Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Archpastoral Letter for Great Lent 2017

Protocol No. 01-001/2017
Forgiveness Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dearly Beloved in the Lord,

Christ is in our Midst!

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness behold His holy Passover.

(Stichera from “Lord, I have cried” of  Forgiveness Sunday Vespers)

Today we enter into the forty days of Great Lent in preparation for the great feast of Pascha, the great celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. Great Lent is a period of intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time when we focus our lives on reflection, meditation, repentance and penance. It is a time of both spiritual and physical cleansing and purification. We step into the desert of trial where we encounter spiritual warfare.

Great Lent is a time when we fight not only against the evil one and the passions with which he tempts us, but we fight against ourselves. We fight against our desire to follow our own will and submit ourselves instead to the will of God, to His desire that we be holy as He is holy.

The season of Great Lent is a privileged moment in the Church’s liturgical year when the People of God reflect prayerfully and serenely on their relationship with God, with the Church, and with each other. In her spiritual care for Her children, the Church recommends and offers to us the traditional penitential and ascetical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as fitting ways to help us grow in the life of grace and holiness.

The forty days of Great Lent offer us a spiritual opportunity to reflect also on the mercy of God which has shown itself most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus is the face of the father’s mercy, and from his wounded side, the crucified Christ has poured upon us, His disciples, an ocean of mercy and has opened for us the fountain of salvation.

As I have always done in the past, so I do today and that is to encourage each and every one of you to immerse yourselves in the spirit of this holy season of repentance, penance, purification and preparation. Most especially I encourage you all in prayer, fasting and works of charity. By doing these things, we bring into our lives the joy of a living Christian faith and manifest ourselves as true disciples of Jesus Christ and as children of the Triune God, into whose life we have been made a part by baptism in water and the Spirit.

I fervently encourage you all to be especially mindful of almsgiving and works of charity during this holy season. By performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as signs of our gratitude for the mercy God has bestowed upon us, we can, with His grace, help to transform our homes, parishes, places of work and the communities in which we live into places where people can personally experience an encounter of mercy and be motivated themselves to extend God’s love and compassion to others.

Great Lent is a season replete with rebirth, new beginnings and new growth. Too often, however, we want to race to Pascha without fully embracing the Lenten process that leads there. Great Lent reflects the forty days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, tempted by Satan, in readiness for a ministry destined to end, by earthly standards, in tragedy. Few of us can relate to the level of sacrifice and commitment that Jesus displayed during His forty days in the desert, yet Great Lent provides us with an opportunity to deepen our spirituality by engaging in intense prayer, fasting, and penitence.

With tears of both joy and repentance, let us set out together this day to seek Christ who heals all men and restores what was lost. Even though we are sinners, God’s love for us never fails and His mercy is available to all those who are truly repentant and are resolved to change their ways. Let us resolve to no longer walk in darkness but rather walk in the light of God’s truth and the Gospel of life.

The time is now at hand, beloved, to enter upon spiritual warfare and gain victory over the powers of darkness and evil; to rid our lives and our communities of all that separates us from God and would destroy us. With the Word of God and His love and mercy as our weapons, let us step onto the battlefield of life and fight the good fight. Let us together set ourselves upon the path to heaven, where we shall behold the glory, beauty and majesty of God.

As we enter into Great Lent, we enter into the wilderness where we shall be tested and tempted by the evil one. It is a time of purification and making ready. When we emerge from the wilderness of Great Lent we should be stronger spiritually and physically; our faith should be more vibrant and filled with longing for the Lord. Our forty days in the desert wilderness are truly a path to salvation and new life, one in which we shall serve the Lord faithfully and more attentively as His disciples and servants.

Let us not falter in our Lenten pilgrimage but strive to complete it with vigor and determination. We do not make this journey alone, but with the help of one another and most certainly with God’s grace and strong arm as our sure defense and protection. And if you do falter, do not despair and lose hope. The Holy Spirit will provide whatever you need to succeed. God knows the hearts of us all and if your intentions and efforts are sincere, God will receive them gladly as a pure offering and He will bless the fruit of your labors.

Over the next forty days, let us ask God to cleanse us in the waters of repentance, and through prayer and fasting make us shine with the light of grace and holiness so that we, together with the men and women disciples at the tomb, may joyfully cry out, “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!”

As we embark upon the season of Great Lent, let us encourage one another with our prayers. Let us make the most of our Lenten journey so that we may be worthy to see Christ’s glorious resurrection on the third day.

My prayers are with you all and I ask your fervent prayers for my unworthiness. May you all have a blessed, holy and spiritually fruitful Great Lent.

With love in Christ Jesus, I remain,

Paternally yours,
+Archbishop Stephen

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homily for Forgiveness Sunday

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In our Old Testament reading this morning, we hear about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In the Gospel reading we hear Jesus speak about forgiveness. While it may seem that the Old Testament reading and Gospel reading are not related, in actuality, they are.

In the Genesis account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve we do not hear anything about repentance and forgiveness. Neither Adam nor Eve asked forgiveness of God for the disobedience they committed by eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of which the Lord God forbid them to touch or eat. As a result of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise to till the ground from which they were taken.

Man was not created to labor hard but to worship and praise God unceasingly and to live in eternal communion with Him. Nevertheless, man sought his own way, to follow his own will. In doing so, he ended up paying a very heavy price, which was his separation from God. Yet, God did not abandon man; He provided the means by which man could be reconciled with Him once again. This entails, of course, repentance and penance. Through repentance comes forgiveness. The sincere and deliberate attempt to change one’s ways, to obediently submit to the will of God and be faithful to His commandments, laws and teachings, opens up for us the door to a renewed and whole relationship with God and with our fellow men.

It is for this reason that in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about forgiveness. You see, there is a connection between this morning’s Old Testament reading and Gospel reading. If Adam and Eve had asked God for forgiveness for the wrong they had done, God would have forgiven them and things may have turned out differently, not only for them, but for us as well.

Forgiveness of offenses and transgressions changes many things. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. It changes relationships among human beings and it changes out relationship with God. Forgiveness empowers. It breaks down barriers and restores what was lost.

Let me ask you a question. How do you respond to hurts and offenses? Jesus says to us this morning, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive your neighbors their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” No one can live a happy or good life without practicing forgiveness on a regular basis. Forgiving others is practical and logical because if someone plucks out an eye in revenge that does not solve a problem. In fact, it creates a greater problem because now there are two people without an eye. Knocking out someone’s teeth in revenge for them knocking out yours does not solve a problem because then there would be two people without teeth. Certainly this does not mean that we let wrong go unpunished. And if we choose not to respond when someone does us wrong, when we choose to “turn the other cheek,” does that mean we are allowing evil to triumph?

In the life of Jesus we see that he did not offer resistance to the evil inflicted upon Him. As He was being crucified, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). But if we take it into our own hands to eradicate evil might we not run the risk of going too far and end up just trying to assert a victory for the sake of victory?

Forgiveness is not something that is selective. Jesus tells us that we must love everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done. And if this or that person or group of persons has done something to offend and hurt us in some way individually or as a community, our obligation, in Christian love and charity, requires that we forgive them, even if they do not ask our forgiveness. It would be a wonderful thing if every person asked for forgiveness when they did something to hurt or offend another human being, but this is simply just not the case. Human nature is flawed and weak. As humans we are subject to concupiscence, the tendency to sin. Thus, the decisions we make are not always the right ones. Rather than being made in the light of the Gospel truth, we often make our decisions based on a flawed conscience.

Instead of loving only those whom we like or who love us, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is surely good spiritual advice and is also healthy psychological advice as praying for those who hurt us frees us and gives us peace. It is a good thing to forgive and ask forgiveness. It frees our hearts from the bondage of hate, anger and resentment that wreaks havoc in our lives and causes them to be unsettled and stressful.

We are constantly reminded about the importance of forgiveness. For example, Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiving is something we are called to all the time. Not that we should take it for granted and make it into something it is not, but we are instructed to remember how important it is to being a Christian, a disciple of the One whose light shines on both the good and the bad, the holy and the evil. God does not limit His forgiveness to just those who ask Him of forgiveness. No, He offers His forgiveness and love even to those who do not ask for it. Whether they accept it or not is an act of free will on their part, but they cannot receive God’s forgiveness unless they ask for it. In the same way, we should forgive those who offend or hurt us whether they ask our forgiveness or not. In doing so, this is a show of love and an act of charity. It is a blessing bestowed upon them, one which we pray will soften their heart and promote a change in their behavior for the better.

Forging someone who has wronged us or who has otherwise hurt or offended us is not always easy. Is there anything that can help us to forgive those who have hurt us? Here are a few suggestions I offer to people from time to time.

First, it is important to remember that forgiveness is a decision and not an emotion. Hopefully, our emotions will follow our decision to forgive but first we must decide to forgive. Second, forgiveness does not mean blotting out the offense or the painful memories that are attached to it. We should not forget because if we do, we allow the one who wronged us or offended us to have an unhealthy control over our lives. That is why when the hurt is deep, pastoral counseling or some other kind of therapy may be needed to help us deal with what happened and to keep us from acting out from anger, resentment or past negative experiences.

When people have difficulty forgiving a hurt, I sometimes tell them to repeat to themselves, “I will not allow that person to control my life. I take control of my life back from that person. From now on, I will control my life. (person’s name), I forgive you and pray that God will enlighten you and soften your hard heart.”

Another thought that can help us to forgive is to remember that Jesus died to save the other person just as he died to save you. Try to visualize the person standing next to you at the foot of the Cross of Christ. Is Christ looking only upon you or is He looking upon both you and the one standing next to you who hurt and wronged you? God loves you both; he loves the both the righteous soul and the sinner. No sinner is without hope. All sinners have some chance of redemption. The only sinners who do not have a chance of redemption are those who have willingly and freely chosen a life of evil and have rejected God outright. These are the people who are in league with Satan and are his devoted and hard-working disciples. Sadly, there are millions of them living throughout the world today. They care only about themselves and are determined to destroy everything that is good. They live lives of deceit and deception, making evil appear to be good and turning good into evil. They are not interested in forgiveness, repentance or mercy. They work diligently and enthusiastically at obstructing God at every turn and causing confusion and doubt among the children of God who strive to live their lives in faithfulness to Him and His laws. They sow the seeds of hatred and dissension and division among their fellow human beings and seek to lead them into sin every chance they get.  Forgiveness means nothing to them. In an attempt to mislead the faithful, they will say that a person who has wronged another should only be forgiven if they make an apology.

Demanding an apology from someone who has wronged you as a requirement for forgiving them is in some way connected with wanting to control that person. Forcing a person to make an apology is meaningless. An apology, in order to be real, must come from the heart and must be borne out of genuine repentance. Forgiving somebody involves giving up the need for an apology and the need to control or dominate the person who hurt us. Surrendering the need to expect them to ask forgiveness frees us to forgive them.

How can we say we love God when we cannot love our neighbor? And how can we love our neighbor if we cannot readily forgive them their sins and transgressions? If God can forgive us then how can we withhold forgive from our neighbors? How can we speak about love when we cannot talk about forgiveness or grant it when it is needed?

We say that to err is human and to forgive is divine. It is a grace to forgive and when the hurt we feel is so great and overwhelming, we may need to pray a great deal for the grace to forgive.

When we deal with others, we must pray very hard and often, for prayer cleanses the heart and opens the mind to thoughts of God. But prayer is not the only tool we have to give us the grace we need to forgive those who offend and hurt us.

The Church recommends to us the ascetical practice of fasting for purification of our souls and bodies. Jesus Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert. He gives us this morning clear instructions on how we should fast. He says, “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by all people. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Here Jesus tells us that we should not draw attention to ourselves when we fast. And St. Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle that we should not judge those who fast or how they keep the fast, because God welcomes us all.

Prayer and fasting: two wonderful and impervious tools which make up our spiritual armor. If we immerse ourselves in these two spiritual feats, we will find ourselves in a better position to live Christ-like lives. In this regard, we will be free to love and our love will be genuine. We will be free to forgive and our forgiveness, when given, will be free from any human taint. Our forgiveness will reflect the infinite mercy and compassionate of God Himself.

I was ordained a priest on Forgiveness Sunday in 1997. For this reason, Forgiveness Sunday has a very special meaning for me. As most of you know I was ordained in Greece. It is a place which is dear to my heart for many reasons, foremost among which are the many spiritual blessings I received while I was there. After Divine Liturgy that morning, we took a trip to visit some of the monasteries and churches in the villages and towns on the outskirts of Athens. At this one small monastery we visited, I had the opportunity to preside at Vespers, which was a wonderful and profound spiritual experience for me.

After Vespers, we gathered together on the veranda of the monastery refectory, where we were served a simple but nonetheless delicious Lenten supper. I was speaking to the Abbot (through a translator, of course) who was a very kind and gentle but very strong in the Faith. He told me a story, which one of the monks translated for me, which I have cherished always as a spiritual gift from a very holy Geronda. This story has been a part of my Forgiveness Sunday tradition since that day. You may remember the story, as I tell it every year, so please indulge me. I tell it to you again because I believe its message is very important. The story goes like this:

Two friends were walking through the desert. During some point in the journey, they had an argument; and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.” They kept on walking, not saying a word to each other. After a while, they came to an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and was drowning, but his friend rushed to save him. After he recovered from the near drowning, the man who had been slapped, wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.” The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sane and now, you write on a stone, why?” The friend replied, “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

Too often today, when someone hurts us, it is the bad thing we remember and not the good things they did for us. A person can do a thousand good deeds but let him make one mistake or do one thing wrong, and it is the bad thing they remember and hold against the person. The thousand good things are forgotten; it is as if they never even happened at all. How terrible this is, for someone who is basically good to be treated in such a way? Does God treat His people that way? God does not overlook the wrong that we do, but He does forgive us when we ask forgiveness and repent of our ways. If God deals with us in such a loving and compassionate way, should we not also treat our brothers and sisters the same way? Do we know better than God how to treat one another?

Forgiving those who have hurt us is not easy. The bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive and for some people, it takes a long time to forgive. The most dramatic example of forgiveness that I have ever witnessed in my life was during my incarceration at Livingston Correctional Facility. I was sentenced on March 6th of 2014 and when I had gotten to Livingston, Lent was already in full swing. My first week there was filled with a lot of emotion. Mostly I was filled with fear and anxiety because I did not know what to expect. Fortunately, there were a couple of people who immediately took me under their wing and kept an eye on me. This lessened my fears to some degree but not entirely. A couple of the offenders who belonged to the Catholic support group befriended me and invited me to attend their weekly Bible study and Mass. I ended up going every week because I found it to be a source of great comfort and strength. There were no regular Orthodox services at Livingston as there were very few Orthodox Christians at the facility, so the Catholic services and programs filled a need for spiritual support and consolation.

Just before Holy Week that year, a small retreat took place which was conducted by the Catholic Chaplain of the facility. About thirty offenders attended the program. I want to share with you the example of forgiveness that I witnessed at that retreat. Remember now, that this was prison and forgiveness was not a word or ideal that you would expect to experience or hear about. More often than not, you would hear a lot of talk about revenge, cutting somebody, payback, etc. But on this particular day, the words and sentiments were all about forgiveness, love, and repentance.

The priest who conducted the retreat was a very spiritual person. It was evident from the way he spoke and carried himself that his own spiritual life was deeply rooted in God and in the traditions of the early Church and Church Fathers. In every way, he transcended the connotations of “progressive” and “conservative,” of “liberal” and “traditional.” He simply exuded the life of the Gospel. If there was any “label” that could adequately and rightly be applied to him it was that he was “Christ-like.” It was evident that this priest had a very powerful gift of healing, for he spoke only of the greatness of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion.

The whole retreat was leading up to a renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a preparation for our participation in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ in the week following. To prepare for this, Father started the day with the celebration of the Mass, scriptural reflection and confession. Being Orthodox, I kind of stood aside as an observer. We all understood the circumstances which prevented a full participation on my part yet they still accepted me as a brother and one of their own.

Toward the end of the day’s activities, Father offered individual confession, but before that he asked those present who needed to ask forgiveness of someone in the room to get up, go to that person and ask for forgiveness. For a little while nobody moved. After a few minutes of awkward silence one guy finally got up and went to a guy across the room to ask his forgiveness. A few minutes later two other guys got up an did the same. Father said there were still more who needed to ask for forgiveness. Then more got up and went to someone asking for forgiveness. A third time Father asked people to get up. By this time everyone in the room was up and asking someone for forgiveness. By the time it was all over, everyone in the room had asked everyone else in the room for forgiveness. There were hugs and bear hugs going all around, with a lot of smiles and a lot of tears. When you are in a room with a bunch of guys who are used to violence, indifference, intolerance and a whole host of other vices, it was an amazing thing to stand there and watch what was taking place. Certainly the Holy Spirit was hard at work in that room among those men. The fact that Father had to ask a few times for people to get up but hearts softened and those 30 guys found a bond that I did not see broken for the remainder of time there. Oh sure they had their arguments and fights after that day, but they always came back to the place where they centered themselves in reality and truth: their common faith and belief in a God who loves all people regardless of their faults, shortcomings and failures.

If it is hard for you to forgive someone who has hurt you and you are having difficulty dealing with that, think about this for a moment. St. Peter, it seems, also found it difficult to forgive. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” In asking this question, we could assume that Peter wrestled with the idea of forgiveness at some point in his life. Maybe he found it hard to forgive someone who wronged him or hurt him in some way. So, he put a question about forgiveness to Jesus. Jesus answers Peter’s question, saying, “Not seven times but seventy times seven.” What Jesus is saying here is that we are not to hold grudges. Holding grudges, being angry and resentful, storing up anger in our hearts, is very unhealthy. It can eat into a person.

Yes, we are called to forgive seventy times seven. This means that forgiveness must be an indelible part of our character as Christians. You cannot be a Christian and not possess the ability to forgive. Look at it this way. Somebody did you a great injustice in the past. Every time you meet that person or think of that person you have feelings of revenge, hate, resentment or anger. Forgiving seventy times seven is thinking thoughts of forgiveness every time you meet that person or think of that person. Forgiving seventy times seven is breaking the cycle of thinking negatively and about revenge or payback.

There are many examples of forgiveness in Scripture. God has forgiven us the sin of Adam because of the death of Jesus on the Cross. Now, we must forgive those who have offended and wronged us. If God has forgiven us our many sins and transgressions, how then can we withhold forgiveness from those who have hurt and wronged us?

In today’s Divine Liturgy, we are reminded that forgiveness is part of who every Christian is. As we stand at the threshold of Great Lent, we cannot enter upon this holy season of prayer, repentance and fasting without being at peace with our brothers and sisters. Our Lenten journey means nothing and will bear no spiritual fruit or benefit if forgiveness is not part of our lives. Unless we make peace with our neighbors and those whom we love, and not love, we will make our Lenten pilgrimage weighed down with the chains of pride and hard-heartedness. Thus, our Lenten observance will be a waste of time and effort.

God grant us the grace to ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness to all. For myself, I ask your forgiveness for all in that I have offended and hurt each and every one of you. For all that I have done wrong, and for all that I have failed to do in caring for you and serving you, I prostrate myself at your feet and humbly beg your forgiveness. Most of all, I ask your prayers for my unworthiness, that God grant me the strength to be a good and holy priest and bishop, a true servant of the Lord to you and all His people.

One final word, in addition to prayer and fasting, do not forget about works of charity. Remember especially during Great Lent the poor, the homeless and all those in need and remember also, if you will,  the needs of the Church.

God bless you all and may you all have a spiritually rewarding and beneficial Great Lent.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Homily for the Sunday of the Last Judgment

“But if our wickedness serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath or punishment on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” (Romans 3:5-6).

That God is a judge who holds every human being accountable to His law is a theme that is repeated again and again in the Scriptures. But it is a curious thing just how much we ignore this reality. We hear and speak constantly of God’s mercy and compassion. But what we fail to acknowledge is that with mercy comes justice and judgment. That is why today, the Church remind us of God’s judgment.

God is truly a judge and at the end of time His judgment will be upon all of us. If any of you today think that no matter what, you are saved simply because God is merciful, I am here to tell you that such is not the case. St. Paul was very clear on this matter in his Letter to the Romans.

To be sure that we rightly understand Paul’s reasoning, we need to remember Peter’s caution not to misread Paul’s words so as to make him seem to say something different from what he means. As Peter noted, in Paul’s letter we at times find “some things hard to understand, which the ignorant, untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16).

Too often when we read the Scriptures and try to understand them, we read into them our own beliefs and ideas that are completely contrary to God’s Word, the Apostles’ teachings, and the teachings of the Church. So it is crucial that we carefully read the Scriptures with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit within the Church. We must never assume that our own limited intellect is sufficient to interpret and understand God’s Word and His will. Certainly we can reason and reason can be said to be infallible, but it is only infallible when it is formed and rooted in faith.

Too often, we dismiss a lot of what Scripture says because it does not fit in with our way of thinking. Much of what is in Scripture is viewed by many people today as being irrelevant and subjective and not applicable to the way we live our lives. Many people consider Scripture to be too rigid and restrictive but it is precisely the rigidity of the Gospel that assures salvation and true freedom.

God’s judgment is one of those things we simply toss aside as being inconceivable and not worthy of our attention. We are so used to thinking of God as being nothing more than a benign and loving Being whose mercy is without end, that we forget that He is also a God of justice and that we are, in truth, subject to judgment by Him.

God’s mercy is not automatic, my friends. We must ask for it. But, in asking for it, we must also understand that in order to receive God’s mercy, we must be truly repentant and also do penance. If we do not do these things, then we become subject to God’s justice and judgment.

God’s justice knows no favorites. Scripture is very clear on this point. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and will all be judged by the same standard (Romans 14:10; John 5:22-24). To make this point, St. Paul explains God’s justice and how it relates to the justification of sinners, regardless of their race, culture or previous understanding of His law. “For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judge by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous.” (Romans 2:11-13).

In the final judgment, every person’s eternal destiny hinges on whether his disobedience to God’s law is forgiven because of his personal repentance and his genuine faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Redeemer. All who refuse to meet those conditions will be judge as unrepentant sinners and condemned.

As it was in the early Church so it is today: we spend so much time judging one another. We find it easy to point out the faults and expose the sins of others, but what do we do about our own sinfulness? Do we ask God for mercy and approach Him with repentant hearts so that we set ourselves right with Him? How many of us just go through the motions? How many of us approach the chalice every week in a state of sin? Do we really care about the condition of our souls?

Throughout the centuries the Fathers of the Church had worked tirelessly in trying to convey the message that number one, we must not take God’s mercy for granted, and number two, we cannot dismiss God’s judgment and justice, for they are very real. The Fathers want us to understand that God has no favorites when it comes to sin. All are guilty of sin. All must repent of sin – of breaking God’s laws – and must seek His forgiveness. We must be truly repentant and be willing to do penance so that we will not be moved to sin again. There is no other path to gaining God’s favor.

St. Paul says to us, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4). Two things stand out in this passage. First, God requires repentance of everyone who seeks forgiveness. Second, He still judges everyone by truth.

Since God judges all people without favoritism, ignorance of the law does not excuse anyone from the condemnation the law imposes for sin. Even those who have sinned in ignorance will perish if they refuse to learn the truth, if they are unwilling to quit transgressing the law.

Only sinners who repent by showing a willingness to be “doers of the law” (Romans 2:13) will be saved. All of us who are faithful to the Gospel and obey the laws of God will find favor in His sight and will receive the blessings of Heaven.
To better understand why we are all subject to God’s judgment, we must first be aware of how sin relates to God’s justice: 1) sin is universal and a;; peoples are guilty, 2) sin is caused primarily by fleshly weaknesses and 3) sin’s consequence, when viewed from the point of the final judgment, is eternal death.

There are many people today who not believe God, in the person of Jesus Christ, will judge or condemn anyone to the “fires” of eternal damnation. They simply believe that such an idea is foreign to the concept of a loving and forgiving God.

Think back for a moment to Jesus’s Incarnation and especially to the time when he began His public ministry. Many of the Jews did not accept Jesus. Most refused to accept Him as the Messiah. His first coming was not that of the conquering king they had expected. This made Him a “stumbling block” to them. (Romans 11:9)

How much of a stumbling block is Jesus to many of us today? How much of what Jesus stands for do we find inconsequential and inconvenient? Surely much of what Jesus teaches and demands of us goes against what we believe. So, we let our conscience be the final arbiter of what is good and what is evil. The trouble with that, however, is that our consciences are not infallible. This is because they are often formed by our own sinful nature.

It is against this background that we can begin to understand the necessity of God’s justice. Simply put, God is not going to just let us run around doing whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want. God has not, and does not, cast His people away. He is with His people always and it is precisely because we are His people that a certain manner of behavior is expected of us. Because God is good and because we are the children of God, there is no room in our lives for anything that is bad or evil. But because we have fallen from God’s grace as a result of the disobedience of our first parents and bear the wounds of that disobedience our life choices are not always good.

There are many times when we rebel against God and oppose His will. Thus, when we stray from the narrow path of righteousness, we leave ourselves open to doing things which offend and displease God. Like any loving parent, God chastises and disciplines us not because He is mean or heartless, but because He wants us to change our ways and return to the way of righteousness. God’s justice is always motivated out of love, never out of vengeance or hatred, for God could never hate what He has created. Not has God abandoned or withdrawn any of the promises He has made to His creation, to His people.

The Church is the remnant of Israel whom God called out of bondage. We who make up the Church are God’s “Chosen People.” Through Baptism and Chrismation, we have been enlightened and illuminated. Our eyes have been opened and the fullness of the Truth has been revealed to us; we are no longer spiritually blind, or at least we should not be. I say this because some among us are spiritually blind; they have rejected God’s truth and have chosen to walk a different path.

One of the most important functions of the Church is to call all men to repentance. It is the responsibility of the Church to remind us all that no one is exempt from concupiscence; that is the tendency to sin. Therefore, we must always be on guard and be vigilant on our watch against committing sins and doing those things which displease the Lord. We must listen to the Church and heed Her advice and counsel regarding the faithful observance of God’s laws and walking the path of righteousness. We must trust the Church, as we would trust any loving mother, to lead us in the way of righteousness, holiness and God’s truth. We must never steer away from the course which the Church has identified for us as the most perfect way to salvation and eternal happiness.

We see the Church as the New Jerusalem, “the city of righteousness, the faithful city”. In this regard we recall the words of the Prophet Isaiah. “Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.” (Isaiah 1:236-28).

Every human being is called to repentance. There is no mercy without repentance. To speak only of God’s mercy without having a discussion about repentance, which in itself also entails discussions about God’s justice and judgment, is nonsensical.  Repentance is very important element the life of the Church as a whole. It is a “work” or “labor” which we must undertake every day and we must be conscientious about it. We cannot be lax or indifferent when it comes to repentance of our sins and transgressions.

When Jesus Christ returns in glory, all human beings, those still alive on that day and those who have died, will all be judged according to God’s justice. Our final judgment will depend upon how we lived our lives: if we were faithful to the Gospel and doers of the Word and if we faithfully and obediently observed all of God’s commandments and laws.

Becoming a new person, transformed by the power of God’s Spirit, is the message of Holy Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments. Scripture tries to get us to understand that this walk in “newness of life” which St. Paul spoke about in his Letter to the Romans is accomplished by obeying God from the heart.

Only those who have been forgiven after having repented of their sins and done penance and are led by the Holy Spirit into the obedient way of life revealed in God’s spiritual laws and teachings will succeed in that spiritual walk. We must always take stock of ourselves, especially spiritually. Where are we today in our spiritual maturity? Where are we in holiness and righteousness before the Lord and before each other? Is our integrity and honor as beings created in the image and likeness of God intact or have they been disfigured and corrupted? If the answer is honest and we admit that we are broken, what steps are we taking to correct the problem and restore what has been lost? Or do we just not care, letting the matter go until another time?

Waiting until another time to take care of the health of our souls is really not a good idea. Any of us here today could walk out the door of this church and get hit by a car or suffer a heart attack and die. Then it will be too late to take care of anything, especially the state of our soul. No, my beloved, the state of your soul is an urgent matter, one which needs intensive care and attention. Trust me when I say that God’s judgment is real and His justice His just. Do not think to presume upon God’s mercy, for it will be a great mistake and not go well with you on the Day of Judgment.

Set your lives right with God now so that you may receive the fruits of your holiness and righteousness on the Day of Judgment. Then, as a result of “having been set free from sin, and becoming slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23).

As Orthodox Catholic Christians, we do not discount the reality and benefit of God’s justice and judgment. God’s judgment establishes and ensures good order. God’s judgment establishes mercy. God’s judgment establishes the value of human beings and human life. God’s judgment establishes the reign of Christ as Sovereign Lord and Supreme Judge.

What will be your fate on the Day of Judgment when Christ comes to judge the living and the dead and the Book of Life is opened and all that you have done and failed to do is revealed in the light of Christ’s justice? Will you be at His right hand or His left? Will you be among the blessed or the damned? It is your choice. There is still time to make things right starting today.