by Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden
Yesterday, as I was searching the Internet, I read an interview on kathimerini.gr given by the famous French-Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre to Eleni Tzannatou, where he hails Greece and explains his reasons from choosing Athens as his permanent residence. I was particularly touched by the following excerpt from his interview:
“Journalist: Of all the people that you’ve met, whom or what do you remember the most?
Alain Lefèvre: I could spend ten minutes trying to impress you with names. However, for me, the most impressive thing was when I met some youngsters at a juvenile detention center who were learning classical music. They composed a piece for me one day. I was moved to tears, because these children, who were just teenagers and had faced all kinds of difficulties in their lives, offered me a musical composition. From me, that was one of the most significant things that I ever experienced.”
The journalist was surprised by the response given by the subject of her interview, and she certainly wasn’t impressed. No doubt, this response left us all underwhelmed. We were all expecting to hear a reference to some “big” name, like the ones that constantly appear on our newsfeed and serve as influencers in our society – especially for young people – with their extravagant lifestyle and popularity.
Mr. Lefèvre’s response was undoubtedly thought-provoking, because he compelled some of the people reading this interview – at least the well-meaning ones – to think about those who are marginalized – the “le marginal.” This reminded me of a well-known film starring Alain Delon. I am referring to our marginalized fellow men and women, and the role that they dare to play in our lives. Still, we continue to dare to flagrantly and repeatedly ignore them.
I am referring to our neighbors, to whom we even forget to say good morning when we meet them in the corridor of our apartment complex; the people who we see crying on the street because they just lost their job; the student who we heard about in the news who fainted in class due to hunger; the local girl whom we no longer see around the neighborhood because she got mixed up with the wrong crowd and is now serving time in prison; the children who are added to the death toll by the day, buried under the rubble of their homes in earthquake stricken Turkey and Syria, and countless others from the North, shot dead by enemy fire on the battle ground, where the fighting seems as if it will never end!
On the third Sunday of Triodion we read about the final judgement of Christ the just judge and receive a foretaste of it. The scene described in the Gospel is striking. The just Judge, seated “on His throne of glory,” calls “all the nations before Him” and pronounces His final judgement. This is what we refer to as the “Second Coming of the Lord.”
To better comprehend the categories in which the Gospel places the people, it simply repeats several times, so as to allow those hearing the Gospel to better understand it. Both categories of the people being judged –the good and the bad, the righteous and sinners – are left wondering “When did we see you…?”
What a dramatic turn of events. Who could have ever imagined it! The Judge renders His decision using those who were unjustly condemned and marginalized as His criterion, and they now become the new standard for our salvation, and ultimately, our judges! The hungry, the thirsty, the foreigners, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned… Six categories of people who continue to exist on the fringes of contemporary society!
And yet, because these people suffered an injustice at our hands – to a greater or lesser extent – they return to participate in our judgement, to eternally testify against us (alas!) about our deficit due to our complete absence of acts of unconditional love.
Our desire – here and now – will shape our future forever, because if we give serious consideration to the warning of the Gospel passage read on Judgment Sunday, we will live out “all that is true, all that is decorous, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is beloved, all that is joyful.”
Let us align ourselves with the exhortation of the Gospel so that our perspective on life may become feeding the hungry, giving drink to those who are thirsty, taking in the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, preferably without making a spectacle of our charity and publicizing it, but rather, as a humble recognition of the existence of these invaluable brethren, who are in such great need of our caring and discreet attention.
For those still wondering why the Lord shows such intense appreciation and insists upon our displaying love to the least and most marginalized of our brethren, perhaps it is because in the simplicity of their poverty we are able to discover and uncover our own face, our own spiritual nakedness or magnanimity and philanthropy, devoid of the embellishments of material and spiritual vanity and self-aggrandizement.
Perhaps it is because in the face of these least of Christ’s brethren, the true image of the God-man – His countenance – can be seen; not in glory, but in humiliation, during the time of His passion, to such a degree that we ourselves may wonder “where has Your beauty gone?”
Moreover, perhaps because if we do not study human existence, and own selves, by gaining knowledge of ourselves as well as others, who are our “alter ego,” we will never be able to exist in a true human society that is essentially a communion between man and God that is achieved via our fellow man, considering that our salvation – even our very prayer – must pass through the heart and soul of our fellow man to reach God.
It is by becoming in sync with the words of our Lord in word and deed, that we shall finally hear Him tell us that what we are so longing to hear: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”