Eastern Orthodox

We Become Our Own Judge

Based on this scripture it would be hard to argue against a day of reckoning—a day when everyone that has ever been born will be required to “give an account” for our lives. But we need to understand that our Lord will not be standing over us and arbitrarily pointing His finger at us. We become our own judge with every thought, with every word,  and with every action. The judgment is simply the presence of Christ. Jesus said: “I didn’t come to condemn the world. He said, “My words are a judgment. My presence is a judgment” (John 3:17; John 12:48). We are making the judgment, not Him. He came to save us. This is really good news for us unless we are forming in ourselves a way of life that is in opposition to Christ. This is the point that we begin to have trouble. How much Christianity is enough? If we think we can find a section of our heart that we can reserve for Christ, no matter how big the section, we will have missed Him. Our Lord requires us to love Him with our whole being and every place of our heart must be devoted to Him. There is no middle ground; there is no such thing as a part time Christian, or even a 99% Christian. We will be judged on how we treat each other and how we treat strangers and how we treat our enemies. We are not waiting for the judgement at the end of time but, by living in Christ today and every day, we are running to meet the end of history, and already live the life expected after the second coming.

We do not live our lives as Christians out of fear of punishment or because we hope to gain a reward. We are Christians because we want to live in the love of God.  We live our life in Christ out of love, always ready to receive him. We cannot live the fullness of Christ unless we live this life in the church.

We can be at every service, we can fast, we can give alms, visit people in prison, and on and on, but if what we are doing is not based on love and directed toward love everything we do is fruitless, needless, empty, and dead. On the other hand, we cannot say we love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul if our desire to be here for every service is not all consuming.

What a strange kind of a judgment this is. The more we see the sinfulness in ourselves the more worthy we become in Christ, and the more worthy we believe we are in ourselves, the farther we place ourselves from actually living in Christ.  The force of this morning’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) is unrelenting. It allows us no wriggle room. It takes away every excuse, every self-justification,

When we embrace an Orthodox way of life we are not just agreeing to accept a more complete understanding of Christianity. We are agreeing to embrace a way of life that is in direct conflict with the world. The Orthodox Church is committed to following Christ. If we don’t live Christianity, we simply are not Christian, no matter what formal beliefs we may have. Our goal is to live the Gospel in Christ. So how do we go about living the Gospel? The obvious answer is love: love for God and love for neighbor.  But that definition ends up hijacked by our egos and means we can justify almost anything we do say or think.

What is the difference between us and the rest of the world? How can we make a difference in the homes we live in with our families and with the neighbors we have?

It starts with a radically different world view from the one our society has, and ends with a radically different view of what it means to be a human person.

The world is abnormal. Things are not as God intended. It is legal to kill little babies in America and illegal to display a nativity scene on public property. Our culture denies the existence of God. Our culture also denies the existence of the evil one. We believe we can solve our own problems. This is called secular humanism.

God is real and we are created in His image and likeness. The evil one is not imaginary, but he has no power against those who are rooted in Christ.

We are confronted by a constant barrage of temptations in markets and businesses, on the public signs and billboards, in music, and in the home itself, where the internet and television often becomes the secret ruler of our home.  All these things are trying to dictate secular values, opinions, and tastes.

The message of this temptation is this: live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax, be comfortable, and be profitable.  These are not evil ideas in and of themselves, but behind this message is another, more disturbing undertone that we are to forget about God and any other life but the present, remove from our life the fear of God and reverence for holy things, and regard those who want to live a traditional Orthodox life as “old-fashioned’ and “superstitious”.

The purpose of our life is to participate in the life of God, to become partakers of His divine nature. We are not just saved from going to hell, we are not just legally off the hook, we have a high calling, and we have been designed from the very beginning of time to share in the energies of God.

What does all this have to do with this Gospel? Everything.

It is one thing to mentally agree with an Orthodox world view and quite another thing entirely to live one. We have to realize that the abnormal world we live in is the place where we live out our Christian life. Whatever we make of our life, whatever truly Christian content we give it, will are still part of the world around us, we need to dig in and by God’s grace and love begin to redeem our world, and be humble enough to co-operate with God in our transformation. This is where we begin: Christ says I was in prison, I was sick, I was thirsty. What else can this mean except that Christ has identified Himself with us? I do not remember who said this but I love it: Christian love by definition is the impossible possibility of seeing, of recognizing, of encountering Christ in each other, in each person we meet. 

We must be different from the abnormal world. This means that we go beyond just thinking differently, we live differently. There is a physical side to being spiritual. We cross ourselves, we bow, we kneel, we light candles, we dress modestly. There are external aspects of our life that reflect what’s happening inside our souls. We talk about doing God’s will, but in reality what we really want is for God to put His stamp of approval on our will.

We must understand the impact that our world has on us and fight with every weapon we have been given for our salvation. Not against the world but for the world. Use the Jesus prayer, come to church, participate in all of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and repentance, go to monasteries, make prayer ropes, practice stillness, simplicity and silence according to our circumstances and ability. It has to be on our level, down to earth where we live. We must not try to create a separate sub-culture where we are “safe” we must realize our situation as Orthodox Christians; we must realize deeply what times we live in, we must be a light in a world of darkness, we must be determined to fight to live as Orthodox Christians today in the 21st century. We must decrease so that He may increase. The more we lose ourselves in Christ the more we find our true selves. The judgment is real. As we speak we are identifying ourselves with either the sheep or the goats.

The thing that makes each of us valuable to God, the thing that we must find in each other to love, is the mystery that we are created in His image and likeness.

Brothers and sisters, love one another. We must love the people God has put in our life, even the goats. Especially the goats.

Fr Gregory Owen

Fr Gregory Owen

Fr. Gregory is the priest of a small, canonical Orthodox Mission in Berrien Springs, MI. Ordained as a priest in 2007, he desires to use his position as a priest to see souls healed through the life in Christ as prescribed by the Orthodox Church.

Previous post

A Calvinist Reads Calvin: Knowing God Entails Relationship

Next post

Waiting to Rejoice