle, in substance, says the following: Eating or not eating meat in itself is not a matter of importance, but his liberty which we have must not scandalize or be a stumbling-block to the weak. A man who believes in the only God and does not believe in the reality of idols may, with a clear conscience, eat the flesh of beasts sacrificed to idols; but, if one of his brothers is less enlightened and thinks that this means some sort of association with the worship of idols, then he should abstain from doing this, and respect the conscience of those brothers for whom too, Christ died. And so, if we are inspired by Saint Paul's idea, someone who feels he has valid reasons for not fasting, or for modified fasting during Holy Lent, will all the same be careful to avoid anything that might scandalize or offend the conscience of those who are less strong.

The Gospel for the Divine Liturgy (St. Matthew 25:31-46) describes the Last Judgment. "When the Son of man shall come in His Glory', with all the Holy Angels, all the nations will be gathered before His Throne. He will separate the sheep from the goats, setting the righteous on His right, and the sinners on His left. He will invite those who have fed, clothed and visited Him in His human guise of the poor, the prisoners and the sick, to enter the Kingdom of the Father. He will exclude from the Kingdom those who have acted otherwise. This description of the Judgment obviously is partly symbolic. We pass judgment on ourselves when, voluntarily, we adhere to God or reject Him. It is our love or our lack of love which will place us amongst the 'blessed' or amongst those who are dismissed (or perhaps deferred). Even if we do not have to interpret the details of the judgment literally, exactly as the evangelist describes them, we must listen very carefully to what the Savior says about His presence in those who suffer, for it is in them alone that we are in any way able to help the Lord Jesus.

The prayers at vespers this Saturday evening and at matins for the Sunday give a general impression of terror in the face God's Judgment. There is mention of open books, of fearful angels, of rivers of fire and of trembling before the altar. All this is very sound, and many sayings in the Gospels urge us to be converted before it is too late. But this shadowed side, the darkness into which a stubborn sinner can choose to throw himself, must not make us forget the side of light and hope. Here is a phrase from one of the chants at vespers in which these two aspects find themselves well united:

'O my soul, the time is near at hand; make haste before it is too late, and cry aloud in faith: I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee; but I know Thy love for man and Thy compassion, O Good Shepherd...'

'How shall it be in that fearful day, when the Judge shall sit on His dread Throne! The books shall be opened and men's actions shall be examined, and the secrets of darkness shall be made public. Angels shall hasten to and fro, gathering all the nations. Come ye and hearken, kings and princes, slaves and free, sinners on the whole inhabited earth. And who shall bear to stand before His face in the presence of the Angels, as they call us to account for our actions and thoughts, whether by night or by day? How shall it be then in that hour! But before the end is here, make haste, my soul, and cry: O God Who only art compassionate, turn me back and save me.'

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George