"After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways .... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church." St. Philaret of NY 1985

Sunday of the Dread Judgement


The Gospel reading which we heard today during the Divine Liturgy begins with the words of the Lord “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory” (Mt. 25:31).  St. John Chrysostom comments on this 25th chapter of St. Matthew: “His words inspire great fear and awe, because when He comes down from the heavens to be seated on the throne of His glory, all the holy angels also come down with Him to the place of the Last Judgment, vacating the entire heavenly realm.”

It is for good reason that the Lord emphasizes this.  The first time He came to the earth was in a humble, self-effacing way.  He was born in a cave, laid in a manger, “had nowhere to lay His head” as He Himself said (Mt. 8:20), and, in the end, was nailed to the Cross and buried.  His Second Coming will be completely different.  He will then come in His glory.  Every earthly splendor, earthly magnificence, and earthly glory will be like a worthless plaything before His divine glory!  And He will come in ALL His glory!

His disciples beheld only a fraction of His glory on Mount Tabor, ‘as much as they could bear’ (troparion for the Feast of the Transfiguration).  His vestments were white as snow, and His countenance shone like the sun.  This was only a small fraction of His glory.  What will it be like when He comes to the Last Judgment and demands an account from mankind for the great mercy rendered to them?  This Final Judgment will be fearsome, because nothing of what we did in life will be hidden from the All-knowing God – not even our innermost thoughts and hidden emotions.  The Holy Fathers say that only those things which were absolved through repentance and confession will be gone.  The Lord will not reveal these, for the sacrament of repentance not only grants a person forgiveness of sins, but does away with them completely as if they never existed.  The Lord will reveal everything else, however, so that all the people and all the angels will see the person not as he appeared to be in his earthly life, but as he was in reality.  Ever person had certain inner feelings he kept secret, especially those that were unclean, sinful, and shameful.  Unless they were cleansed through repentance, the Lord brings them out into the open.  People who knew us will see what we were really like, and probably be horrified… Indeed, we ourselves will be horrified, because, as St. Theophan the Recluse said, “The righteousness of God will prevail, and in the light of this righteousness a person will judge himself for his own sins, his failings and sinful falls, and all that was not corrected in himself”.

How joyful the first part of this Dread Judgment will be when the Savior of the world turns with love to those who will stand at His right Hand and says, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:34).  Even before man came into being, when the world was just created, our Heavenly Father already had us in mind and already prepared a kingdom for us to inherit.  Furthermore He says, “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” (Mt. 25:35-36).   Even though the people who pleased God know this from the Gospel, it will be so overwhelmingly awesome to be in the presence of the Unapproachable and Great King on His throne, and they will say in bewilderment, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, sick, poor, or in prison?  When did we see You?  We were just trying to follow Your commandment by helping our neighbors, but we did not see You.”  And the King will answer, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:40).

Here is something that is so often overlooked. Our Lord in His limitless love calls these lowly, poor, and sick ‘My brethren’, and He so loves them that, in His love, whatever good that was done to them He considers done to Himself, just like, for example, a loving mother seeing her son receiving a gift rejoices as if she herself were receiving that gift.  This is characteristic of love.  The Lord considers done for Himself what the righteous, pious people did for their lesser brothers.

However, if the first part of the Dread Judgment was joyful, the second part will be terrifying!  The Stern and Awesome Judge will say to those who will stand at His left Hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).  While we do not read anywhere else in the New Testament about anyone being cursed, neither about anger towards another that is against us, sinners will hear these fearsome words from the Lord’s Lips: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared [for whom?  For you?  No, that is not what He says; He says prepared] for the devil and his angels!”  The everlasting fire was prepared for the evil first apostate and his followers who sowed the seeds of evil into our earthly lives, not for you, for whom the Kingdom of Heaven was prepared.  Yet, you made it so that there could be no other fate for you except this.  How terrible it will be then for these unfortunate souls – they will be overcome with despair… For one last time in eternity they will again try to justify themselves in the same way they were accustomed to in their earthly lives, to exalt themselves, to justify themselves in everything, and not blame themselves by saying, “Lord, when did we see You in need, sick, in prison, or naked, and did not clothe You?  We saw these parasites, beggars, and drunks – they did not deserve to be helped.  If it had been You, we would have helped You”.  This is the unqualified answer they got: “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!” (Mt. 25:45) The Lord ended this conversation about the Dread Judgment saying, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life!” (Mt. 25:45-46).  As the Holy Fathers also said, this Judgment will be fearsome not only because all people will see us our true character as we really are on the inside, but because the Judge is IMPLACABLE!  During His earthly life, our Lord Jesus Christ never turned anyone away.  He Himself said, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (Jn. 6:37) and after His Ascension, throughout the whole history of mankind “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  The Lord is true to His word in His endless love and mercy, and, as we have said many times, there has never been, or will be, any occasion when He does not receive or grant forgiveness to a person coming to Him with repentance. This is not possible!

However, at the Judgment, there will be no more chance for repentance, and the Judge will be IMPLACABLE, as the Holy Fathers said.  Nonetheless, it is true that we sinners still have one hope, a hope that is depicted by a faithful and pious iconographer in the icon of the Dread Judgment.  All present are stricken with fear and awe.  We no longer hear St. John the Forerunner preaching and calling everyone to repent – he is now silent, and so are the apostles and all the saints.  The sinners stand terrified.  ONLY ONE PERSON IS NOT SILENT – the Mother of God.  She leans over the shoulder of Her Son and pleads to Him on behalf of the unfortunate sinners who are just about to hear the terrible sentence of eternal torment.  This is our Christian hope, that the Mother of God will intercede for us at Christ’s Dread Judgment. 

If only people would think more often about the end of their earthly life, and furthermore, about the end of the history of mankind and how it will all come to an end.  People nowadays do not give this the least thought, or if it comes to mind, they try to brush it aside.  Others comfort themselves saying that since God is merciful, He ought to forgive everyone.  To this kind of thinking we can reply, “Pardon, but look in the Gospel at what God Himself said.  Does He say that He will forgive everyone without exception?  Certainly not!  He says that the righteous will inherit eternal life and the sinners will go to everlasting torment”.  The Lord reveals the prospect of the Dread Judgment ahead of time to give us the opportunity to avoid being on the left side after our earthly life, and to instead be on the right side.  One ancient wise man said, “Remember your end and you will never sin”.  This, of course, does not mean that a person can be without sin.  No!  But, he says that if a person keeps the end of his life in mind, he will not take sin so light-mindedly, as people usually do.  Remember your end, ye Christian people, remember Christ’s Dread Judgment, remember that this Judgment will be final and determine your fate for eternity, and always pray sincerely when you hear this petition in the church services: “A Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and A GOOD DEFENSE BEFORE THE DREAD JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST, let us ask.” 

St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 17-20 

Subject: Sermon: On the Sunday of the Dread Judgment
With the blessing of Vladyka Iosif.
Спасо-Вознесенский Православный Храм
Holy Ascension Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
3921 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia  22030

Righteous Symeon the God-Receiver


Saint Philaret of New York

Our Church celebrates the great feasts not just for one day, but for a period of several days until its leave-taking, which for this Feast of the Meeting of the Lord will occur, God willing, on Thursday.  The Meeting of the Lord commemorates that wonderful event when He appeared in the Temple of His glory “as a babe borne in arms” (Irmos to Ode Four of the canon of the feast).  Today we heard the Gospel account of how the Righteous Symeon, who was granted the great mercy from God to receive into his aged hands the Creator of the universe, was informed by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he would see the Lord’s Christ.  As church tradition tells us, an angel brought him this message many, many years before the Nativity of Christ.

Two hundred and seventy years before the Birth of Christ, the Egyptian emperor, eager for knowledge, requested a translation of the Jewish Sacred Scriptures into his own language.  The Righteous Symeon, already up in years, was one of the group of learned elders selected for the task, and he set out to translate his share of the work, the book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the passage where it says that the Savior of the world would be born of a Virgin, he wanted to make a correction, that is, instead of the word ‘virgin’ he wanted to put in the word meaning ‘married woman’.  At that point, an angel stopped his hand and said to him, “Believe what is written, and you will see its fulfillment in your own lifetime”.  It is remarkable that Symeon was already an old man, yet, as church tradition tells us, two hundred and seventy more years were to pass from that moment until the Birth of Christ.  That means that by the time he received the Infant God in his aged hands, he had beyond imagination exceeded the normal human life span.  What a beautiful and edifying example he gives us with his faith that did not doubt or weaken at all even after all that time!  He lived so long that before his eyes generation after generation of children were born and became adults, grew old and went to their graves, all the while that he continued to live on and on.  However, his faith did not weaken, but as ever burned with zeal while he awaited the fulfillment of the promise which eventually did come to pass.

This amazing example of faith proves to be very edifying for us.  We are inconsistent and always losing our faith, what little we have of it.  Even the disciples during their lifetime asked their Divine Teacher, “Increase our faith!” and it is all the more so that WE need to pray for this.  If the disciples felt that their faith was lacking and beseeched their Teacher to add to their faith, in our case, it is not their request ‘increase our faith’ that is appropriate (for the disciples HAD faith to start with, and they were asking for more) but the exclamation of the father whose son was sick, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” that is more fitting for us.

This exclamation must be inseparable from us, because we lack faith.  How much easier it is for a person with faith to live his life! Faith is like a beacon that illumines his path!  There are still obstacles and difficulties, but that person sees everything correctly in the light of faith and as a Christian he takes everything in the right way.  Nowadays, people are in the dark and are lost without the light of faith.  Just look at what they have come up with instead, and how they have made a mess of their lives!

We have to pray that the Lord might give us even a small fraction of the burning faith that the great righteous elder Symeon had.  In the church services it is said that he was higher than the great prophet Moses.  Prophet Moses had to bow down to the ground and could look at the Lord only after He had passed by, and it was only from behind that he saw the Creator of the world going away from him. Symeon, however, had the greatest honor and mercy to receive Him into his own hands.  This was a reward for his faith, and it has now shone throughout the whole world, the faith which our compassionate Lord has granted us at least a small part.  Amen.

Translated from Sermons, Volume II, pages 220-221
Origin and details of this translation is unknown.  I can't find it on the internet.  It was emailed to me by Reader Daniel Everiss 3/16Feb2017  forwarded from Mat. Irene Dutikow emailing list.  The font looks like http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english, but I can't find the article on that website.  It could possibly be translated by Bp. Joseph of Holy Ascension in Virginia, but usually he identifies himself.  -jh 

Let your light so shine before men


Since ancient times, the Russian people have a saying ‘Words edify, but examples convince’, that is, while words in one way or another edify a person, a good example seen through real-life actions is what inspires people to do the same, and woe to the person whose deeds fail to live up to his words.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard the words of our Savior which were directed primarily to His disciples, and through them to all of us sinners, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16), that is, let your good deeds on earth shine before men, so that seeing them, people would glorify your Father in heaven.

These Gospel words remind us of what the heathens said about Christians in the first centuries of Christianity. In the beginning, the Jews, malicious enemies of Christians, tried to distort the Christian dogmas by using all kinds of slander. For example, they said that Christians get together for the sacrament of the Eucharist and slay infants in order to drink their blood. However, in the end, all these slanders were brought to naught, and, as contemporary historians asserted, crowds of heathens converted to Christianity. “Look at the kind of life these Christians lead!” said the heathens with great respect and amazement over what they saw. The Christians’ real-life examples convinced them to accept Christianity and imitate their way of life.

Looking at us today, however, do many people convert to our faith, to our Orthodox Christianity? In the Far East, Orthodox people lived among the pagan Chinese, and here they are surrounded by the heterodox. What can those people learn from us? That is the question! Holy Scripture not only says that our light should shine before the heathen, but there are yet more fearsome words. The Apostle Paul wrote sternly to his brethren, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24). How can this be? It is a known fact that when a Christian missionary once arrived in a pagan land and started to preach about Christ, people listened to him attentively and respectfully. But then, they said, “Tell us, were those people who first came to us from your country also Christians?” Not knowing what this was leading to, the missionary replied, “Yes, they were also Christians”. They said, “Then go away from us! Your Christians behaved in such an abominable way that none of us want to be Christians!” This was what happened.

And this was not an isolated incident. Instead of being a good example, Christians today are quite the opposite. They blend into their surroundings, living like everyone else, and our Orthodox Russian people are doing this all the time. They are no different from the heterodox surrounding them. By looking at us, no one could imagine how lofty and wonderful our faith really is.

How incredibly marvelous God is, in promising us eternal life, to reign with Christ for eternity, to eternally sing songs in joy and triumph in the never-waning day of the Lord’s Kingdom! How great and wonderful are His vows! Yet, by looking at us, can anyone imagine that we live with this expectation? Instead, we are totally committed to this life which has sucked us in. Therefore, every time you hear these words ‘let your light shine before men that they may see your good works’ remind yourself that these words were directed towards us, and that the Lord in due time, at the Dread Judgment, will seek requital if we did not set a proper example to others by how we lived our lives. May the Lord through His grace set us on the right path so that looking at us, other people may truly appreciate the greatness of the Orthodox faith and accept it as their faith also. Amen.

St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 216-217 

With the blessing of Vladyka Iosif. 

Спасо-Вознесенский Православный Храм
Holy Ascension Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad

3921 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia  22030

Holy Innocents Slain by Herod 2


We know from the Holy Gospel that when the angel of God announced to the shepherds on that blessed night in Bethlehem that the Savior of the world was born, he said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Lk. 2:10).  And the hearts of the shepherds were indeed filled with great joy, as well as the hearts of the Magi who came later, and, of course, the heart of the Most-pure, Most-blessed Mother of the Savior!  What tremendous joy this was!  However, it is not in vain that the Church says that in this world there is sadness associated with every joy.  And this was also true in this case. 

In the Gospel we heard the sorrowful account of how these very blessed fields above which resounded the angelic hymnody ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace’ as well as the streets of Bethlehem were soon afterwards filled with the cries of infants being murdered and the wailing of mothers being deprived of their children.  Herod had tried to conceal his evil intent when he said to the Magi, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also” (Mt. 2:8).  He said that he wanted to see Him.  He probably thought that this was a wise plan of action and would be in his favor, but it did not work out because the Magi did not return to him.  It was not that the Magi wanted to deceive him, but they had received a direct order in a dream from above, from heaven, and they obeyed this command, returning straight home from whence they had come and not going back to the king.  Herod, however being evil, decided that they had deceived him and was enraged.  In order to fulfill his evil intent to kill the newborn King of the Jews, he killed around 14,000 infants in Bethlehem.  When Caesar Augustus, who was at the head of the empire at that time, heard about this monstrous act of Herod, he said, “It would be better to be an unclean beast in Herod’s presence than a man or child”. 

However, this is what I would like to say, my beloved brothers and sisters.  Herod killed 14,000 infants, but even though he killed their bodies, he could not touch their souls.  The Church glorifies them as the first martyrs for Christ, having shed their pure, young, innocent blood for Him.  On the other hand, in our long-suffering homeland, look how for many years they have been killing infants, not their bodies, but their very souls, by tearing them away from the Church and depriving them of any kind of influence by the Church, training them in godless thinking and making them atheists.  This is spiritual murder which is incomparably worse than physical murder.  Not 14,000, but many millions are being killed in this way.  Granted, the Lord has allowed this to happen.  However, it is impossible not to be grieved over the fact that here our children can attend church, partake of the Holy Gifts, and learn the Law of God, thereby attaining true Christian knowledge, while the children there cannot.  And even if some do manage to get Christian instruction, this is under threat of dire retribution. 

When St. John Chrysostom was asked why these infants [in Bethlehem] had to die like this, he replied, “This was allowed by God.  You need to remember that the important thing is not WHEN one dies, but HOW one dies.  We do not know what they would have been like had they grown up.  Maybe they would have been among those who maliciously cried, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’  But they did not live until that moment in time; instead they shed their blood for Christ the Savior, and in this way they met a glorious and martyric end”. 

We also need to keep this in mind.  No one knows when we will die.  Only the Lord knows.  We do not need to try to find out when we will die, but instead try to die in a Christian manner.  It is not so important WHEN death will come, but more importantly that it be a CHRISTIAN death.  You know that we always pray in the church services for ‘a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ’.  And so, remember that this is what we need to prepare for.  A good Christian never forgets that the hour of death will come, and he tries to live so that that moment will not be a terrible ordeal, but a joyful crossing over from earthly griefs to heavenly bliss.  The Lord calls every one of us to this.  Here He lies in a manger as if calling us to Himself, so that by fulfilling His sacred commandments, we may be worthy of a good Christian end, and whenever it may come, just that it be truly a good Christian passing.  Amen. 

St. Metropolitan Philaret of New York, Sermons, Vol. II, pp. 146-148