by Kosmas Damianides
Dearly Beloved Brethren,
No body knows the time or even the place that our Lord is returning to judge the living and the dead. For this reason, the Fathers of our Church do not tell us to try and outsmart God, by predicting the time that He will appear. On the contrary the Fathers concentrate on teaching us to be constantly ready and watchful, by praying, fasting and doing works of love and faith. We are instructed to expect a sudden if not instant entry of our Lord.
In the final chapter of the Book of Revelations, the Apocalypse of St John the Theologian we are informed that we must fully accept the imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore we are told that our world will suffer terribly before the Second Coming of our Lord and that this world will be destroyed. Nevertheless so let it be, in obedience we should pray "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20) and come quickly.
In John chapter 20 we are told of the pitiful sight of the Apostles who gathered in a small dark house for fear of the Jews after the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. They had locked every window and door, and they were in a state of mourning. They must have been deeply depressed, angry, disillusioned, confused and very afraid to say the least.
Instead of waiting eagerly for the coming of their Lord, they probably feared that the world was about to end for them on a cross. Instead of standing well, standing with fear and trembling in expectation of their Lord, they were crouched down in complete darkness and gave way to their material fear for their lives. They perhaps were so horrified at what had happened to their teacher Jesus Christ that they could not stand to go through the same torment and pain.
When the news reached them that Jesus was alive, they probably thought, 'How was it possible for the corpse of Jesus to rise from the dead when they knew that His body was so mutilated, beaten and pierced with large nails and a spear in His side?'
The Gospel reading tells us, "When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week Jesus came (to his disciples) and stood in the midst of them and said "Peace be with you". After showing the disciples the nail marks on His hands and the gash in his side, again He said to them "Peace be with you".
Then He started to commission them; this was the beginning of the Great Apostolic mission to the world. "As the Father sent me" he told them, "I also send you". Jesus then told His Apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained". What a great thing happened that day, the power to forgive sins, the authority of judgment was given to the Apostles to pass on, from generation to generation, from Apostle to Apostle.
However, where was St Thomas, the other Apostle, when all of this was happening? Unfortunately we do not know, however, we are told by the Holy Fathers that it was "by divine economy" that "he was not there."
Nevertheless, as soon as the other disciples saw St Thomas they cried out, "We have seen the Lord!" However, the missing disciple Thomas was not so easily convinced and probably thought, 'perhaps it was an illusion a ghost of some sort'. St Thomas then told his fellow disciples, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe".
Do not misjudge Thomas, for perhaps he remembered the words of his master Jesus Christ, Who once proclaimed, "If anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There He is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time".
"So if anyone tells you, 'There He is, out in the desert', do not go out; or, 'Here He is, in the inner rooms', do not believe it. For just as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, this is also how the coming of the Son of Man will be" (Matt 24:23-27). St Thomas probably did not wish to believe until he had substantial proof, in order to keep the word of Christ.
Within eight days however, Jesus appeared to the disciples again just as suddenly as He did the last time, but this time St Thomas was present. Although the doors were all shut and there was no possibility of entry, Jesus appeared to them, from nowhere, and stood amongst them. St Thomas most probably thought 'surely He must be a ghost, a vision, a false Christ'. Jesus then spoke "Peace be with you" and He said to St Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe". And St Thomas answered with such assurance and conviction, "My Lord and my God!"
The Holy Tradition of the Church tells us that St Thomas did not touch our Lord, nor did he ever contemplate on doing so after seeing Him, because he quickly realised that it is not only the human senses which are required to discern the Truth but both the divine senses of the heart, called Faith, working together with the human senses of reasoning.
In order to show that faith of the heart is a greater virtue than reasoning alone Jesus said to him, "You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 21:29). So brethren truly we are blessed if we have not seen and yet we do believe. Have you noticed how many gather together throughout the world and cry out and proclaim every Pascha (Easter) "Christ is Risen!" and "Truly He is Risen!" We have not seen, and yet we do believe for almost 2000 years now.
Dear brethren, the skepticism of the Apostles and especially that of St Thomas is not detrimental; it is in fact very beneficial, if not vital, for the whole of Christianity. Sound discretion and good judgment are vital for spiritual matters, and the Resurrection event of our Lord is no exception.
In the secular world St Thomas is known as Doubting Thomas, but in the Orthodox Christian Church he is known as Believing Thomas.
For this reason the Apostles had to be sure that Jesus rose from the dead in order to proclaim the TRUTH, which is WITHOUT DOUBT so that we may believe without doubt that "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing [we] may have life in His name". So that we may be blessed, by having a faith which comes from the heart, the soul, and not purely from our human senses of reasoning.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Parish of St Nektarios, Perth WA