Pastoral Letter February 11, 2018

“O what an hour and fearful day shall that be, when the Judge shall sit upon His fearsome throne! Books will be opened, deeds will be checked, and the hidden works of darkness will be made public. Angels speed about, gathering all the nations. Come, hearken, kings and rulers, slaves and freemen, sinners and righteous, rich men and paupers, He is coming who is about to judge the whole world; and who shall bear His countenance, when angels are at hand to accuse your acts, your thoughts, your desires, be they of day or night? O what an hour that shall be! But before the end arrives, O soul, make haste to cry, “O God, convert me,
save me as You alone are compassionate.” – Matins Hymn for the Sunday of Judgement

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings this late evening from New Braunfels, Texas! Nestled between San Antonio and Austin, this is the site of our 2018 Metropolis of Denver Clergy Pre-Lenten Retreat. For the past couple of days, we have enjoyed each others’ company, taken part in fruitful discussions, listened to the guidance and wisdom of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah and grown deeper in our spiritual lives as we begin the challenges/blessings of the Lenten Season. These days have been rich and wonderful.

This afternoon, His Eminence asked me “So tell me about the Oratorical Festival you’re hosting. Are you ready? What are we going to do? Are you doing a good job?” “Yes, Your Eminence, we’re trying very hard to create a wonderful experience for the young people of our Metropolis,” I tell him. “We’ll see. When’s your local, parish Festival,” he asks. I tell him that it’s this Sunday and he quips back “So you’re judging kids on Judgement Sunday.” “Not the children,” I tell him, “only their speeches.” “Ahh, bravo.”

This was not planned intentionally, of course. There was no specific plan to celebrate our local St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival on the Sunday of Judgement; that is the third week of the Triodion. It just worked out that way. But what a blessing and a teaching moment.

Consider the lesson of this coming Sunday, as illustrated in St. Matthew’s Gospel; Just as the shepherd separates the goats from the sheep, so will Christ, upon His act of judgment, separate the just from the unjust. Sheep on His right, and the goats on His left. Cute, fluffy, obedient, docile sheep represent the faithful and the elect. Scraggly, undisciplined, impetuous and temperamental goats represent the unholy and the condemned. Fair enough. That’s pretty direct and simple imagery to comprehend.

Scripture reveals to us that our actions, intentions, patterns and priorities will contribute to either our salvation or our damnation. Going through life, we will make choices and ultimately, be held accountable for these same choices. And just as our young people, who will put fourth the effort of researching a topic, writing a speech and delivering their work will be subject to the judgement of others, we shall also be under judgement when our Lord returns to gather His own.

This is a very vulnerable position to find ourselves; kids who opt to participate in the Festival, do it by choice. However, we who had no choice to be born, live the lives we were given, and with no say in the matter, are forced to walk the path of existence. Our kids will be judged on the content and delivery of their speeches. Unto salvation, we will be judged by the content and delivery of our lives. As the above-referenced hymn suggests, all of humanity will be subject to God’s judgement. We will all walk through the process of examination, and the just rewards of our actions, thoughts, desires and intentions. Are we prepared to meet our Maker? Have we evaluated the lives we’ve lead? Is there work to be done and improvements to be made? Will we be given the time and opportunities to execute such measures and enact the necessary changes? Am I sheep? Am I a goat?!?

Let us be inspired by, and reminded of the themes of this Sunday – the Sunday of Judgment, through the motivation of our Oratorical Festival participants. They are willingly subjecting themselves to judgement. They are allowing their thoughts, words and abilities to be sized up. measured and quantified. They are willing to receive critical feedback and grow from critical thoughts, directed towards their efforts. The stand there bravely and faithfully. Can we say the same for our souls? Can we submit ourselves to God in order that He judge us, according to His mercy?

Really, you know, we don’t have a choice in the matter.

Sow our best option is to be prepared, vigilant, humble, joyful, patient, kind, and ever-faithful. The children of our Oratorical Festival are competing for placements and the opportunity to advance to higher levels of competition (such as the Metropolis Oratorical Festival which, of course, St. Anna’s is hosting in March). In life, we are not competing, as much as we are striving. There are no placements, trophies or accolades. Only eternal life or eternal damnation.

This Sunday is the Sunday of Judgement. Our every action will be contemplated and our every sin will be measured. Let us pray for one another, that we may endure the process and celebrate the outcome. Together, as a family of sheep.

With Much Love in XC,
Fr. Anthony