The Sunday of the Last Judgment (Meatfare Sunday) is the fourth Sunday in the preparatory period leading up to Great Lent. The gospel reading from Matthew contains words of warning but also words of comfort, encouragement and hope. Comfort because we are taught that Our Savior desires us to be saved and hope because the criterion of our salvation listed for us to follow. Encouragement because these things asked of us are within the reach and capabilities of us all.
Last Sunday focused on our relationship to Christ and this Sunday moves on to our relationship to each other. The acts of mercy and compassion that Our Savior requires of us serve to reinforce that we are to serve all men at all times as we would Christ. This is another example of the mystery of Christ’s identification with man.
The icon of the Last Judgment is one of the much significance and incorporates a great number of the elements of the gospel of Matthew for this Sunday (Matthew 25:31-46). For a detailed and fascinating explanation of this icon see the following article by Boris K. Knorre of the Vysokopetrovskij Monastery, Moscow on the Icon of the Last Judgement.
For further reading on the importance of this Sunday please see the following by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev on The Dread Judgment and also a Homily on the Eve of the Sunday of Dread Judgment by Saint Philaret of New York. And a thank you to Hierodeacon Samuel of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston for translating both of these sermons.
The mosaic above is from a Byzantine church in Ravena, Italy c. 520. It so beautifully depicts the passage from Matthew: