Sermon from February 27, 2022
Sunday of the Last Judgment
Matt 25:31 - 46
By Fr Nicholas Karipoff
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s reading about the Last Judgment that we just heard is all about love. Our life here on earth is given to us to choose the love of Christ, of God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the choice that God wants us to make. Back in 2020 I spoke of coronavirus as a crisis, and I remind you that the word crisis originally meant judgment. That crisis – or judgment - began to show whether we have love for Christ and our neighbour. We have sinned by being impatient with other people, and with their opinions about the virus and everything that went along with it. There is nothing more painful for parents to endure than to see their children feuding. This applies to spiritual relationships even more, and there is no greater sadness and pain for the pastor than to see people in church begin to feud with each other.
Right now, we have an even greater test of our love. Another crisis and judgment. I’m talking about Ukraine. Firstly, as I’ve said many times before, our problem is that we have had it too good for too long and we’ve become insensitive. Our hearts have a sort-of layer of fat that makes them insensitive. Right this minute our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ukraine are hiding in underground shelters and in metro stations because of the street fighting. One of our Ukrainian parishioners sent me a clip about a building that was hit by a rocket. Glory be to God it was evacuated so there were no casualties in that building. Think of the young soldiers, both Russians and Ukrainians, the young conscripts. They don’t want to fight or kill other people. They don’t want to stand in the front line to be shot at. It’s awful. And these are largely Orthodox people, how sad this is for the Church. We Christians can talk about geo-politics and national interests in abstract, alienated terms, but here we have Christians who are really hurting. We have been praying for the suffering land of Ukraine since 2014.
Challenges are allowed by God to make us grow in love, to make us become more mature in spirit. I’ll give you a quote from Fr Seraphim Rose: In the time ahead (he died in 1982) the devil will be using every chance to get true Orthodox Christians upset at each other over matters big and small. We must firmly try not to take the bait.
It is not our job, and in fact it’s impossible, to figure out really what is happening in the murky waters of big politics, because it’s all so convoluted and contradictory. It is time to remember that traditionally the allegiance of all the Eastern Slavs was to Christ first, and then to the tribe and nation. This is evident from the form of address they used for each other around the 16th and 17th centuries; they used to address each other as “Christians”, not “Russians” or “Ukrainians” or “Byelorussians”. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being patriotic. But some things are more important. When I began my pastoral work in the church at Collingwood in 1981, I started saying things which may have been somewhat jarring to some people; I told the parish, this church is not a Russian club! In the decades since then, our Church life has developed and moved away from that. It might be understandable for migrants in the early decades of their life in a new country to stick together with their compatriots, but now we, one would hope, are more mature, able to build a Church life together with people from many different backgrounds.
To return to today’s Gospel about the Last Judgment, it is a reminder that each one of us will have to give an account of what we did with the gift of love we were given. Did we turn that gift, that energy, towards God, to Christ and to our neighbour? Did we love our neighbour as ourselves, did we feel our neighbour’s pain? Or did we turn the gift of love inward and become egocentric, greedy, and selfish. Instead of being God’s obedient flock, did we become the selfish goats, like in the reading?
Brothers and Sisters, I call upon all of you to pray for the quickest possible cessation of these hostilities and bloodshed. It is damaging not only on the level of respect and friendship between the nations, but even more so, it is damaging on the spiritual level, to Church life. All Orthodox Christians need to pray for the peaceful resolution of this awful tragedy.