St Herman's Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
April 15, 2018

St THOMAS SUNDAY

 

Believing Without Seeing?

Acts 5:12-20

John 20:19-31

Blessed are those who do not see and believe. There are many lessons to be learned in the Scripture readings for today, but this word of Our LORD always catches me. In the Church, we are given to see that this word of Our LORD has at least two teachings, which unite into one teaching.

From this word of the LORD, we see that His holy apostles are prophets. (My wife and I learned when we toured the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky that all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon; so also: all apostles are prophets but not all prophets are apostles!) The WORD of the LORD most always happened to the prophets; He did not “come” to them as an idea or a thought but always as itself an event, and many times it was set forth in a vision which the prophet was commanded to write down, in some cases even to act out. Thus, when we hear or read what the prophets wrote down, their words draw a picture in our mind of the vision they saw when the WORD of the LORD happened to them.

But the WORD of the LORD, even in His Holy Resurrection, did not happen to the apostles in a vision but in the flesh (cf. Jn 1:14). What we hear when we read what the apostles wrote down in their Gospels and epistles is a picture or even an icon of what the apostles saw with their eyes and heard with their ears and handled with their hands, Jesus Christ, the WORD of Life who was from the beginning (I Jn 1:1-4) and who, in these last days, happened, He came to be in the flesh, conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.

So, when we read the Gospels and the epistles, an icon is drawn in our minds in which we are given to see what the holy apostles saw and heard and handled, viz., Jesus Christ, the WORD of Life who was from the beginning, who became flesh, and who was crucified and buried and who rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, which means, according to the WORD of the LORD that happened to the prophets. But the Body of Christ, His Holy Temple – (cf. Jn 1:14 in the Greek: “The WORD became flesh and ‘pitched His tent’, viz, the tabernacle of His body, among us) in whom the holy apostles saw Him and heard Him and handled Him, His Body that was His Holy Temple in which He trampled down death by His death, this is the Church; so, when we enter the movements and structure of the Church’s liturgical worship, we enter the icon of the mystery of Christ and His Holy Pascha begins to happen in us today.

In this, then, when the LORD says to St Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see and believe,” we understand Him to mean: Blessed are those who hear the WORD of God – as proclaimed to us in the writings and preaching of the holy apostles – and keep it not as an idea or a thought, but as the logos or principle, the arche or root that governs the concrete reality of our everyday life.

And, this points us to the second lesson or teaching contained in this word of the LORD. Here, we come upon what I would say is the bread and butter of the Church’s life, and it is set before us very plainly both in the apostolic writings and in the teaching of the holy fathers of the Church. There is this, for example, from St Macarius the Egyptian: “There is another man within us, besides the man who is seen; and eyes, which Satan has blinded, and ears, which he has deafened, and Jesus came to make this inward man whole.” (Hom 33.4) St Macarius, of course, is referring to the inner man in contrast to the outer man that St Paul refers to, or even the spiritual man as contrasted to the psychic and fleshly man, whose center is the heart that is at the “heart” of the writings of the prophets and the teaching of our LORD Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who do not see and believe means, then: blessed are those whose orientation is inward, toward their inner man, and whose inner eyes are constantly on Jesus Christ as He revealed Himself to His prophets and apostles, and whose inner ears are on the WORD of the LORD who spoke to us in the events – the “it came to pass” – of His Incarnation, and finally and perfectly on His Holy Cross and to His prophets and apostles in the mystery of His Holy Resurrection.

Listen again to the words of St Macarius: “As the painter, when the [subject’s face] is toward him, draws the portrait easily and well, but when [the subject] turns his face away, he cannot draw because the face is not gazing at the painter, in like manner, Christ, the good artist, for those who believe Him and gaze constantly at Him, straightway portrays after His own image a heavenly man. Out of His own Spirit, out of the substance of light itself (cf. Jn 1:4), the ineffable light, Christ paints a heavenly image and bestows upon [the image] her good and gracious Spouse [the LORD Jesus Christ]. If a man does not gaze constantly at Him, the LORD will not paint His Image with His own Light. We must therefore gaze upon Him [with the eyes of our inner man] believing and loving Him, in order that He may paint His own Image and send it into our souls [as a wedding garment] and thus, wearing Christ, we may receive eternal life, and even here may have full assurance and be at rest.” (Hom 30.4)

Again, to believe in Jesus without seeing Him, then, is to be oriented to Him in one’s inner man, in one’s heart; to be gazing on Him continually with the eyes of one’s heart, to be listening for His silent WORD with the ears of one’s inner man. It is an inner orientation that is wholly turned toward the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, not turned toward the kingdom of this world; it is an inner orientation seeking to hear the words of the LORD in the midst of all our own words and ideas. It is therefore an interior work, a practice, a training, an ascesis, learning to discern the WORD of God from our own so that we do not fall into delusion and from that, into the conceit and self-righteous pride of that delusion.

And, the blessing of those who believe in Christ in this way, again as St Macarius says, is the healing of our inner man, the enjoyment of a certain rest or peace and of a full assurance or joy that is not of this world, for it is given from above as the palpable, concrete manifestation of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

But, how can we possibly do this on our own, when in our souls we are dead because of our egotistical willfulness, when our eyes are darkened and our ears deafened by the voices of the world – which are in so many instances but the “embodiment” of the voice of Satan; or when our inner orientation, what we’re living for, what we’re chasing, is not the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us but riches for our flesh, and power and glory and status for our ego?

There is but one way in the Church, yet many “schemas”. The one way is the “inner Exodus” of the Gospel that leads from the surface of our fleshly existence into the spiritual depths of the heart. But, to get there, there are many schemas in the Church: the schema of the single person living in the world, the married schema or the monastic schema, the schema of the young person, of the older person, of those newly baptized and chrismated, of those who have been practicing the faith for many years, and so on. Whatever our schema, we must center our life on the Church – the Church comprehends all these schemas and gives structure and guidance to each one – for, the Church is the Body of Christ, even the Bride of Christ, the pillar and “ground” of the Truth. She is the ark of our salvation. In her, we sail this life surging with the storm of temptations, the suffering and the griefs of this life, safely to the harbor. In the Church, whatever our schema, she will bring us to the tomb of our heart, to our house and into the Tomb of the LORD and up to His heavenly city.

Amen.

 
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5355 38th Ave So; Minneapolis, MN 55417
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Saturday, April 21st
5 pm Vigil
Sunday, April 22nd
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330 pm Catechumens/Inquirers Class
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