CHRIST IS RISEN!
On this first Sunday after Pascha we remember our beloved St. Thomas – a great saint, apostle and martyr of the Church. Too often we remember St. Thomas as “doubting Thomas” – as if “doubt” was his defining characteristic. Often we’ve heard the term “doubting Thomas” in reference to somebody who is unbelieving, a skeptic, or somebody who cynically refuses to believe.
Well, I submit to you that this is an unfair characterization of the Apostle Thomas. When we read the whole Gospel, we see that Thomas is not the doubter he is often made out to be. We can see this in the Apostles’ reaction to Christ’s words before their entry into Jerusalem. Before entering the city, the Apostles learned that the external, worldly success and triumph that they had hoped for was not going to come to fruition. Instead, they learned that what awaited the Saviour, and what similarly awaited them, was persecution and death. Faced with such a fate, the Apostles were stricken with fear. Yet in the face of this danger, it was the Apostle Thomas who said of the Saviour: “Let us go, that we might die with Him.” (John 11:16) Thomas had a loyal, noble heart, and it was not Thomas who was the “doubter” throughout the Gospels, for Thomas believed in Christ. The true doubters were those who saw Christ – who saw His miracles, who heard His teachings, and who even cried, “Hosanna!” as they ran with palms to meet Christ in his entry to Jerusalem – and yet who ultimately rejected Him and who did not believe. They did not believe because they did not have a heart like Thomas – a heart that truly yearned for God and for the things of the Spirit. No, their hearts were hardened by worldly desires and concerns, and thus they did not perceive God in their midst.
But why, then, did Thomas say: “I will not believe”? This same Thomas who was willing to die for Christ, and who would eventually travel to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel and to be martyred for Christ? Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky explains that “Thomas asked for assurances not because he did not believe, but because he desired an untroubled faith, for he longed for the Resurrection and understood its significance.”
Indeed, the greatest event in the history of mankind had just occurred – the Resurrection from the dead of the God-Man Jesus Christ, and His trampling down death by death. Despite all that had happened, the Apostles were still somewhat dumbfounded, and they remained hidden and locked in their rooms, “for fear of the Jews.” News of the Risen Christ had reached them, yet the full reality of what was occuring had not yet completely set in, and the Holy Spirit had not yet descended as at Pentecost. So in looking at the other Apostles, Thomas saw no difference in them. Yes, they were full of joy instead of fear, but they still looked like the same people as before. The full implications of Christ’s Resurrection had not yet set in. And so Thomas said: “Unless I see… I cannot believe you.”
And what about us? As Orthodox Christians who proclaim the Risen Christ, who know the Gospels and the history of salvation, who have renounced the “Old Man,” have died with Christ and have “put on Christ” in baptism, who partake of the Sacraments – of Communion, Confession, Anointing, etc. Does all of this reflect in our own lives in this world? When people see us, do our faces shine like they do on Pascha night? As Christians, do we proclaim the truth of our faith in the Resurrected Christ with love? And do we do all things with love, with patience, and with the meekness and humility that Christ taught us and exemplified for us? Are we, by our actions and by our very being as Christians, set apart from the world? Or have we ourselves become tired, bored, cynical – wallowing in the ways of this world? For we live in a society which is increasingly unbelieving, and which says: “Unless I see, I will not believe.” For when people see us, as Christians, what do they see? Do they notice that we are part of the mystical body of the Risen Christ, and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit? If not, why not? We, who hold the Truth of the Faith, who are called to be the salt of the earth, who commune in the Body and Blood of Christ and who are mystically united with the Faith that sustains the universe… When people see us, like Thomas saw the other Apostles before he beheld the Risen Christ himself, do these people see a change in us? Does the full implication of our own death and arising with Christ show in our own lives and shine out like a beacon for others? For we sing in the Paschal Canon: “Yesterday, O Christ, I was buried with Thee, but today I arise in Thine arising.” Is this truth made evident in our lives not just on Pascha night, but at all times?
And so, we must examine ourselves and ask ourselves: Do our lives affirm the Gospel of the Risen Christ? Or do our lives deny it? When people look at us, do they say: “I will not believe”? Or rather, do they say, to quote the words of Met. Anthony Bloom: “Such people we have never seen! There is something about them that we have never seen in anyone!”
Let us ask God to help us in our own unbelief, and from this moment on, let us worship Christ in the example of the Apostle Thomas – with a self-sacrificing heart yearning for the Risen Christ. And may our whole life and all that we say and all that we do be a shining testament to the beautiful and life-giving truth of these three words: Christ is Risen!
On this Sunday we celebrate the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers, or, as they are also called, the “physicians without silver.” They are those saints who, out of pure love of God and neighbor, healed the sick and mended the souls of others while asking nothing in return. It was a pure self-sacrifice born out of love. Today we remember the great saints Cyrus and John, Tryphon, Artemius, and the others, as well as Cosmas and Damian, who lived and were martyred in Roman times. And of course, we also remember and honor our great patron, the martyr and healer Panteleimon.