St Thomas Sunday

Second Sunday of Pascha

"My Lord and My God"

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Christ is risen! 

 

Today is the second Sunday of Pascha already.  It is the Sunday of St. Thomas.  Today we read about, as the church calls it, St. Thomas' "believing unbelief."[1] 

 

There is a theme here that the church is going to be talking about now in the light of the resurrection during the whole Pentecostarion period: the enlightenment of man.  The resurrection is being applied now.  We see it in the Acts that we’re reading for quite some time now.  In the light of the resurrection, we see what's happening.  We see how many people were healed, how many people were converted, and how lives were changed.  Even the shadow of the apostles healed people of their infirmities.[2]  In the light of the resurrection, there was activity, there was motion, and there was enlightenment. 

 

St Thomas, who was no different than you or I, had to be enlightened also.  Everyone has different levels of understanding on various things, even among the apostles, even among the saints. It is fascinating to look and see how our Lord in the forty days that He spent on the earth enlightened so many using different ways to enlighten them, and also throughout the whole of the gospels how He reached people where they needed to be reached.  The final destination is always the same: to follow the commandments and to become purified, so that we can know Christ in an intimate way.  But sometimes Christ teaches certain people a little bit different.  In fact, everyone is treated a little bit different.

 

Thomas wasn't there the first night of Pascha.[3]  He had left probably on some errand, and that is when Christ came, the doors being shut.  And Jesus spoke to the eleven, or actually, ten[4] at that point, and they were glad.  I have always marveled how in the scriptures great, momentous occasions are stated so laconically.  "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."[5]  Indeed, they were glad, when they saw the God-man!  But Thomas was not there, and the resurrection was such an incredible thing; he cannot really be faulted for not believing. 

 

Peter didn't believe when he saw the grave clothes, only John did, when they went into the grave and saw the clothes lying folded up.[6]  John saw and believed, but Peter didn't.  He went away, wondering in himself what had come to pass.[7] 

 

Mary Magdalene, who saw the stone rolled away from the tomb together with the Theotokos, didn't immediately believe in the resurrection.  She came back to the tomb with myrrh and aloes to anoint the Lord, He Who in her mind was dead.  She was weeping because He wasn't in the tomb.[8]  She was weeping for someone Who was dead.  That's why we sing, "Do not weep for one who is dead," it says (in a paraphrasement).  "He is not dead, He is not here, He is alive and risen."  In our exapostilarion we speak of this quite a bit, of how Mary misunderstood.  And our Lord came to her and she thought He was the gardener, till He spoke to her and just in the hearing of His voice, when He said, "Mary", and then she recognized Him.[9] 

 

Other disciples spent an entire a day’s journey with Christ, and didn't understand.  They were Luke and Cleopas, on the way to Emmaus.[10]  The tomb had already been empty for some time, and they were walking a long distance.  It says in the scriptures 60 furlongs, quite a long distance, a day's journey, in the hot sun, and our Lord drew alongside them, and He spoke to them, and they didn’t understand Who He was.  They thought that He was a misinformed stranger, because He made like He wondered what the events were in the past couple days. 

 

But their hearts burned within them.  Something about this Man captivated them, when He spoke to them about the scriptures, and opened their understanding.  That's why it says: "And then opened He their understanding of the scriptures."  And when they sat down, and when He broke bread, (which was of course, the Body and Blood of Christ), then they saw Him, and He vanished.  And as they were making their way back in the wee hours of the morning, another day's journey, (they took two days' journey in one day), Christ was appearing to the other apostles, save Thomas. 

 

You see how He enlightened people where they needed to be enlightened. 

 

Luke and Cleopas must have needed this conversation with the Lord, and to see Him in the breaking of the bread, to really have the point brought home that yes, the Lord had risen. 

 

Mary had to be spoken with by Lord.  She had to see Him. 

 

John believed just by seeing the empty tomb. 

 

Peter was met by the Lord, the church understands.[11]  Peter was met individually by the Lord, because after all, he was a bit shaken, wasn't he?  Peter was a man of great bravery.  He can't be faulted for his denying Christ three times.  We would have done it a thousand times.  But he was much shaken because of this, and because of his emotional turmoil he was in, it was very difficult for him to believe in the resurrection, because he was all wrapped up with his feeling so completely unworthy of what the Lord had called him to do.  So the Lord had to meet with Peter individually, apart from the other apostles.  And in fact, Peter was the first of the apostles to see the risen Lord.  And I suppose maybe the second to believe after John, who without seeing believed. 

 

And now the last to find out, after eight long days of hearing from the apostles about the Lord being risen, Thomas, is in the room and the Lord comes, through the doors again, which were shut, passing through the doors, because after all, His body is a human body, but it is a transfigured human body.  It's not subject to the same kind of laws that we are subject to.  It doesn't get tired, it doesn't get sick.  And that's the way we will be as well.  The way Christ was in His transfigured body is a prophecy for us of how our bodies will be as well. 

 

Jesus comes in and speaks very gently to Thomas.  He says, "I know what you need.  You need to touch Me.  Feel the prints of the nails in my hands.  Feel the slit in my side, and be not faithless, but believing."[12]  And then Thomas has the privilege of being the first of the apostles to proclaim unambiguously, in clear terms, the dual nature of Christ's humanity and His divinity.  It is the first confession of faith in the scriptures, where Christ is proclaimed God and man openly.  He says, "My Lord and my God!"[13] 

 

Thomas had to wait awhile, but God gave him that great privilege of almost, shall we say, beginning the symbol of faith[14].  What a great privilege it was. 

 

In the coming week we will be speaking about the myrrh-bearing women[15], and there is a theme throughout the story of the myrrh-bearing women of their continuing enlightenment, just like for Thomas or for Peter or for Luke and Cleopas or for the other apostles.  And then we go onto the blind man and the lame man, the paralytic.  We see how the resurrection is applied. 

 

Why does the church do this?  Why do we speak of things that have to do with enlightenment and healing right after Pascha?  Well, because the resurrection applies to us in our life now.  It's very important to understand this.  That's why I have been speaking of it so often.  It's very important to understand, because you must know that God has given you the ability to be able to get rid of your sins, of your passions, of the problems in your life that are making you to be away from God.  You have the ability, through the resurrection.  And all these examples of people that partially believed, even the great apostles, who were at times disbelievers, at times were cowards, at times were at odds with each other  and vied amongst themselves who would be greatest, and all the other things -- even them -- the Lord purified them, and brought them to a great wholeness. 

 

If He can do it with them and do it with all the others examples in the scriptures, with the paralytic and the blind man and the woman at the well, named Photini[16], and all the others, then He can do it with us. 

 

I tell you, the resurrection is not something that you believe in as an event that occurred in the past.  Nor is it something that you believe, and say that it will happen in the future, like Mary and Martha did, saying, "Oh Lord, I believe in the resurrection.  In the last day, all will be resurrected."[17]  When their brother Lazarus lay dead, and Christ showed them, "I am the resurrection.  If I live in you, then you are resurrected now, not later."  It is very important to understand this. 

 

A Christian who understands that Christ's becoming man makes him able to do holy things will not fall prey to despondency.  Despondency is really the negation of belief in God, you know.  Despondency is a type of atheism.  You should fear despondency and confess it every time.  It is a terrible sin, because in it, you are rejecting the resurrection.  God can save you, and God will save you if you live the Christian life.  Yes, indeed, you must consider yourself unworthy of salvation, but you must also know that Christ has promised it. 

 

So live as a Christian, fast as a Christian, think as a Christian, and when you cannot do things properly, when you do things that are sinful, run to confession with the sure hope and sure knowledge, that God will receive your repentance, because of the resurrection.  I tell you if you live in the light of the resurrection, you will not become despondent.  As a pastor I believe that the number one sin I see is despondency.  Sometimes it is cloaked, so that people can have a sin and may be despondent about it, but not so noticeably despondent, so that it is a sort of semi-excuse. 

 

And sometimes it is because people really desire to change, and they just can't believe that they can really change.  Mary and Martha couldn’t believe that their brother would be resurrected after four days.  The apostles, many of them, could not believe that our Lord, Who spoke of the resurrection over and over and over again, could be resurrected.  It took many proofs for some of them, such as Thomas, and the other ones as well.  You know, it says "Many things the Lord did, many signs He did, but not everything is written in this book."[18] 

 

By the way, as an aside, you realize that the Lord taught the apostles so much that is not written down, that is part of our holy tradition now.  The apostles transmitted it to their disciples, and so on.  It wasn't written down, but it was precious, and St. John only in a dark way refers to it. 

 

So today we see an example of a man, Thomas, enlightened.  Christ went out of His way to enlighten him. He sort of accorded him special treatment, as it were.  And Thomas believed, and he confessed.  Christ did and does the same thing for us, to bring us to enlightenment.  And now we must believe and confess. 

 

Now He said something else that's very important, important not to pass over.  He said it, before Thomas was there, and many other times when Thomas heard.  He said, "As the Father hath sent me, so send I you."[19] 

 

And by extension, it is the same for us.  No, we don't have the role of the apostles.  We are not bishops, and we don't have the grace that has been bestowed upon the apostles, but we are sent along basically the same path: the path of obedience to the same gospel, the path of obedience to the commandments of our God, the life in the church, and everything that living as an Orthodox Christian entails. 

 

Later on, just after this reading in fact, the disciples, seven of them, are fishing, and the Lord tells them to let down their nets, and they had a catch, and then Peter is told to bring the catch to the shore, a hundred and fifty and three fishes, and yet the net did not break.[20]  And later, after they ate, our Lord restored Peter by asking him three times, "Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou me?"  and then He showed him how he would die.[21]  This is tied in with when He was saying, "As my Father hath sent Me, so send I you." 

 

We must use Christ as the example of how to live, whether as an apostle or whether as anyone else.  The Christian life is one of difficulty and one of strife.  We are in the light of the resurrection, but we can never get far away from knowing that our life is a difficult one.  We make it so because of our sins, sometimes, and other times because of the evil of the world surrounding us.  Follow the example of the saints.  Follow the example of the apostles.  Live as they lived, which means you live the life in the church. 

 

And brothers and sisters, always believe that the resurrection applies to you, now.  Fear disbelief in it.  Every time you fall into despondency, berate yourself for being a fool and gazing into an empty tomb, and wondering where the Lord is.  Don't be like this.  Believe in the resurrection, and believe that you can be changed, and through struggle, arduous struggle, through many tears, through ups and downs, and even in the midst of your sins, God will perfect you, but you must believe.  Amen.

 

 

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The Gospel for St. Thomas Sunday

John 20:19-31

Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. {20} And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. {21} Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. {22} And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: {23} Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. {24} But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. {25} The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. {26} And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. {27} Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. {28} And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. {29} Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. {30} And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: {31} But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.


 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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[1] Cf. one of the stichera at Vespers: "When Thou didst enter, O Christ, while the doors were shut, / Thomas, who was called the Twin, was not with them. / Wherefore, he doubted what was told him, / thus by unbelief confirming his belief. / And Thou, O Good One, didst not disdain to show him / Thine immaculate side and the wounds of Thy hands and feet. / Wherefore, having felt and beheld, / he confessed that Thou art neither naked God nor mere man, // and he cried: O my Lord and my God, glory be to Thee."

[2] (Acts 5:15)  Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

[3] (John 20:19,24)  Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. … {24} But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

 

[4] Judas was dead, Thomas was gone, and the replacement for Judas (Matthias) had not been elected yet. This leaves ten.

[5] John 20:20

[6] (John 20:1-8)  The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. {2} Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. {3} Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. {4} So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. {5} And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. {6} Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, {7} And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. {8} Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

[7] (Luke 24:10-12)  It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. {11} And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. {12} Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

[8] (John 20:11-16)  But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, {12} And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. {13} And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. {14} And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. {15} Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. {16} Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Luke 24:13-33

[11] We understand this from holy tradition, and the scripture: (Luke 24:33-35)  And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, {34} Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. {35} And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

 

[12] Cf. (John 20:27)  Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

[13] John 20:28

[14] The Symbol of faith is also known as the "Nicene Creed".

[15] The Sunday of the Myrhbearers  is the 3rd Sunday of Pascha (counting Pascha as the 1st Sunday of Pascha)

[16] The Samaritan Woman, whom the church knows as St Photini (5th Sunday of Pascha)

[17] Cf. John 11, and especially (John 11:23-26)  Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. {24} Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. {25} Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: {26} And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

 

[18] (John 21:25)  And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

[19] John 20:21

[20] John 21:11

[21] Cf. John 21:15-19





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