My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE MEANING OF THE GREAT FAST
INNER UNITY OF THE TRIODION
by Metropolitant Kallistos Ware
The Saturday of the Dead
On the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and in close connection with the theme of this Sunday, there is a universal commemoration of the dead 'from all the ages.' (There is further commemoration of the dead on the second, third, and fourth Saturdays in holy Lent.) Before we call to mind the Second Coming of Christ in the services on Sunday, we commend to God all those departed before us, who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. In the texts for this Saturday there is a strong sense of the continuing bond of mutual love that links together all the members of the Church, whether alive or dead. For those who believe in the Risen Christ, death does not constitute an impassable barrier, since all are alive in Him; the departed are still our brethren, members of the same family with us, and so we are conscious of the need to pray insistently on their behalf.
The Sunday of the Last Judgment (Gospel reading: Saint Matthew 25:31-46).
The two past 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 Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the end comes. In the words of the Great Canon:
"The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near; Yet thou dost not care or make ready. The time grows short, rise up: the Judge is at the door. The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower.
This Sunday sets before us the "eschatological' dimension of 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 other and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves. (Source: Lenten Triodion)
The Signs of the Nearness of the Day of the Second Coming of the Lord, and the Last Judgment (St. Matthew, Chapter 24)
It was not pleasing to the Lord--for our own moral benefit--to reveal to us the time of the "last day" of the present heaven and earth, the day of the Coming of the Son of Man, "the Day of the Lord." Of "that day and hour knoweth no man, not the angels in heaven, but My Father only" (St. Matthew 24:36). It is "not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts 1:7). The fact that the time is unknown should arouse Christian to a constant spiritual vigilance: "Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the times is...And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (St. Mark 13:33, 37).
However, the unknowability of the time of the Lord should not prevent Christians from reflecting deeply on the course of historical events and discerning in them the "signs" of the approach of the time of the "last day." The Lord taught: "Now learn a parable of the fig tree: When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all the things, know that it is near, even at the doors" (St. Matthew 24:32-33).
Here are some of the signs indicated in the word of God:
a) The spread of the Gospel to the whole world: "And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (St. Matthew 24:14).
b) On the other hand, there will be an extraordinary manifestation of the power of evil: "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax old" (St. Matthew 24:12). The holy Apostle Paul says: "In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers...lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof" (II Timothy 3:1-5). Faith in general will grow weak: "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth? (St. Luke 18:8).
c) The devil will raise up warfare against the Kingdom of Christ through his instrument, Antichrist. The name "Antichrist" is used in Sacred Scripture in two meanings: In a broad, general sense it indicates every enemy of Christ; this is the meaning when "antichrists" are spoken of in the first and second epistles of Saint John the Theologian. But in a particular sense, "Antichrist" signifies a definite person--the adversary of Christ who is to appear before the end of the world. Concerning the qualities and actions of this Antichrist we read in the Apostle Paul: "Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there comes a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God...For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy by the brightness of His Coming; even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (II Thes. 2:3-11).
d) In the Apocalypse of Saint John the Theologian there is indicated the appearance of "two witnesses" during the period of the Antichrist's activity; they will prophesy of the truth and perform miracles, and when they finish their testimony they will be killed, and then after "the three days and a half" will be resurrected and ascend into heaven (Rev. 11:3-12).
[According to the universal interpretation of the Holy Fathers, these "two witnesses" (mentioned also in Zachariah, chapter 3) are the Old Testament righteous ones Enoch and Elijah, who never died but were carried up alive into heaven, and endure their earthly death only during the reign of Antichrist.] (Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God