THE SUNDAY OF ETERNITY - NOVEMBER 2015|
The Final Judgment
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Today marks the end of the church year – the Sunday of Eternity – the day on which, according to Estonian tradition, we honour and remember our departed loved ones. Other Christian traditions typically remember their dead on either November 1st, All Saints’ Day or on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day. Each country has its own way of marking these occasions. In Canada, we celebrate Hallowe’en on October 31st, All Saints’ Eve, when through dressing up as ghouls and goblins, we recreate the images of wandering souls from beyond the grave.
For the living, the Afterworld has always been a source of fear and wonder. It is something so unknown, so foreign, that the best we can do is create illusions of what it must be like. On this subject, Christianity does not offer up any better explanations than other faiths do. Theories about purgatory that have been propagated throughout the history of our Church, are not founded on anything we can read in the Bible. Rather, they are founded on pre-Christian beliefs, ancient Greek philosophy and modern metaphysics and parapsychology.
The Bible speaks to us about resurrection and eternal life. But it is silent on the subject of what happens from the time we die and are resurrected. It is up to us to imagine what this period is like. Is this a weakness of Christianity? We hear that islamic terrorists believe that they will reach Paradise directly and immediately by suicide-bombing non-believers. Christians however have to wait until the Day of Judgment, and hope that God, in his Grace, accepts them to Heaven. Other religions believe in reincarnation and karma and atheists believe death is the ultimate end. It would seem that in today’s World War, terrorist Islam has the upper hand over Christianity. Western democracy, founded on Christian values, and peace-loving Muslim communities are helpless when face-to-face with this fanatic ideology. The conflict in Syria and recent events in Paris and elsewhere serve to reinforce this sense of helplessness.
But today, I don’t want to focus on this subject. As it is, we hear about this every day. We just have to realize, the world has not changed. Most of those whom we remember today lived through the Second World War and had to flee Estonia in 1944. And now, 71 years later, the world is again full of refugees. Yet again, people are obligated to leave their homelands to find a place to live and raise their families in peace. We live in a multicultural world and are fortunate to be here in Toronto, at St. Peter’s to remember our loved ones on this Sunday of Eternity.
The ancient Estonian tradition of honouring the dead carried over into our Church’s traditions. Twice a year, we gather for this purpose: at cemeteries on midsummer and in church in the fall, during All Souls, when the days have shortened and nights are long.
It used to be said that souls wander. This is hard to imagine when living in a big city, where absolute quiet is impossible. But, let’s imagine ourselves in a farmhouse in the Estonian countryside. It’s dusk. It’s warm inside and the only light is from the fireplace and from a single candle on the table. Outside it’s dark and the moon peeks through the low clouds casting a ghostly blue hue. A cold wind rustles in the treetops and rattles the door. A dog barks in the background. It is just at times like this that souls wander. The living have the time to remember and the dead the time to be remembered.
In pre-Christian times, our ancestors didn’t consider the concept of Eternity. At least, not like we do today. In those days, the dead existed among the living. Ones on one side; others on the other side of Death. And the concept of coexistence continues in our Estonian Christian faith. The folk calendar merged with the Church calendar and the Church took on the celebration of many of the folk holidays. It is for this very reason that our Church celebrates some holidays that are unknown or unfamiliar to other cultures. Take for example St. John’s Day when Estonians along with Latvians and Finns dance around the bonfire. But only Estonians celebrate their dead at cemeteries at that time. Or St. Martin’s Day – October 10th and St. Catharine’s Day – November 25th, on the eve of which mumming takes place. But on those days, it is not the souls of the wandering dead who had to be directed back to the Afterlife, but the rather the souls of our ancestors, who came home to visit. Came bearing good wishes. Wishes for a good harvest. For a multitude of cattle. For many healthy children. They came to be visible among their own.
The Day of Remembrance is like a bridge between these two holidays. The Sunday of Eternity does not speak only of the Last Judgment, resurrection and the glory of Heaven. It speaks of the unbreakable, eternal connection between us and our ancestors. It teaches us to not view Eternity as the Afterlife, but rather as originating from those who were long before us. Eternity has no beginning and no end, of which our life on Earth is but a part.
The Sunday of Eternity also reminds us of our responsibility before our ancestors and descendants. All of a sudden we realize, our own Day of Judgment is frighteningly near. Our Eternity is based on the decisions we make here on Earth today. Will we able to look our Lord in the face? Are we able to please, love, mourn and remember our loved ones? There is nothing worse than the isolation of being all alone - having no roots, no history, no one to carry on this holy rite. Today, on this Day of Remembrance, we realize just how blessed we are to have loved ones to remember with love and gratitude. Because it is through these memories that we are sure in the solid foundation on which our future may be built. Our world is a warmer, more welcoming place, when we coexist with our deceased loved ones.
Understanding the concept of time as a whole and Eternity is equally a source of salvation. We can avoid outside influences and brainwashing, telling us how to get to Paradise. As Children of God, we are children of eternity from the time of Baptism on. We are saved from eternal death and hopeless loss. Jesus Christ’s call: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.“ can be heard even today. Let us then live in the aura of his blessings – in faith, in hope and in love. In the Kingdom that even the forces of Hell cannot destroy.
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