I visited my very Protestant mother several times on Saturday, her 91st birthday, to assure that she would answer the phone for some people I knew wanted to wish her a happy birthday.
Between calls, she shuffled her feet to wheel her wheelchair over to a wedding picture of her and my father, almost 70 years ago. “I talk to him every day. I want to be with him more than I want to be here.”
It seemed like a teachable moment, explaining icons to this instinctive iconodule. But it was her birthday, and she’s very tired, and it just didn’t seem right.
Suburb: A hotbed of alienation at the edge of a city that is less than urban, less than rural, and less than sustainable.
(Apologies to Ambrose Bierce.)
My reaction may be idiosyncratic, but I wince (or worse) when I hear the families of crime victims, on TV or in print, earnestly wishing the perpetrator an eternal and ignominious sojourn in the nether regions, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. I can understand, but cannot commend, their feelings. Not only should the sentiment go unuttered, the thought should be replaced by “may God have mercy on His soul” and “I forgive.”
That’s “forgive” as in “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Today is the second Sunday of the Lenten Triodion, the Sunday of the Last Judgment.
I’ve alluded from time to time to Orthodox Christianity’s tendency not to think of God “sending people to hell.”
That does not mean, however, that we don’t believe that those who reject God will suffer. It’s more a matter of believing that those who choose self over God will find that eternal separation from God (or His presence for someone who wants the cosmos to be all about himself) will be – er, umm – sub-optimal.
Maybe I should shut up and let some of the texts speak for themselves. Considering the prevalence of other views, I’m going to italicize the basis of judgment (which equally omits Evangelical shibboleths like “asking Jesus into your heart” and Moralistic Therapeutic Deist nostrums like niceness):
O Righteous Judge of all mankind,
Thou wilt come, enthroned in glory and escorted by Angels,
to judge the living and the dead.
Every man will stand in fear before Thee,
trembling at the river of fire flowing past Thy throne,
as each one waits to hear the sentence he deserves.
On that awesome day have mercy on us as well, O Christ;
count us worthy of salvation,
for, worthless as we are, we turn to Thee in faith,
O compassionate and merciful Lord!
The books will be opened, and the works of all men laid bare;
the vale of tears will echo with the gnashing of teeth;
the sinners will mourn in vain, as they depart to eternal damnation.
Thy judgments are just, O Lord Almighty!
We beg Thee, O Master, full of goodness and compassion,
take pity on us who sing to Thee, O most merciful One!
The trumpet shall sound, and the graves shall be opened;
all mankind will arise in trembling;
the righteous will rejoice, as they receive their reward,
but the wicked will depart to eternal fire with wailing and horror.
O Lord of Glory, have mercy on us!
Number us with those who love Thee,
for Thou alone art good, O Master!
I shudder in terror when I think of that dreadful day;
I weep as I consider the darkness that will never see light:
there the worm shall not cease, or the fire be quenched;
the pain of those who reject Thee will never end.
Save me, Thy most worthless servant, O Righteous Judge,
for Thy mercy and compassion are my only hope!
When the thrones are set in place and the books are opened,
then God will take His place on the judgment seat.
Oh, what a fearful sight!
The Angels stand in awe, and the river of fire flows by.
What shall we do, who are already condemned by our many sins,
as we hear Christ call the righteous to His Father’s Kingdom,
and send the wicked to eternal damnation?
Who among us can bear that terrible verdict?
Hasten to us, O Lover of mankind and King of the universe;
grant us the grace of repentance before the end,
and have mercy on us!
Woe, to you, O my darkened soul!
Your life is stained by depravity and laziness;
your folly makes you shun all thought of death.
How complacent you remain!
How can you flee the awesome thought of Judgment Day?
When will you change your way of life?
On that day your sins will rise against you.
What will your answer be then?
Your acts will condemn you; your deeds will expose you.
The time is at hand, O my soul.
Turn to the good and loving Savior!
Beg Him to forgive your malice and weakness, as you cry in faith:
“I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against Thee,
but I know Thy love for all mankind.
O good Shepherd, call me to enjoy Thy lasting presence on Thy right
I ponder that day and hour, when we all, naked and as convicts, will appear before the judge we cannot bribe. Then a great trumpet will sound and the foundations of the earth will be shaken, and the dead will be raised from the graves, and all will become of one stature. And all that which is hidden will be presented overtly before You, and they shall mourn and wail who have never repented, and they shall depart into the outer fire. And with joy and exaltation will the lot of the righteous enter into the heavenly chamber.
* * * * *
“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)