There is only one week left before the beginning of Great Lent. For people who are far from the Church, Lent comes unexpectedly, that is to say, they do not expect it and do not prepare for it. Although for such people Lent ends just as unexpectedly, Church feasts unexpectedly pass by, and life itself unexpectedly comes to its natural end. And it so happens that such a man spent his whole life trying to hide from God, running from Him, and not expecting to meet Him.
It appears that a lot has been accomplished: he received an advanced degree, made a good career, bought a house and an expensive car, travelled around the world. But standing before God, the man finds himself absolutely naked: “Lord, I had a new Mercedes… Lord, I vacationed in Hawaii… Lord, I became the head of my department…” Unfortunately, “not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). God wants only one thing: “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26). But where are our hearts?—There, where our treasure is (Luke 12:34): on vacation, in the trunk of the Mercedes, and in the desk drawer at work.
Chasing after the worldly, running in circles of worldly vanity, the man grows attached to this vanity, becomes one with it, and no longer can or wants to be with God. Of course, with their minds most people would say that they would rather be in paradise than hell, but their heart is fleeing from God. “Such ones say one thing, but their heart says another: with their tongue they say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but their heart says ‘Have me excused'” (Saint Theophan the Recluse). Such people are not accustomed to prayer, fasting to them is burdensome, and they are strangers in church, even during divine services they are constantly drawn to where their heart is—and it is not in church, not with God.
Why is the Judgment Dreadful? Not at all because the Judge is dreadful, but because on that day “the thoughts of many hearts [will] be revealed” (Luke 2:35)—the thoughts of our hearts. God does not decide who finds salvation in the Church-Body of Christ, and who remains an outside observer. Christ teaches us: “with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). And if all our life we ran from God and measured out to Him only a token of ourselves, how can we hope to enter into the fullness of life with Him? Indeed, “these will go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46); but they will go on their own accord, they will run from God, continuing on the path that they chose and confirmed with their lives. They will hide away from God as they kept hiding during their lives; and separation from God is everlasting punishment.
They are surprised: “Lord, when did we… not minister to You?” (Matt. 25:44) The way to damnation is surprisingly simple: every time a man turns away from God and toward a television set, silences the voice of conscience and knowingly chooses sin, walks past someone in need, even though he could help, or at least comfort—the man makes yet another step. And from all of these small steps, as from bricks, the path away from God is built.
But the path to God is just as simple! Love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:30-31); and how much can be done to make this love full of life and action! Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the captive (Matt. 25:34-36), love divine services and prayer (1 Thess. 5:17; Col 3:15, et passim), live in the Church, the Body of Christ, rather than outside of It, and you will find life, because Christ defeated death and only in His Body there is life.
Every moment in our life gives us an opportunity to make a small step toward God. One should not wait for great persecutions in order to be faithful to Christ. One should not wait for a beggar to say in pure Aramaic: “Help me, because I am an angel in human form.” One should not wait for the Final Judgment: “Then, I will surely choose God.” “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20) Act with kindness here and now, choose truth in your every word, do not silence your conscience, listen to it. If “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) here and now, then even at the Final Judgment we will hear: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). The Lord wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4); the choice is ours, and we are making this choice today.