Let me open this post the same way I opened this week’s Bible Study: it is a pet peeve of mine that this Sunday is called Meatfare. Nowhere in the hymns of the Church nor in the readings is there anything about fasting from meat. That is not what this Sunday is about. Rather, this Sunday is more properly called Judgement Sunday.
The hymns are filled with images of the Judgement Seat with its river of fire and the opening of all the books:
When You come down to the earth, O God, in Your glory, all things will cower tremulous, and a river of fire will draw before Your Judgment Seat; the books shall be opened up, and public knowledge will things hidden be. Rescue me, then, I pray, from unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand at Your right hand, O You, the most righteous Judge. — Kontakion of Judgement Sunday
These images come from the seventh chapter of Daniel, verses nine and ten:
I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued And came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.
While reading the Epistle (1 Cor. 8:18; 9:1-2), one might be tempted to claim that it is about fasting; however note what St. Paul says about fasting from food:
We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (1 Cor. 8:8)
The focus of this pericope, rather, is serving our weaker brethren. We need to know each other well enough and find value enough in each other to bear one another’s burdens. Part of why we fast is so that those who are weak are not tempted into further weakness.
This seeing value in others is also a very large part of the Gospel Reading (Matthew 25:31-46) on which we spent most of our time discussing. The key verse is Matthew 25:40:
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Every human being is the icon of Christ. Therefore, the criteria for being a goat or a sheep is going to be how we see and treat our fellow human beings.
Some of our other observations:
- Orthodox monasteries are a wonderful image of Judgement and of our participation in it. The outside of the chapels are almost always covered in images from the Judgment — the images found in Daniel. Inside the chapel, the walls are covered in icons of the saints. This passively asks the question, Are you in or are you out of the Kingdom of Heaven? The choice is ours.
- Note the progression of how Christ describes treating our fellow human beings: feeding & giving drink; welcoming the stranger; clothing; visiting; going to. Our relationships begin with an external encounter of good will (food & drink). Then the Other comes to us (welcoming). Then we get to know them by allowing them into our lives (clothing). At this point the relationship begins to shift because we visit them (visiting). Finally, we go to where they are. This is where our relationships ought to be. It isn’t enough to give money so that others are fed and clothed. We must be willing to get out of our comfort zones and love one another enough to go where others are. Remember, this is the criteria by which we will be judged.
- Finally, it was asked what the word “punishment” in Greek meant. The word is κόλασιν, the root of which means maimed, or more literally, cut off. In other words, if we refuse to see the image of God and the icon of Christ in others, we cut ourselves off from our fellow human beings. We maim ourselves. In turn, this will become the standard by which we are judged. Because we have cut ourselves off from the image and icon, we will have cut ourselves off from God.