In this world of divisions, pharisaism, harshness, hatred, and slander, where it seems that alienation, anxieties, and melancholy have no end, there is a quiet and unobtrusive presence that offers comfort, healing, and hope. That something is God’s grace, balm for the weary soul and light for those darkened by evil. Grace is a divine gift that flows freely to all who seek it, a reminder that no matter how far we have strayed, mercy is the true path to returning to God and the law by which we will be judged by Him at the Last Judgment. Therefore, it is precisely mercy and love for our neighbors and fellow human beings that God highlights as criteria by which He will judge humanity.
In today’s Gospel, we heard: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Therefore, the Church of God, one week before the start of the Holy and Great Lent, offers us these words of Christ as spiritual food, to remind us that there is nothing greater or holier than love and mercy.
And so, by God’s grace, the Monastery of Bigorski enjoyed such a brotherly love last night, such a precious mutual respect and love. First, with the arrival of our dear Metropolitan of Imvros and Tenedos, Kiril, as a representative of His Divine All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and then with the leading Athenian choir “Tropos”, which graciously moved our souls with the beautiful, harmonious and humbling psalmody of the vigil. Truly, it is an honor and a blessing to attend a service with such angelic singing, which elevates the soul to contemplation and prayer towards the Most High.
The highlight of the grace-filled experiences and heart tremors was today’s Eucharistic assembly, the Holy Liturgy, led by the holy bishop of Imvros and Tenedos, Kiril, and in conjunction with our beloved Elder, Bishop of Antania, Partenij, and the brothers monks and deacons, was a profound and moving experience. Standing before the Holy Altar, the two bishops were united in spirit, in the spirit of the Gospel and the Church, in the prayers and devotion with which they served, resembling the Fathers, the pillars of the faith in Christ. Just as our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, says that “a good person brings forth good things from the good treasure of the heart,” so did our good guest, His Eminence Kiril, pour out words full of kindness and joy from his good heart after reading the Gospel parable of the Final Judgment.
“Your Excellency, honorable fathers and mothers, and dear brothers,
Today you have heard the Gospel of the Judgment. This is an event that our Church expects. The Judgment of God. It is an event when along with the judgment we also expect God’s justice. This is an event that seems a little harsh, difficult. And that is seen from the following fact: during the Divine Liturgy when we address God, we call Him merciful, loving, gracious, Father, God of love. However, we never call Him just. We never say, why are you just, our God, but rather, why are you holy, our God, why are you merciful, etc.
Why, in fact, is there this difference in the Divine Liturgy? Isn’t our God just? Of course He is; He is the most just and His justice remains forever. But, my dear brothers and sisters, it is hard for us, very hard for us, if we only rely on God’s justice! Who would dare to raise their eyes and look at the righteous Judge? Who is there who has not sinned, that they may enjoy God’s righteousness? No one! No one is completely pure. Therefore, we surpass God’s justice. We go beyond and enter the next stage. And what is that stage? It is mercy, God’s love. Mercy, compassion, and love surpass His justice, they overcome His justice. Based on justice, God should be a punisher. But God goes far and enters the dimension of compassion and love.
My beloved ones, it is very difficult for us to love God, and so God shows us another way through love. This is the path we heard about in today’s Gospel. God says: “What you have done for your fellow human, you have done for me. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was sick and you helped me, I was in prison and you visited me. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you” (Matthew 25:34-35). And they will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison and help you?” And Christ will say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
On the other hand, to those who did not help their fellow human, Christ will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41). They will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison and not help you?” And Christ will say, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.“
Dear brothers and sisters, as Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian says, “Whoever says he loves God but does not love his neighbor is a liar.” For how is it possible to love someone you do not see or know, and yet not love your fellow human whom you see every day?
My dear brothers and sisters, in conclusion, we say that the love and mercy of God is what opens the path to His Kingdom in the Second Coming, to the judgment of the living and the dead. This is the truth, and we await this event. And yet, as we state in the Creed, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But until then, my dear brothers and sisters, let us taste a little of that Cup of Love. The Holy Chalice of the Holy Table is nothing else but the Blood of Christ’s love, which He shed for the righteous and the unrighteous and gave to us, so that we may wash away our own injustice of sin.
We are preparing for the start of the Holy and Great Lent. Let us increase our effort even more, to love both God and man. Today we are all in this monastery of love. It is a monastery built with the labors and sacrifices of holy monks, led by His Grace and holy abbot, Mr. Partenij. We are all enjoying the love of the monastery, you from nearby and us from far away in Constantinople. We came here to taste that love, which will strengthen us to continue with our efforts. As I mentioned yesterday, I have the honor of representing our Ecumenical Patriarch, Mr. Bartholomew, to convey his love and good wishes to His Grace the Bishop of Antania, who celebrates his nameday tomorrow. And of course, to convey the fraternal good wishes and love of our Patriarch to your Blessed Archbishop Mr. Stefan and your Most Reverend Metropolitan Mr. Timotej, with whom I will have the honor of meeting tomorrow, as well as to the entire hierarchy of the Ohrid Archbishopric, and to all of you, our dear brothers. I see this little child sitting there since morning, and I see the sister nuns and all of you at the vigil last night, and I am moved that the Ohrid Archbishopric is finally receiving what it should receive, namely canonicity, and that it is also a part of the one Church of Christ. And I ask all of you, my brothers and sisters, to pray to our Holy God for the unity of the Church. Unity in the Church is holy; it unites us all in the name of Christ. And together, united, we are united with God. Once again, let us wish the most beloved holy abbot a good and fruitful, God-loving abbacy. Let him pray for all of us. And together, let us have a good beginning to the Holy and Great Lent.
After the end of the Divine Liturgy, His Eminence the Bishop of Imvros and Tenedos, Mr. Kiril, bestowed blessings upon our Elder and wished him a happy name day.
“I am here on behalf of our Ecumenical Patriarch to attend and wish a happy celebration on the occasion of the honorable name day of our beloved, esteemed, and revered brother and father, Saint Antanisky Mr. Partenij. Today, while we are still fewer in number, I would like to give him a gift, a small blessing from His Eminence. It is a small gift, but he deserves much more. It is a beautiful symbolic gift, a silver encolpion that we have issued for the thirtieth anniversary of the Patriarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarch. On the front is our Most Holy Mother of God, and on the back is the logo of our Ecumenical Patriarch,” said the bishop. Turning to the Elder, the Holy Imvrosian joyfully exclaimed, “Worthy and many years to come! Let us rejoice and love him as he loves you!”
Ah, once again, our beloved Elder, Bishop Partenij, returned the love with love, pouring out words of gratitude from his heart:
“My heart, brothers and sisters, is filled with gratitude and love towards our Holy God, that I belong to the generation that witnessed the acceptance of our Holy Church into the Orthodox community. This happened to the greatest extent, and we must say it before God and people, because the entire universe knows it – through the love, prayers, and efforts of the Holy Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. My joy today is complete, and my gratitude towards the Patriarch is particularly great, as he sent my beloved brother and great friend, Metropolitan of Imvros and Tenedos, Kiril, precisely on my name day, to represent him, the Holy Patriarch, who means a lot in my heart.
I met Metropolitan Kiril three years ago in Constantinople, in Istanbul, and since then, our love for our God has connected us. He became a true and great friend, we were constantly in contact, and as a particularly beloved son of the Patriarch, he helped a lot for our Holy Church, the most holy Archdiocese of Ohrid, to enter into communion with all Orthodox Christians. And so, the Act of Eucharistic and Canonical Unity was handed over by the hands of the Holy Patriarch, and then, as we know, other Orthodox churches recognized our Church as mature for autocephaly.”
God’s mercy, as mentioned by the Metropolitan in his sermon, is constantly pouring down upon us. God cares for us and wants us to be merciful just as He is merciful towards us. If we want to be recognized by God, we must also be merciful. How we treat our neighbors is ultimately how we are treating God. If we do good to others, we are doing good to God. If we do bad, we are again doing bad to Him. Today, Lord Jesus in His Gospel showed us the criterion of His judgment at the end. If we hold on to love, then God will recognize us and we will be His, because as He said in His Gospel, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
My dear ones, once again I thank His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for sending His Eminence Metropolitan Kiril as his representative to our holy Church, to greet our Archbishop, all the bishops, and the entire people. Let us thank our Holy God for these great gifts that He has given us, as a nation and as a Church, now and always and forevermore. Amen!