A Christian Ending is a Reward for true Christians
By St. John of Kronstadt
"I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who will come in glory to judge the living and the dead." (7th article of the Symbol of Faith)
Who says these words? Every Christian does. Well, if every Christian says these words, then, without a doubt, so do I, and each and every one of you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, do you sincerely believe that Jesus Christ, the Righteous Judge of all those born on this earth, will come to judge the living and the dead, who will all be resurrected and receive either eternal blessedness or eternal damnation? Are you ready to meet the Judge of all and to give an answer at the terrible judgment seat of Christ for your every word and deed? Do you have any good deeds? Why do I keep asking? From the lives and deeds of Christians it is evident that they have long forgotten about the Righteous Judge, about the terrible judgment, about eternal life, and that with each passing day they rush toward eternal perdition, which they cannot even imagine. They hurry to receive their consolation here on earth, in order to be deprived of it in eternity, in heaven. They are more concerned with how to kill precious time, how to spend time in a pleasant way; but no one is concerned with how to spend time for the benefit of the soul, no one is concerned about preparing their outside work. Making it fit for themselves in the field (Prov 24:27).
"Those who desire eternal joys partake little of earthly ones" (St Gennadios, “On the Christian Faith and Life”), says St Gennadios, Patriarch of Constantinople, and yet our earthly joys are almost uninterrupted. Many of us live as if we don’t have to die and give an account of our lives. What does this mean? Doesn’t this happen because such people think that all they have to do is to repent just before they die and they will receive a full pardon? Of course, God does not turn away those who come to him even at the eleventh hour, that is, if they turn to him with all their hearts. However, if your heart was far away from God for the longest part of your life, do you think that you will be able to move it toward God, to arouse in you a feeling of repentance before you die? Oh, brothers! It will be exactly then that your heart will be set against you, for your perdition. Many times have I seen how difficult it is for some to listen to an exhortation to repentance, and how those who never thought about correcting themselves, and were not able to repent during their lives, how they are lost during confession before their departure from this life. No, brothers! A Christian ending is a reward for true Christians. Repent as much as you can during your lifetime, and then you will meet a peaceful death with sincere repentance.
Therefore, prepare yourselves for the judgment, for the terrible judgment, for the righteous judgment, for the one and final judgment, after which there will be either eternal blessedness or unending torment. Do not be surprised that I speak so emphatically. Truth is royal, it has the right to speak thusly. Moreover, we have the utmost need to speak emphatically about the preption for the judgment. When we are clearly confronted with the eternal perdition of souls due to carelessness and negligence, then we must act decisively, and then even more decisively than at other times when we must speak the truth. When people see that a man faces a clear risk of death by fire, or by drowning in water, then in such cases do they not act with all determination? Yes, because in the case of indecision on the part of those who want to save the man who is perishing, he could die at any moment. In the same way we must, with great determination and fear of the coming judgment, save many from the fire: because we ourselves are not far from the eternal fire, and perhaps many people are but one step away from it. Brother! Think, maybe "this night your soul will be required of you" (Luke 12:20), and you will be in hell, in torments … all in flames. Thus, be prepared for the judgment, start preparing today. "Work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day: the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). We have worked for vanity long enough. It is time to look upon our poor soul with testing eyes.
Go to Church, weep over your sins, await together with Her, with great fear, the day of judgment. The Church continually thinks about the judgment: morning, day, and night; every day, early and late, the Church reminds Her children of this great day, which will decide the fate of the entire human race; and yet Her children are busy with thoughts of how pleasant it is for them to turn their heads for a few minutes, to cheer their hearts with the joys of earthly passions. The Lord, the Truth, the Life thunders with His voice about how His Judgment will be accomplished without fail, and commands us to watch and pray always in spirit (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36), in order that we may avoid the terrible fate of the condemned; the Apostles assure us that the Judge "is standing at the door" (Jas 5:9) … and we act as if we don’t even want to hear any of this. Others think and even say: what a terrible judgment! The Lord is merciful, He will have compassion; we are sinners more due to our weaknesses, not because we are evil or callous…. And they do not think about how only the merciful shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (Jas 2:13). Where are your deeds of mercy, when it is evident that you care only about yourselves?
Brethren! God forbid that any of us go to where the rich man, who made merry every day, went. If we find ourselves there, then it will be too late to ask for drops of water to sooth our tongue; it will be too late to send anyone to our relatives, in order that they might not end there also (Luke 16:19–31).
"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matt 25:13). Amen.
On Our Conscience
By St. John of Kronstadt
Beloved in the Lord, my brothers and sisters! Today we have read in the Gospel of Matthew the words of our Lord Jesus Christ regarding His second, glorious, and terrible coming to earth; we read about how He will sit on the throne of His glory in order to judge the world, and how all nations shall be gathered before Him, everyone, those whose lives have passed, those who now live, and those who have yet to be born. "And He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food: I was thirsty and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: I was naked and you clothed Me: I was sick and you visited Me: I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food: I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink: I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt 25:32–46).
This is how the Lord concluded His words on the final, terrible judgment of mankind! How sweet and joyful these words sound to the righteous and how bitter and stern, and forever unchanging they sound to hard-hearted sinners! Thus, the merciful shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). Those who have stored the oil of good deeds will be able to enter the bridal chamber, "for judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (Jas 2:13). Now, brothers and sisters, it is beneficial for us to ask ourselves and to ponder: to which side shall we belong? To the right, or to the left; with the sheep, or with the goats; with the blessed, or with the cursed? You will say: who can know such a thing, besides the Lord, "Who saves the upright in heart" (Ps 7:10), and Who possesses the most truthful scales of justice? To the Lord alone belongs the perfect knowledge regarding every man, only He knows who among us will stand on the right side, and who will stand on the left side; He alone knows which righteous person shall stand here in his righteousness, and which one won’t, which sinner returns sincerely and repents, and from a goat is turned into a sheep, and which one ultimately becomes hardened in sin.
But to us, brethren, is given at least to know what is our state now: who are we, sheep or goats? Our conscience, that incorruptible judge and witness of our thoughts, words, and deeds, shows us whether we are humble and gentle sheep of the rational fold, whether we are willing to share our goods with those in need, or whether we are proud, egotistical, evil, vengeful, unmerciful sinners, who, like goats, are filled with the stench of our impurities. This we can know about ourselves right here and now, in the continuation of our earthly lives, and therefore we can judge on which side we might stand at the terrible judgment; that is, we might stand on the left side if we remain unrepentant, uncorrected sinners, filled with our pride and malice, with sinful impurities in our hearts and bodies; yet we may hope that through faith, repentance, and good deeds, we might stand on the right side; the choice of which side to stand on depends on us. Time was given to each of us by the merciful Saviour to come to our senses, repent, correct ourselves, stock up with an excess of oil of mercy and every virtue, in order not to be ashamed at the judgment. Thus, let us take care to become lambs of meekness and gentleness, love and compassion, patience and long-suffering, humility and obedience, temperance and purity, and let us flee all the opposites of these virtues. The aforesaid virtues attain for us in this life the blessings of the Heavenly Father, and in the future life they establish us on the right side.
Therefore I repeat, it is up to us to become worthy to stand on the right side at the dreadful judgment, and to flee the left side; to listen to the all-blessed voice of the Saviour, Who calls us into the Kingdom of Heaven, and to flee the terrible voice that casts us into the eternal fire.
We write here, as it were, our deeds, eternal justification or eternal condemnation for ourselves at the terrible judgment; and in this way we say that the future judgment is written: "to execute on them," it is said, "the written judgment" (Ps 149:9). The books of our consciences either justify us or condemn us, and all that is left to us is to listen to the just, eternal sentence of the Judge of all. Let us hasten, through sincere repentance and charity, to obliterate from our consciences all of our sins, voluntary and involuntary, and to write in our consciences every good deed. "Their works follow them" (Rev 14:13), says the Scripture. Amen.
From the book, Season of Repentance: Lenten Homilies of Saint John of Kronstadt (Holy Trinity Publications: Jordanville, NY, 2015).