The Third Sunday of the Triodion Period: Sunday of The Last Judgement (Meatfare Sunday)
The Sunday of the Last Judgment is the third Sunday
of a three-week period prior to the commencement of Great Lent. During
this time, the services of the Church have begun to include hymns from
the Triodion, a liturgical book that contains the services from the Sunday
of the Publican and the Pharisee, the tenth before Pascha (Easter), through
Great and Holy Saturday. On this day, focus is placed on the future judgment
of all persons who will stand before the throne of God when Christ returns
in His glory.
The commemoration for this Sunday is taken from the
parable of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning his Second Coming and the
Last Judgment of all, both the living and the dead. In Matthew 25:31-46,
Christ speaks about what will happen at this specific point in time when
He will “come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him”
At His coming, “He will sit on the throne of His
glory,” and all of the nations will be gathered before Him. He will
separate them “as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats”
(v. 32). The sheep will be placed on His right hand, and the goats on
To the sheep, He will say “Come, you blessed of
My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world” (vv. 33-34)
This kingdom is offered to the sheep because of their
compassion and service to those in need. Jesus says, “…for
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I
was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
The sheep, who are the righteous chosen for the kingdom,
will ask how this could be so. They will ask Jesus when was He hungry
or thirsty, a stranger, naked, and in prison. He will answer them by saying,
“Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of
these My brethren, you did it to me” (vv. 35-40).
Christ the King, seated on His throne of judgment,
will then turn to the goats on His left and say, “Depart from Me,
you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”
(v. 41). He will condemn them because they did not feed Him when He was
hungry, give Him drink when He was thirsty, take Him in when He was a
stranger, clothe Him when He was naked, visit Him when He was sick or
The goats will ask the 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?” Then He will answer them saying, “Assuredly,
I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these,
you did not do it to me” (vv. 42-45).
Jesus concludes His words on the Last Judgment by stating
that those on the left “will go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life” (v. 46).
On the past two Sundays of this pre-Lenten period,
the focus was placed on God’s patience and limitless compassion,
of His readiness to accept every sinner who returns to Him. On this third
Sunday, we are powerfully reminded of a complementary truth: no one is
so patient and so merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those
who do not repent. The God of love is also a God of righteousness, and
when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our Judge. Such is the
message of Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent
before the End comes.
This Sunday sets before us the eschatological dimension
of Lent: the Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the
Savior, for the eternal Passover in the Age to Come, a theme that is also
the focus of the first three days of Holy Week. But the judgment is not
only in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening
our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities
we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.
Another theme of this Sunday is that of love. When
Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment?
The parable of the Last Judgment answers: love—not a mere humanitarian
concern for abstract justice and the anonymous “poor,” but
concrete and personal love for the human person—the specific persons
that we encounter each day in our lives.
Christian love is the “possible impossibility”
to see Christ in another person, whoever he or she is, and whom God, in
His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life,
be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a “good deed”
or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship
in God Himself.
The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian
love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet
each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love.
We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love—the
recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole
creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that people are in
prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love
has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited
the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made
responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by
that very gift of Christ’s love. Thus, on whether or not we have
accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love,
shall we be judged.
Icon of the Feast
The icon of the Sunday of the Last Judgment incorporates
all of the elements of the parable from Matthew 25:31-46. Christ sits
on the throne and before him the Last Judgment takes place. He is extending
his hands in blessing upon the Theotokos on his right, and John the Baptist
on his left. Seated on smaller thrones are the Apostles, represented by
Peter and Paul, a depiction of the words of Christ in Matthew 19:28. (1.)
|1. Christ is seated on the throne between the Theotokos (left) and Saint John the Baptist (right). Seated on smaller thrones are the Apostles, represented here by Saint Peter (left) and
Saint Paul (right).
Proceeding from the throne are the scrolls pronouncing the judgment upon
the sheep and the goats. (2.)The faithful are received with the words
that are written on the scroll to the right of Christ the Judge, “Come,
you blessed of My Father, and inherit the kingdom” (v. 34). The
scroll on the left condemns the unfaithful with the words, “Depart
from me you cursed, into the everlasting fire” (v. 41).
|2. The scrolls pronouncing the
judgement can be seen at Christ’s feet and below them, Adam and Eve
bow before Christ.
|3. Below Adam and Eve is the Archangel Michael
surrounded by the books which contain the works of each person.
Before the throne, the progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve, bow
before Christ. (2.)In the center of the icon is the Archangel Michael.
He is holding the scales of judgment and is surrounded by the books that
contain the works of each person (Revelation 20:11-13). (3.) Also shown
are the angels with trumpets announcing the return of Christ and signaling
the resurrection of the dead and the commencement of the Last Judgment
(I Thessalonians 4:16-17). (4.)
|4. To the left and right of the
Archangel Michael are angels with trumpets announcing to the world
the return of Jesus Christ, the start of the Last Judgements, and
signaling the resurrection of the dead.
To the left of the Archangel are both the living and
the dead who are approaching the throne and Christ the judge. Whereas
Adam and Eve are representative of all of humanity, this part of the icon
shows that both the living and the dead will stand before Christ. (5.)
|5. Pictured to the bottom-left
of the Archangel Michael are the living and dead coming before the
throne of Christ the judge.
|6. To the bottom-right of the Archangel
Michael is the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil,
his demons, and those who are not worthy of inheriting the Kingdom
At the bottom right of the icon is the everlasting fire
prepared for the devil and the demons, and also for those who are not
found worthy to inherit the Kingdom of God. (6.)
The icon offers a clear image of the theme of judgment
with Christ on His throne, the Archangel with the scales and books, and
the anticipation of the sentence of everlasting punishment for the unrighteous
and the reward of eternal life for the righteous.
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the Feast of the Last Judgement
The Sunday of the Last Judgment is commemorated with
the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, which is preceded by the
Matins service. A Great Vespers is conducted on Saturday evening. The
hymns of the Triodion for this day are added to the usual prayers and
hymns of the weekly commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. The naming
of the Sunday is related to the reading of the story from the Gospel at
the Divine Liturgy.
Scripture readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgment are: At the Orthros
(Matins): The prescribed weekly Gospel reading. At the Divine Liturgy:
I Corinthians 8:8-9:2; Matthew 25:31-46.
The Sunday of the Last Judgment is also known as Meatfare
Sunday. This is the last day that meat can be eaten before the Lenten
fast. Dairy products are allowed on each day of this week, even Wednesday
and Friday. The next Sunday is the Sunday of Cheesefare, It is the last
day that dairy products can be eaten prior to the commencement of Great
On the Saturday before this Sunday, the first of three
Saturdays of the Souls are held. This is a special commemoration on this
and the next two Saturdays, when the Church offers a Divine Liturgy and
Memorial Service for the departed faithful. This is considered a universal
commemoration of the dead. It is closely related to the theme of the Sunday
of the Last Judgment since the services focus on the Second Coming of
Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Through the memorial services,
the Church is commending to God all who have departed and who are now
awaiting the Last Judgment.
Hymns and Prayers of the Feast of the Prodigal Son
Doxastikon of Matins (Tone One)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever
and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Let us go before, O brethren, and cleanse ourselves
for the Queen of virtues; for behold she hath come bringing to us fortune
of good deeds, quenching the uprisings of passion and reconciling the
wicked to the Master. Let us welcome her, therefore, shouting to Christ
God, O thou who arose from the dead, keep us uncondemned, who glorify
Thee, O Thou who alone art sinless. Listen »
Kontakion (Tone One)
When Thou comest, O God, upon the earth with glory, the whole world will
tremble. The river of fire will bring men before Thy judgment seat, the
books will be opened and the secrets disclosed. Then deliver me from the
unquenchable fire, and count me worthy to stand on Thy right hand, Judge
The Lenten Triodion. translated by Mother
Mary and Kallistos Ware (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary
Press, 1994), pp. 45-46, 150-167.
Schmemann, Alexander. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (Crestwood, New York:
St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1969), pp. 23-26.
Barrois, Georges. Scripture Readings in Orthodox Worship (Crestwood, New
York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977), pp. 26-29.
Farley, Donna. Seasons of Grace: Reflections on the Orthodox Church Year
(Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2002), pp. 84-86.