|32 - St Thomas Sunday, Apr 23, 2017 (with audio)|
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The LORD Jesus says to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” What did St Thomas see that made him believe? He saw the risen LORD Jesus in the emblems of His suffering and death. He saw, therefore, the word the LORD had been speaking to His disciples while He was yet with them: that it was necessary that what was written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms be fulfilled (Lk 24:44).
Thomas falls to his knees in worship and cries out, “My LORD and my God!” His mind has been opened to understand the Scriptures: now he sees that the Christ must necessarily suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (Lk 24:45-46).
The LORD then says to Thomas: “Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” I feel that this word is one with what the risen LORD says to the disciples according to St Luke after He has opened their mind to understand the Scriptures: “Thus it has been written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance unto forgiveness of sins would be preached in His Name to all the nations.” The LORD then says: “You are my witnesses beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-48).
I.e., the word of the apostles’ preaching proclaims what they saw with their own eyes. St Thomas is now, with the other disciples, an eye-witness of the LORD’s Pascha and he can say based on what he saw with his own eyes that what was written in the Scriptures, that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, has been fulfilled.
So, what does it mean: “Blessed are those who do not see and believe?” It means that those are blessed who hear the word of the apostles’ preaching and believe, in the same way that they believe that Jesus is the Christ who have heard the word of the prophets, for the word of the prophets is all about Christ, the WORD of God who must necessarily suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. The word of the apostles is the same as the word of the prophets, with this new addition: “That what was written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms has been fulfilled” (Lk 24:44).
Listen: oftentimes, the WORD of the LORD happened or came to be to the prophet as a vision (e.g., Isa 6:1ff., or Eze, chptrs 1 & 44ff.) What is written in the prophets, then, are words describing what the prophets saw in a vision. The words of the prophets, then, form in our mind a picture of what they saw in their vision. According to the LORD, the substance of what the prophets saw and wrote down was that “it was necessary that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” So also, the WORD of the LORD happened or rather came to be to the apostles not in a vision but in the flesh and dwelt among them (Jn 1:14) so that they could bear witness: “What we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and handled with our hands, the WORD of Life (cf. Jn 11:25 – “I am the Resurrection and the Life”) this we proclaim to you” (I Jn 1:1-3). What is written in the apostles, then, are words describing what they saw, what they heard, what they touched with their hands, not an idol that makes one blind, deaf and unfeeling, but the Word of Life, the very Icon of the Father, who opens the eyes and ears and makes withered hands and crippled feet whole! The words of the apostles, then, form in our mind a picture or rather an icon that makes our heart burn within us (Lk 24:32) because, dear faithful! The words of the apostles carry the fire of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the “Holy Fire” that cleanses and heals and destroys death and bestows life upon those in the tombs! The words of the apostles therefore clearly are not of this world. They are not of the wisdom of human opinion. They carry the WORD of God, Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior, the Wisdom of God, who as the crucified and risen God-Man is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. In the fire of His Holy Spirit, He penetrates all the way to the division of soul and spirit and discerns, all the way into the very tomb of our heart to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart – but more than that, to create in us a clean heart and to put in us a new and right spirit! The words of the apostles’ preaching is of this WORD of God, not of the word of academics and philosophers. And so these words, if one hears them and receives them and believes them, i.e., does what they tell us to do, will cleanse us all the way down to our conscience. They will put to death what is earthly in us by the fire of the Holy Spirit who is borne in them.
All of which is to say: “Let us purify our senses” as we heard in the Matins of Pascha (Canon Ode I). We purify our senses by doing what we hear in the words of the apostles’ preaching. To do what we hear in these words is what it means to believe in them without seeing.
But we dosee something in the words of the apostles that we hear. We see in their words an icon, an Orthodox icon; i.e., an icon that is drawn for us by the WORD of the LORD and not by the word of human religious imagination or opinion. This is false teaching or heresy. The Orthodox icon, drawn in our mind by this word of the holy apostles that we hear with our ears, shows us what they saw not in a vision but in the flesh: Christ emptying Himself or rather denying Himself and taking up His cross, Christ the WORD of God incarnate being obedient to the Father even to the point of losing His life on the Cross for our sake, i.e., in His great love for us even while we were yet sinners (cf. Rom 5:8).
To believe in these words of the apostles then, or rather to do what we see in our hearing them, is to deny ourselves and take up our Cross in obedience to Christ our God even to the point of losing our life for His sake, i.e. to give our life not to the idols of the world that passes away and is no more, but to Him who in His divinity is love (I Jn 4:16) that we may abide in His love forever.
Doing these words is how we go about purifying our senses, because when we do them, the Holy Spirit these words of the holy apostles carries burns away all our dross and cleanses us of all our sins, putting to death all that is earthly in us and raising us up into the joy of Christ’s Resurrection that we can experience even now.
But, this hymn from the Paschal Matins continues: “Let us purify our senses that we may see Christ in the unapproachable light of His Holy Resurrection!”
I wonder if this vision of Christ is the “blessing” given to those who believe in Him, i.e., who are obedient to what they hear in the words of eyewitnesses, the holy apostles, even though they do not see Him. So, we see the crucified and risen Christ first with our ears, and when we take up our cross and begin to do what we hear in the words of the holy apostles’ preaching, then we begin to see Christ in our heart that is being purified. For, it is the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead that those words of the apostles carry, who purifies our senses, who “opens our minds to understand the Scriptures,” who grants us to see the great mystery of God, this Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, this Kingdom which, says Christ, does not come with signs that can be seen with the eyes (Lk 17:20), because this kingdom is not of this world. It is of the Spirit. Its signs cannot be seen with worldly eyes because they are spiritual: joy and gladness of the soul, the peace that surpasses all understanding. They are of the “Christ who is in you!” in the bridal chamber of your heart that He has created anew, filling the obedience of faith with the knowledge of faith.
But, we not only hear these words of the holy apostles. We eat and drink them in the mystery of the Chalice! The risen LORD Jesus Christ the apostles saw with their eyes and heard with their ears and touched with their hands is given to us as our food and drink in Holy Eucharist. That WORD becomes part of us in both our body and soul. It is sown like a divine seed in the ground of our bodies and souls, making us, if we would, gardeners of immortal plants – the fruits of the Spirit. Through the obedience of faith, hear the word of the apostles’ preaching, the word of the Church, the WORD of God: walk in the light as He is in the Light. Deny yourselves. Take up your cross. Lose your life for love of Him who first loved us, and come to be like Him from seeing Him as He really is (I Jn 3:2). Amen.