The shock of the righteous at the divine judgment

Tomorrow we Orthodox will read a gospel pericope that has many layers of meaning and many details full of meaning. This is the only description of the last judgment that we have in the entire Gospel, namely Matthew 25:31-46. I don’t want to say too much about this extraordinary text. But I will draw our attention to this one detail: the righteous are shocked when they are found righteous (vv. 37-39). Why? Why are the righteous shocked that they are saved? How could they be shocked? They are because the measure of righteousness is to see oneself as the sinner, the only sinner and nothing but a sinner. True righteousness is always Christ’s and therefore it works itself out only in selflessness and humility. And this also sheds light on the indignation and surprise of the others, that they are not saved. These are our righteous, our own just people, the very best we could produce, our heroes, our perfect human beings. They are always fair and just. They keep all the rules. They never forget common sense. They are the ones who don’t know Christ,

In this gospel, just before the Great Lent, we are told the choice that is in front of us: the righteousness of Christ or the pseudo-righteousness of our own thoughts.

The sin of shame

Today we don’t think the way Christ thinks, so we don’t reflect Him in our minds and hearts. We don’t see Him for what He is and we don’t see the world how He sees it. Even more troubling is that we don’t see ourselves the way He sees us. All these misreadings, so to say, are related. Thus, we nurture shame in our souls–and we even think it is good because it is essential for contrition–because we don’t see Him for what He actually is. He is our Father and Brother, our Love and our Life. Like His little children that we are, we should gain this familiarity with Him and be at ease in His presence. This is why our first two terrible sins, of Adam and of Cain, both led to shame and hiding: our ancestors forgot who and what He is.

The disappearing Christ

Many centuries ago we started to convince ourselves that sin is something we do, an action, and thus took the illness for a symptom. Also almost a millennium ago we decided that sin is sin only if it is “done” with intention and with culpability. Moreover, we quantified and categorized sin, and started talking about attenuating circumstances. Over the last few generations we rebranded/relabeled a lot of sinfulness: the sinfulness of rudeness, coarseness, ambition, justice, self-assertion, self-reliance, all-things-are-equal etc. These days I observe in the way people talk another perversion: sin is not sin if it is provoked. Thus today many have lost all sense of sinfulness. Someone famous called this “cheap grace.” And many who have any of the sense of sinfulness left, have it the wrong way, full of darkness. Of course, I am talking here only of people who have some faith. People without any faith have done away with sin altogether a long time ago.

All of this is a long line of perversion in the faith not because it does away with sin in and of itself, but because doing away with sin it does away with Christ. Because only in understanding that I am sin itself can I find Him. Therefore, this “cheap grace” is fundamentally a loss of holiness.

What have we become?

Our distance from God, our fall, our sinfulness, doesn’t come into clearer focus than when we realize that we people are truly human when we think divine thoughts, that our being is hidden in Christ. Only in this reality we can realize how fallen we are. The norm of the day even for believers is to think humanly. Our bishops–our icons of Christ–think humanly, our priests and deacons think humanly, other people of the Church think humanly. The one who thinks divine thoughts is a rarity these days. This is why we don’t see things for what they truly are and we wander in a deep darkness of mind. The appeal of the world manifests itself first and foremost here: to be like everyone else and think human thoughts. And we have convinced ourselves this mindlessness is even needed, it’s good, that it works. It does not. Because at the end of the day only Christ remains and only what we have gathered up in Him, or rather His divine thoughts in us, will remain; everything else, even if it looks like a success, is like chaff in the wind, human stuff in the blow of the Spirit.