Today's Gospel reading concerns the Final Judgment, when Christ shall return to earth with His holy angels in order to separate the "sheep" from the "goats." As I pondered this theme, I was led to consider the fact that there are two kinds of sin: those of commission, and those of omission. Sins of commission are the more obvious ones: they consist of the "Thou shalt nots" as enumerated in the Ten Commandments revealed to the holy prophet Moses on Sinai. On the other hand, sins of omission are not usually so easy to identify: such sins involve acts of mercy or compassion we might have done, but somehow neglected to do. Obviously, it is much easier to avoid actual transgressions of the moral law than to figure out what good deed we ought to be doing.
Yet it is precisely this side of the moral equation that our Lord emphasizes above all else (witness the seminal Sermon on the Mount, including the Eight Beatitudes that are sung at most every Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church). Above all, Christ exalts the Great Commandment: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul and mind, and the second that is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (This is taken, of course, from the Old Testament, while Christ's New Commandment--that we should love one another as He has loved us--belongs to the new revelation alone).
So it is that "Love covers a multitude of sins"... while apart from love, the most outwardly virtuous life is ultimately rooted in pride and hypocrisy. Thus, it is the Pharisees alone that our Lord singles out to condemn in no uncertain terms, calling them "whitewashed sepulchers." We should note as well that both the sheep and the goats are portrayed as clueless. The former are unaware of those virtuous acts for which the are commended, because they were done in a spirit of selfless love... while the latter possess no awareness of those numerous occasions when they had failed to fulfill the Law of Love. But just as in secular law, ignorance is not considered an excuse: The goats are indeed accountable for their failure.
This is so because God has granted to each and every soul born into this world a conscience capable of discerning between right and wrong, while inscribing His immutable Law upon our hearts. And so when we fail to do what we ought, it is due to a willful ignorance: We stifle the voice of our conscience, while turning a blind eye to the opportunities God reveals to us daily to express our love in concrete terms toward the least of His brethren. And so it shall be on that dreadful Day of Judgment that awaits us all: We shall have no excuse if God declares to us, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels."