Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

‘Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth – they that have done good, unto the resurrection of Life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’

Although we Orthodox tend to focus on what is called the four Last Things during Great and Holy Lent, our Western brethren do so during the Nativity Fast.  The four Last Things are Heaven and Hell, death and judgment.  The Church provides us periodically further opportunity to re-visit these things albeit in smaller doses such as we have here today on Memorial or Soul Saturday at which our departed loved ones are commemorated at the throne of God.  Of course, we remember the departed at every Divine Liturgy, but on these special liturgical Saturdays, we do so in particular, offering up prayers and the Bloodless Sacrifice on their behalf.  Tomorrow, during the Kneeling Vespers, we will hear and pray special extended prayers on behalf of the dead.  For, in the words of the Prophet, “’who knoweth if [God] will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him . . . .’” (Jl. 2:14).  We render unto those departed this life a grace and a kindness, says Sirach, a kindness we are instructed not to withhold from the dead (Sr. 7:33).  If God Himself descended into the depths of Hades to dwell among the dead all the while preaching to them, how can we not pray for our departed and all the departed of this world in the hope that God in His magnanimous mercy might turn and spare them (1 Pe. 3:18-22; 4:6)?

In our commemoration of the dead, we, in turn, do ourselves an invaluable service.  We remember that, like them and with them, we, too, shall one day “’go the way of all the earth’” (3 Kg. [1 Kg.] 2:2).  We concede that it is an inescapable and inevitable truth of our mortal existence – we shall go to them but they will not return to us (2 Kg. [2 Sm.] 12:23), until such time as the Lord determines when He shall come again in the clouds that had once received Him in His Ascension (Ac. 1:9-11; 1 Th. 4:13-17).  Sirach, again, advises us that this remembrance will do us good in this life.  “[R]emember the end,” he tells us, “and thou shalt never do amiss” (Sr. 7:36).  Contemplate your dying so that your living might be enriched.  This is the wisdom of all the sages.

It is, as I said earlier, at the Kneeling Prayers of Pentecost Vespers that we pray for ourselves and for the dead.  We pray for their salvation and ours.  We entrust all who have died into the loving, compassionate, and merciful hands of our great God and Saviour, ever mindful of Sacred Scripture that instructs us, “[I]t is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment” (Hb. 9:27).  When our Lord came into our midst in the true flesh and blood of mankind – and not simply or merely as a spirit – He took unto Himself all of our existence: the joys, the sadness, the ecstasy, the despair, the hopes and dreams, the dreams and failures, the beauty and the ugliness.  In short, He took on life and death, blessing and curse.  Everything, that is, but sin.  He was tempted just as we are, but with one very important difference: Jesus did not sin (Hb. 2:11-18; 4:15).  He suffered unjustly at the hands of us sinners – His own creature! – but we refused our Creator and Benefactor (Lk. 19:14; Jn. 1:11-13).  We rebuffed His love for us.  He was executed because of our jealousy and envy, and our disdain for true goodness and holiness.  He died and was buried, and on the third day He was raised up from the dead in flesh now glorified and was received up into the Heavens from whence He shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (Nicene Creed).  And what will be the standard or measure of our judgment?  The Lord Jesus Himself.   He will be the measure of our words, of our living, and of our dying.

You see, beloved, God doesn’t send His Son to do and to be the impossible, but to show us how the grace of God the Holy Spirit can and will change us, enable us, empower us, to be like Christ God in the flesh.  “Beloved, now we are children of God,” says the Apostle and Theologian John,

and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure (1 Jn. 3:2-3).

To be sure, we fall into sin.  For, if any man says he does not sin, we only are deceiving ourselves, says St. John.  We lie and we make God out to be a liar as well (1 Jn. 1:6-10).  So, when we sin we must get back up in repentance and return to the Lord our God with all humility (Ps. 50 [51]:1-6; Hs. 14:1; Jl. 2:12-13).  Why?  How?  Because we have a God Who is supremely loving, merciful, and compassionate, our Great High Priest eternally in the Heavens interceding for us Who fully understands that “none [of us] is pure of stain . . ., though his life be but for one day,” Who personally underwent the full gamut of human existence and thereby learned obedience through His sufferings (Kneeling Prayer #3; Hb. 4:14-16; 5:7-10; 7:25). 

Beloved, living the life of Christ is not impossible to faith for with God and with those who believe in Him all things are possible, even as our Lord has said and the Apostles amply demonstrate in the days following the sending down of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit (Mk. 9:23).  The severe judgment of God is for those who refuse to confess their sinfulness, who do not repent, who do not humble themselves, who choose rather to assert themselves against God’s goodness and glory, just like Lucifer in his ignominious fall, swelled with pride and vainglory at his own glory – a glory that was a gift from God’s grace.  Lucifer stubbornly resisted to acknowledge that he was a creature like the rest of us.  He did not create himself, nor do we.  Yet, he thought so highly of himself that there was no place for God, for condescension, for humility and obedience to God.

Beloved, the promise of our Lord, crucified, dead, buried, risen again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father is sure and steadfast,

‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My Word and believeth in Him that sent Me, hath Everlasting Life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.’

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!


1 Th. 4:13-17

Jn. 5:24-30