|Lent Encyclical - January 25, 2014
Where to spend eternity?
"Then shall the King (Christ) say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world .... Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels .... and these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25: 34, 41 & 46)
We extend our apostolic benediction and greetings to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans; our spiritual children the reverend priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses, and our blessed Syrian Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace all through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.
The holy gospel unveils some of what will happen in the heavens on the terrible Day of Judgment, when time comes and the general resurrection becomes real. Divine revelation draws a clear image where we see the righteous judge surrounded by all the peoples of the world distributed into two categories, the category of the righteous who have stood to the right of the judge, and the category of the evil ones who have stood to his left. Each category includes people who belong to different races and tribes, languages and civilizations. They include the rich and the poor, the great and the simple, wise and ignorant, men and women; however, what distinguishes the two categories is the side they stand in beside the righteous judge. This side was determined according to the position of that class from the Judge during earthly life. In the language of the Holy Bible, the right side is a place of honor and bliss while the left side means a place of humiliation and misery.
The Judge is the Lord Jesus who declared this truth to us saying: “For neither does the Father judge any man but He has given all judgment unto the Son” (John 5: 22) and the Apostle Peter says: “He (the Lord) commanded them” (Acts 10: 46) while the Apostle Paul declares: “For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Corinthians 5: 10). In the Nicene Creed, we read about the Lord Jesus that, while He is equal to the Father in essence, after He incarnated from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man, He was crucified for our sake, suffered, died, was buried and resurrected on the third day as He willed; it then continues “and He ascended into heaven, sat on the right hand side of the Father and will also come with great glory to judge the living and the dead, He whose reign has no end”. On that terrible day when the Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, the heaven and earth will vanish since “for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke and the earth shall wax old like a garment and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner” (Isaiah 51: 6). “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment” (John 5: 25). The pious living will be taken with Christ ascending with Him in the air after the transformation of their animalistic bodies into spiritual ones.
Indeed, God Almighty has designated a day when He will condemn the world in justice (Acts 17: 31). On that day all human mysteries will be revealed. He will judge every man according to his deeds which he has done in this earthly life. In this regard, the Apostle Paul says: “So you are without excuse, O man… but after your hardness and impenitent heart treasure up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render every man according to his works” (Romans 2: 1, 5 and 6). Man was created by God in the likeness and example and he was given the grace of a rational mind that enables him to distinguish what is right from what is wrong and the good from the bad. God created him with an immortal soul that does not die or perish. The Almighty has also blessed man with free will and gave him the choice to do good or evil. If man chooses good, He would reward him with eternal life; however, if he does evil, He will punish him with eternal torment. In this way, man decided his eternal destiny using his freedom: he who longed to obtain eternal life which is a happy life in heaven, let him preserve the commandments of the Lord. No wonder since when a distinguished young man approached the Lord Jesus and knelt before Him asking Him: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? … and Jesus said: if you would enter into life, keep the commandments. He said unto him: Which? Jesus said: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19: 16-19, Mark 10: 19 and Luke 18: 20).
Those who keep the commandments of the Lord are the good righteous and wise men known for the purity of their lives and clarity of their conscience, such as Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth, parents of St. John the Baptist, whom the holy gospel describes as “both righteous before God and walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1: 6). The ordinances of the Lord are His holy commandments like fasting, prayer and works of mercy. Our mother the Holy Church teaches us all these when She gives birth to us from the baptismal font as children of God by grace and brothers of the Lord Jesus. The Church recommends that we take the Lord Jesus as our companion in the path of our earthly lives, to deserve to inherit with Him His heavenly kingdom i.e. eternal and happy life which the righteous spend in heaven dwelling with the Lord Jesus forever (cf. Romans 6: 23). This is in fulfillment of His divine true promise that says: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be, if any man serve me, him will the Father honor” (John 12: 26), “and where I am, there you may be also” (John 14: 3). There, in the heaven, the righteous will enjoy the untold glories “but as it is written, things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man, whatsoever things God prepared for them who love Him, but unto us God revealed them through the Spirit” (I Corinthians 2: 9-10). There, each righteous will receive a crown of glory that the Lord, righteous Judge, will give him (cf. II Timothy 4: 8) because he deserves the inheritance which is incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away but is reserved (for the righteous) in the heavens (cf. I Peter 1: 4). Those righteous will receive satiation of bliss and eternal comfort, and will enter into the joy of their master (cf. Matthew 25: 2).
The evil people, on the other hand, will be tortured eternally in hell which is the place full of horror prepared for the devil and his soldiers, “their torment ascends up for ever and ever and they have no rest day or night” (cf. Revelation 14: 9-16); “there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13: 42) “in the outer darkness” (Matthew 22: 13).
Hence, where to spend eternity? Did the question occur in the minds of everyone of you, dearly believers?! Or did the concerns of earthly life keep you busy from thinking about your eternal fate?! The people of Noah made their ears deaf from hearing His warning calling them to repent, warning them and telling them that the flood is inevitable, but they did not believe him. “Then the flood came and took them all away” (Matthew 24: 39). They were extinct all except for Noah and his household. The people of Lot did not listen to his warning that God decided to burn Sodom with fire and brimstone; rather, they considered Lot to be deceiving them in the eyes of his in-laws. Nonetheless, this did not prevent the destruction of the city and its population with fire and brimstone, except for Lot and his wife and two daughters who left the city, but when his evil wife turned her head to look behind her, she was transformed into a pillar of salt.
Divine truths about eternity are consistent and clear, despite the trials of the astray and misleaders of our times who are against religion and try to spread the doubt among believers by distorting the doctrines of faith and broadcasting bad ideas and malicious pitfalls “and woe to him who produces stumbling” (Luke 17: 2). Let us be careful them of befriending bad people, for as the Apostle Paul teaches us: “Do not be deceived; evil companionships corrupt good morals” (I Corinthians 15: 33). Let us beware of the stray teachings of the atheists and their snares; let us be guided by the light of the holy Gospel and the teachings of our forefathers to dispel doubts and remove suspicions. Then, the truths will be revealed and the Church will be purified from all stumbling and iniquity along with the evil doers who desire to keep the faithful away from the rich and pure springs of faith. Let us keep away from the likes of these malicious and hypocrites, abiding by the commandment of the Apostle Paul who says: “put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (I Corinthians 5: 13).
Indeed, one of the important Christian doctrines is the doctrine of the second coming of the Lord Jesus to this earth to judge the worlds. In this subject, the Lord Jesus said: “Watch therefore: for you know not on what day your Lord comes, but know this, that if the master of the house had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through... Therefore be you also ready for in an hour that you think not the Son of man comes” (Matthew 24: 42-44). The truth of the second coming of the Lord is a constant doctrine of faith; the Lord has already alerted us to be ready to meet him by watching, i.e. in spiritual vigilance and true repentance. If we thought that the Lord has slowed in coming, death does not slow down. In this regard, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the fact of death which is customary of all and no two questions its validity, saying: “and inasmuch as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9: 27). God has concealed from humans the knowledge of the hour of leaving this life so that man always be in a state of grace, i.e. counted as a repentant who wait the second appearance of the Lord. It is very rare that man obtains a golden opportunity to repent at the last breath of his life like the repentant thief who was crucified with the Lord Jesus, but repented and asked the Lord: “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom”. And so the Lord accepted his repentance and replied: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43). As long as we do not know the time of our departure from this life and how it is done, and since we are subject to die in every moment of our lives in the flesh, we must repent immediately to deserve a happy eternity once we depart from this life. It is not wise to ignore such an important thing on which our eternal salvation depends. The Lord accepts our repentance as soon as we return to him with sincere tears of remorse and sorrow while we promise that we accept death more than we accept sin, confessing our sins through a canonical confession Let us act so immediately before it is too late and so long as there is opportunity as we are in a good mental health condition, with complete awareness and a free will so that our sincere repentance be accepted. In this regard, listen to the Apostle Paul repeating the Psalms (95: 7): “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the provocation, on the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:15 and 17), and he adds: “take heed, brethren, let haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God, but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called today; let any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3: 12-14). The years of man on earth are but a bleak moment of eternal life and eternity. Sempiternity is particular to God alone Who has no partner in it. Eternity was bestowed on man to share it with him in a relative manner. We know that God is pure, Sempiternal spirit Who has no boundaries while man is a body created by God from the dust of the earth where He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and thus gave him life and the grace of immortality, and the free will to decide his eternal fate!
Where to spend eternity? With Christ in the heavenly kingdom? or with Satan and his soldiers – God forbid – in the hell, and what a fate?
The Great Lent, dearly beloved, is a golden opportunity offered to us by our mother the Holy Church to seize and return to God in repentance. The Church wants us to obey the Lord Jesus Who says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1: 15).
May our Lord God make you worthy to be counted among those who are on the right hand side in the Day of Judgment who will hear the voice of the Lord saying to them: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world”. May the Almighty accept your fasting, prayers and alms. The grace of God be upon you. ܘܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝ̈ܐ ܘܫܪܟܐ (Our Father Who art in heaven...)
Issued at our Patriarchal See in Damascus – Syria On the Twenty Fifth of January Two Thousand and Fourteen Which is the Thirty Fourth Year of our Patriarchate
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