Meatfare Sunday: Love, Yes, But What Kind of Love?
By Protopresbyter Fr. George Metallinos
1. In today's Gospel reading we are reminded of a great truth. Last Sunday, the sacred Gospel spoke to us about the goodness of God the Father, who awaits the return of that which He fashioned. But this should not lead us to forget His justice. God is not only a loving Father, but also a just Judge.
"Neither is His mercy without judgement, nor His judgement without mercy," says Basil the Great. The Gospels tell us that He will judge the world, and not arbitrarily, but according to our works. Today's reading, therefore, brings us before the event of the Judgement. And we say "event" because this global Judgement is for our Faith an eschatological certainty and reality, which is acknowledged by our Creed as part of our ecclesiastical Faith: "And He will come again to judge the living and the dead...."
We are called, therefore, today to realize three things:
First, that our Judge will be Jesus Christ, since He is God. Christ is Savior, but also Judge. If the first time He came to earth humbly "to save the world", now He will come "in His glory" to judge the world. He who became a "curse" for us on the Cross, has every right to judge us if we have allowed Him to dwell within us and in our society without His sacrifice being in operation.
Second, He will judge not only Christians, nor only Gentiles, as the Jews believed the judgement would be. He will judge all people, Christians and non-Christians, faithful and unfaithful.
Third, the basis of the Judgement, the criterion, will be love. That is, our attitude towards our fellow men. Just as the Judgement will be global and universal, so also will be the criteria. It is the universal law of humanity which can be found everywhere, among Christians and non-Christians, those who knew Christ and those who were not able to know Him and were far from His Gospel. With this law, there is no room for excuses and justifications. Hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, the cries of prison cannot remain hidden so as to enable someone to justify themselves that they were unnoticed. No one can ignore them without first ceasing to have human feelings, unless they have complete indebtedness and impoverishment of the image of God within them.
2. The shocking splendor and fearsomeness of the hour of Judgement is beautifully depicted in the hymns of the day.
When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge most just.
These are the horrifying and simple thoughts of the hour of Judgement, because it not only reminds us of our unreadiness to appear before the judgement seat of the fearsome Judge, but also because it reveals the tragedy of our lives which we spend in vain works, which will not be able to withstand the light of eternity. We will not be justified before the Judge for how big and important the world considers us, with our knowledge, positions, titles, honors, wealth and glory. Indeed, all these things may lead to our condemnation.
We will be judged based on the practical application of our love. Not as individuals, but as members of the human society. God did not create individuals to be autonomous and independent. He created us to be persons and a society of persons. If we simply remain as individuals, then even our greatest virtues will have no return from the Great Judge. This is because they did not find their realization in human society. They were not valued as ministries. Thus knowledge is a divine blessing, but only when it is pursued for the sake of our fellow men, as a ministry towards others. The same could be said of abstinence and piety, fasting and all other ascetic practices. If all these are done for our individual justification and not as a ministry on behalf of others, then the voice of God will rebuke us as follows: "I want mercy not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13). I want love not religiosity, which aims for self-elation and self-promotion. It sees the form as the quintessence of piety.
3. The world has learned to redeem everything, even our conscience. In the area of faith, however, this law does not apply. Individual piety cannot guarantee a position in the kingdom of God unless it is first ecclesiastical, unless it is accompanied by works of love. The arena of a Christian is in society as well as in one's "storeroom". A Christian takes refuge in his storeroom for spiritual replenishment. But we should never exhaust our state of being in the narrow space of individuality. If our spirituality is correct, it will lead to selfless love. Let us hear it once and for all: The arguments of cutesy Christians and their irresponsibility and "false life" has no power. "Search your soul" means nothing more than cowardice and retreat, if it is not accompanied by the arena. "Fight to build your own Christian society." Otherwise we are mistakenly among other Christians. We should rather be in the Far East, in the death of nirvana.
4. I feel the need at this point to present a question: If we are judged on the basis of our practical love, then what about Faith? Of what importance is Faith and the purity of the doctrinal struggle? If they have no eternal dimensions, then why do we have them?
At the hour of Judgement our faith, both devotional and as a teaching, will not be excluded, as many at first would believe. It is presupposed. Our Judge is CHRIST, who will save us or judge us based on our behavior and attitude towards Him. He makes this clear when He says that it is His person to which every action is directed towards our fellow men, both good and evil. Morally indifferent acts do not exist. If He stresses love as the criterion, this does not mean that He wants to exclude Faith. He merely wants to prevent the conviction of Faith on our part as a set of theoretical truths without their corresponding application to our lives.
Just as an openly proclaimed atheist and a conscious denier of the Faith translates their atheism and unbelief through corresponding works, so also must the faithful allow their Faith to become the driving force in their life. For "faith without works" (Jam. 2:20) of love is dead. Therefore, He does not exclude Faith, since it presupposes a correct life and salvation. And even more. Not only will those "who do not believe" in Christ not be saved, but also those who do not believe correctly. God is not only love, but also truth (Jn. 14:6; 1 Jn. 4:8-5:6), and even Truth Himself. Whoever betrays the truth betrays love as well. The love of Christ "rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6), that is, it cohabits with it and takes pleasure in the truth, and has no existence without it. Here is how the struggle for pure doctrine is given value: It is a struggle for love, and it is our greatest ecclesiastical ministry. It is a struggle that is primarily social, because it is done for the sake of the People of God to remain unaffected by error, which would be true suicide.
When Christ told us the Parable of the Judgement, His words could be understood not only in relation to His contemporaries, but also towards those who lived before Him. Those who did not know Christ, may have reasons to be judged solely based on their love, although love without faith in God can never be. Anyone who sincerely exerts love "accepts" God, even if they are ignorant of Him. The unbeliever will only have seeming love. Only where there is "Baptism" and "Holy Spirit" is it possible for "perfect love" to exist, Christian love.
I think the question must be put another way. When we hear this Parable today, two thousand years after the incarnation of the Son of God, how is it possible for us to separate our love from the true Faith? The Gospel says it clearly: "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son" (Jn. 3:18). That is, after the incarnation, or the economy, judgement is the consequence of the stance of every person in relation to Christ. Love remains the criterion. But it is a love that presupposes Faith in Christ. For this is the only true love. This alone justifies and saves.
Source: From ΦΩΣ ΕΚ ΦΩΤΟΣ: Κηρύγματικές σκέψεις στα ευαγγελικά αναγνώσματα (Εκδόσεις "Ορθόδοξος Κυψέλη" Θεσσαλονίκη). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.