|30 - St Thomas. 2nd Sunday of Pascha, Apr 19, 2015|
“Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” I feel that these words of the Savior to St Thomas comprehend the entire way of the Christian Faith. Let’s reflect on them.
The faithful who participate in the liturgical services of Great and Holy week do not experience that week as ordinary time. We keep track of the days, but our sense of time is governed not by the passing of the days but more by the sacred events of the liturgical services. Through those services, as beautiful as they are grueling, we have a sense of descending to another “time”, a deeper time hidden within the ordinary time of the world.
The Cross of the LORD is the Wisdom of God, for Wisdom, it says, is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. (Prov 3:18) And it is in Wisdom, it says, that the LORD God has “made them all”. (Psalm 104:24) On the Cross, in Wisdom, the LORD cries out at the moment of His death, “It is finished!” Creation is finished! On Pascha morning, we hear: “In the beginning was the Word…in whom all things were made.” (Jn 1:1) On the Cross, the Tree of Life, Christ, the Wisdom of God, by His death and resurrection, creates a new heaven and a new earth in the souls of those who believe. I think we call it “Great and Holy Week” because it is a liturgical icon through which we descend inwardly into the mystery of the Blessed and Holy Sabbath when the LORD God rested from all His works He had made. (Gn 2;3 LXX) In the Resurrection of Christ, we feel as though we have left the world altogether and that we have ascended inwardly into another realm in a Day that is not of this world: the Garden of Eden on the Eighth Day.
The iconological character of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship means that the services of Great and Holy Week are mirrors reflecting the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us (Lk 17:21). To believe without seeing is to orient my life on the hope of this heavenly reality that the Church’s liturgical icon reveals to be within me.
The events of Christ’s life are not “ordinary” history; they are “deified” history, for they are the history of God. God dwells in these events. Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, dwells in these historical events. He clothes Himself with them as with a garment. They are the principle, the cause, the beginning, the arche that govern the shape and movement of history, for they are written in the prophets. As the history of God, they do not pass away as does the history of man. As the arche, they embrace history, they permeate time. They break in at a particular moment of time not to be changed into historical events that pass away alongside all other historical events, but to transfigure history. The wise of the world call the events of Christ’s life “history”, and look for the “historical Jesus” heedless of the word of the angel to the myrrh-bearing women: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here! He is risen!” (Why do you seek Him who is risen in the past that is dead and no more?)
Where are these deified events, then, if they are still Today? In the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Church! Where is the risen LORD Jesus if He is not among the dead? “He is in our midst!” The Cross of Christ as the Wisdom of God that is the arche of creation is not an empty religious assertion we are required to “believe”. It is the principle of our being we are required to obey if we want to be saved – if we want to be made whole, if we want to become who we are. To believe without seeing, then, is to lay hold of the Cross and take up the work of becoming transformed in the renewing of my mind through obedience to the will of God that has been revealed in the mystery of the Cross.
St Maximus the Confessor says that faith is expressed in obedience to the commandments of Christ. The commandments of Christ are different from the commandments of Moses. “Moses, clothed in the flesh,” says St Macarius (b.300 AD), “could not enter into the heart and take away the filthy garments of darkness.” (Hom 32.4) For, “There is another man within, besides the man who is seen;” says St Macarius, “there are eyes deeper within than these eyes, which Satan has blinded, and a hearing deeper within than this hearing, which he has deafened; and Jesus came to make this inward man whole.” (Homily 28:4-5 & 33.4) “Christ the King put on the body and carried the cross [the Wisdom of God] for His tool and so tilled the desolate soul, and took out the thorns and thistles of evil spirits, and burned up with fire every weed of its sins; and thus tilling it with the wood of the cross, He planted in it that fairest paradise of the Spirit.” (St Macarius, Hom 28.4)
The commandments of Christ carry the Word of God that is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. They pierce to the division of soul and spirit and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) You have it heard it said, Thou shalt not commit adultery, says the LORD, but I say to you whoever looks on a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28) The commandments of Christ lead us into our inner man to cleanse us and purify us, to root out all trace of evil and death from us and to raise us inwardly from death to life.
On Pascha Night the Church herself calls out to us: “Let us purify our senses and we shall see Christ!” To believe without seeing, then, means to purify our senses: our inner eyes and our inner ears; i.e., to renounce our idolatry – our love for the things of the world – that blinds our eyes and deafens our ears, and to take up the commandments of Christ as our Cross to follow Christ into our inner man and to the tomb of our heart where our dead souls lie buried.
The commandments of Christ, that is to say, are the “way” of His death and resurrection. They are the very “path” that “goes up to Jerusalem," to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the very spot where Adam fell, the heart of our inner man. They turn us around in repentance for they lead us inward, directly into the “tomb of the heart” to discover the mystery of God hidden from before the ages but now made manifest to His saints; Christ in you! To believe without seeing means to “enter into our heart through the inner work of prayer, to make war there upon Satan, to deny one’s own soul and to resist the desires that dwell there, to grapple with our thoughts and to fight with ourselves,” (St Macarius Hom 26:12) to remain steadfast in our baptismal vow to unite ourselves to Christ. To believe without seeing means work, the work of obeying Christ’s commandments that lead inwardly into our heart, to unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death so that we may see Him in the Garden of His Holy Resurrection.
To believe without seeing means, then, that faith is not blind, as St Maximus explicitly says. It is true knowledge. It heals the eyes blinded by our idolatry and opens them to see the mysteries of Christ.
To believe without seeing, then, is to “enter with all diligence into the chamber within us,” as St Isaac of Nineveh says (Homily 2). “There, you will behold the chamber of heaven; for the two are one and the same,” he says, “and with one entry you will behold both. The ladder of the Kingdom (the cross),” he says, “is within you, hidden deep in your soul. There you will find steps” – the road that leads up to the Heavenly Jerusalem (Mk 10:32) – “by which you are able to ascend to God.”
St Macarius says: “The resurrection of bodies is in the Last Day. But, the resurrection of dead souls is even now.” (Homily 30.1) Through the sacramental mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church we “believe without seeing” and we are blessed. How are we blessed? Christ "creates in us a clean heart" and makes us ready for an even deeper mystery: the blessing of the Holy Spirit when He "renews in us a right Spirit” in the joy of Holy Pentecost. Thus, the mysteries of Christ are not for “those who believe without seeing” a religious idea but the blessing of the living, heavenly reality of Christ in you! (Col 1:27) A foretaste of the world to come. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen! Amen.