Sunday, February 11, 2007

Judgement

I've mentioned before how amazingly spoiled/blessed I am to conduct a church school class of such bright, insightful young people. This past Saturday, I got to (as opposed to "had to") teach a combined class of Jr. High/Sr. High kids, due to the absence of the Sr. High teacher. The topic was appropriate--the Last Judgement--seeing as how yesterday was the day we commemorated it...
"When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory,
all things shall tremble
and the river of fire shall flow before Your judgement seat;
the books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed!
Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,
and make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, righteous Judge!
Hardly "God made you special and He loves you very much" subject matter.

We read the gospel reading for the next day (along with this for comparison regarding what "the work of the Lord" is that the sheep will accomplish, as well as the surprised attitude and identity of both the sheep and the goats), and the sense of "the least of these" came out--the poor, the homeless, the sick, the hungry/thirsty, the lonely, the incarcerated--and ideas came up of visiting the sick in our parish, as well as carrying around food or gift cards to restaruants--the latter prompted by a quote from the Didache which speaks of those who take alms without need, how God is mindful of this, and how, to paraphrase Rich M., God hasn't called us to be saviors; He's merely called us to be lovers, regardless of the response of the beloved.

(Funny moment worth mentioning: when I asked, after reading the Didache quote, "Who do you think is a group in society that might take alms without needing them?" I was expecting the automatic answer to be "the homeless/beggars, etc." One young man, however, immediately chimed in with "Televangelists!" Like I said, these kids are insightful, and their comments often poignant...)

Talk of the Resurrection--as we lived, so shall we be judged: in the body. All those impulses which our bodies gave into, nurtured, became enslaved to, will be present with us on the Judgement Day if not put in submission to Christ beforehand. Thus we saw the nature of the Great Fast--"Let us abstain from passions as we abstain from food...let us purify our souls and cleanse our flesh"--which is the calming of our impulses, the breaking of the enslavement thereto, and the attaining of the freedom to approach our God passionlessly (dare I say "apathetically?"), in silence, stillness and worship.

Read the vesperal hymns from the Triodion (the liturgical book containing all the Orthodox songs of Lent) that we would be hearing that night; you can find them in this Word Document, with everything marked with (from the Lenten Triodion) as one of the hymns discussed. I asked them why the tone was so dark, why we should insist on praying in this manner, when the A of G, CofC, etc congregations which were a stone's throw away were so much more "celebratory" and "hopeful"? To prompt some thought, I threw out Our Lord's parable given to the well-to-do invitees at a party (I have to wonder where the Lord sat as He told this). They immediately picked up on the fact that worship, recognizing our individual (and corporate!) sinfulness, as well as our inability to determine, ultimately, whether we will be accounted as a sheep or a goat, (per the two readings linked above), should prompt us to "take the low seat"--presuming nothing, asking only that our Lord have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and loves mankind, and were we to be condemned, it would, we know, be just, if unexpected and tragic. How much better is this mindset that the presumption that one will "be in that number" followed by the literally "rude awakening" that the Universal Resurrection and Judgement will be.

We ended with the corresponding section of the truly extraordinary seasonal standard Great Lent by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, wherein we saw in the Saturday of Souls commemoration of all the departed and its juxtaposition to the Sunday of the Last Judgement an act of love par excellence: that of the connectedness of the Body in its concern one for another--both those in this life and those departed from it--and for said members' growth in grace and ultimate union with God, to be accomplished, finally, before the Great White Throne. Also noted was the difference between the Christian's care for the poor as illustrated in the Sunday Gospel as opposed to our culture's social activism:
"The parable answers: love--not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous "poor," but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes me encounter in my life...To a "social activist" the object of love is not "person" but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract "humanity." But for Christianity, man is "loveable" because he is person."
Our committment to prayer, fasting and almsgiving (an oft-forgotten third aspect of Great Lent), then, is put in stark relief on this much-needed Lord's Day and (I hope) taken to heart by those wonderful youth.

Lord, that we would all take it to heart...

3 comments:

Mimi said...

I so want to be in your class.

Emily said...

I'm back from school, and last night I went to St. Demetrios for Great Vespers. Lydia told me I really need to swing by St. Barbaras because y'all do the (or part?)of the canons, she also said you both work on N. Texas missions together. small world. Are there directions to the church online?

Andrea Elizabeth said...

The kids told me about the "televangelist" comment, lol. What a blessing to have you teach!

And Emily, swing by any time! Lydia came to our Pan Orthodox Vespers, hopefully you were there too.