One week before Great Lent begins, the Sunday Gospel lesson in the Orthodox church is Matthew 25:31-46, the Last Judgment. In this surprising parable of Jesus, the final judgment of all humans by God is not based upon sins we have committed or avoided, nor upon whether or not we fasted during Lent, nor on how often we attended church or kept a spiritual discipline, nor on whether we kept the Ten Commandments, but rather God’s final judgment of us is based solely on whether or not we have loved the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. The only question to be asked at the Last Judgment is whether or not we showed mercy and charity to those to whom we could have done so.
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O 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 welcomed me, 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, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal 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 welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) comments:
“Listen and be glad, all of you who are poor and needy, for in this you are God’s brethren. Even if you are poor and lowly against your will, with patience and thanksgiving voluntarily turn it to your own good. Listen, all you who are rich, and long for blessed poverty, that you may become more truly heirs and brethren of Christ than whose who are involuntarily poor, for of His own free will He made Himself poor for our sake. Listen and groan, all you who overlook your suffering brethren, or rather, Christ’s brethren, and do not give the poor a share of your abundant food, shelter, clothing and care as appropriate, nor offer your surplus to meet their need. Let us listen and groan ourselves, for I who am telling you these things stand accused by my conscience of not being completely free of this passion. While many shiver and go without, I am well fed and clothed. But more grievously to be mourned over are those who have treasures in excess of their daily needs, who hold on to them and even strive to increase them. They have been commanded to love their neighbors as themselves and have not even loved them as dust, for what are gold and silver, which they loved more than their brethren, other than dust?
But let us change direction, repent and agree together to supply the needs of the poor brethren among us by whatever means we have. If we prefer not to empty out all we possess for the love of God, let us at least not callously hold on to everything for ourselves. Let us do something, then humble ourselves before God and obtain forgiveness from Him for what we have failed to do. For His love for mankind makes up for our omissions, that we may never hear the horrifying voice: ‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed’ (Matt. 25:41). How great a horror! Be ye removed from life, cast out of paradise, deprived of light.’” (Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, pp 30-31)