2nd Sunday of Pascha; Thomas Sunday

"Believing disbelief" is the most important part of the story.

John 20:19-31



Icon of Thomas Sunday https://www.orthodox.net//ikons/feasts-of-the-lord-thomas-sunday-01.jpgIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Christ is risen!  Christos voskrese!  Christos aneste!

This is now the eighth day of Pascha; on the eighth day, the Lord visited the disciples with Thomas being present.  He had been absent on the day of the resurrection.  Let us go through some of the important theological points of this reading, and then, saving the best for last, the most practical and the most important for our spiritual life.

On the day of the Resurrection, the Lord comes to the disciples, minus Thomas, and He goes through shut doors because, of course, He's God; He can do anything He wishes.  The first words that He says to them are, "Peace be to you."  This is very important.  One way of describing the goal of life is to have peace because, if there is peace, there is God. And they will achieve this peace, not with a peaceful life because there will be many things that will happen to them and they will all be martyred save one.  But they will have peace in their heart because God will abide in them. 


Then He breathed on them and said:  “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.”  In Scripture the breath is often indicative of wind, and the wind is indicative of the Holy Spirit because the wind blows where it wills, but we know not how it does it.  It's the same way with the Spirit[1].  That's what Jesus explained to Nicodemus.


To this day the priest, when a baptism is conducted, the priest will breathe on the one being baptized three times in the sign of the Cross.  This breath is not the giving of the Holy Spirit.  It is indicative; it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  And when Jesus said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit, they did not receive It; He was speaking of what would happen in time.  He was basically prophesying[2] because our Lord was all things so He was also a prophet, as well as God, as well as a King.  The Holy Spirit would come on Pentecost, fifty days after Pascha. 

He also said to them, "Whosoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosoever sins you retain they are retained."  And that is why we have the practice of confession with a priest in the presence of God.  And then the priest has the awful responsibility of determining:  Has the person repented of their sins?  Repentance is the only reason why a person can be forgiven.  Repentance is the desire to change; your sins are forgiven, if you have desire to change.  Please note! You may not be very good at changing! You may still be a weak sinner, with the need for healing and strengthening of the will. God does not forgive based on your personal perfection, but only on your honest desire to change and reach perfection.


Now, Thomas saw the disciples, perhaps on the same day, but after the Lord had seen all of them, and he could not believe.  In fact, he was very explicit about why he would not believe.  He said:  "Except if I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe."  This is not the recommended way to speak about our Lord Jesus Christ!  It was a blunder on his part.  Clearly!  But even though he blundered, he waited and he still was with the disciples.


Now, eight days later Jesus stands in the midst of with them, and Thomas is there.  So He tells Thomas:  “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing”[3]

And then Thomas says something very important; the first time ever in Scripture that the Lord is declared to be God and Man: "My Lord and my God."[4]  That is indicating that Jesus Christ has two natures and is God and Man. 


So Jesus says to him, "Thomas, because thou has seen Me thou has believed?  Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed."[5] 


And this ties in with the most important part.  It is important to know theological facts about God.  To know dogmatic things and be correct, that God is Trinity, Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin,  the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is given to the faithful through Christ.  Those things are all important.  But none of it matters if you don't endure to the end because if you give up, then you will not receive the things that you are striving for. 


So Thomas, although he made a terrible blunder when he said he would refuse to believe, he stayed with the apostles, even though his heart was broken, even though he did not believe.


But one can say that it was not a hundred percent that he did not believe.  There was some part of him that hoped, and that part of him kept him with the disciples.  And that is the most important part of this reading, brothers and sisters, because all of us are a lot like Thomas.  We make blunders, sometimes serious ones and sometimes we do have doubts.  If you're honest with yourself, you will believe this; you will know this.  And if we are like Thomas, we stay with prayer, with fasting, with the church.  We don't give up.  And God will always enlighten us, every time.  It might not happen in the timing that we want it to happen but it will always happen.


Now, why do you think this story of Saint Thomas has been preserved?  It's an interesting story, of course.  But why was it preserved in the Gospel?  Why was so much time spent on it by Saint John?  Well, if you look at the day of the Resurrection and the aftermath, it was difficult for people to believe in the Resurrection.  Our Lord had told them all about the Resurrection many, many times.  He told them about the sign of Jonah[6] and told them many times what would happen.  And then it happened exactly as He said.  And then He died.  And then they saw Him no more.  And then on the day of the Resurrection, some saw Him and some didn't, and the ones who didn't see Him just couldn't believe until finally He appeared to everybody. 


The Resurrection is difficult to believe in.  Now, okay, we can say we believe in the historical event of the Resurrection.  We can say, oh, it's easy, of course: “I believe in the Resurrection; I'm a Christian.”  Is that the case?  If you truly believed in the Resurrection, you would never sin, because the purpose of the Resurrection was so that you would become perfected.  There is only truth in the Resurrection and the One Who is resurrected, Jesus Christ.  Nothing else is true.  Nothing else matters.  Nothing else has any substance whatsoever in this world.  So the more you live according to the Resurrection, the less you sin and the more peace you have. 


It's difficult to believe in the Resurrection, that is, to always live according to it, because you see things in life that contradict it.  There are things in your own life,  the things you do that you shouldn't do, the things you don't do that you should do.  And yet we call ourselves Christians. 


How do you deal with this conundrum of having belief and yet unbelief?  The same way Thomas did.  You stick with the Lord.  You keep praying.  You keep fasting.  You confess your sins and you struggle. And as God reveals to you things about yourself, you change them, with Him helping you.  And then He will reveal Himself completely to you, as you are able to see Him. 


If we are full of sin, we can't see the Lord very well at all.  It is as if we have eyes with cataracts on them.  But those scales will fall away if we struggle, and that's what Thomas did.  He made a blunder; let's be honest about it; it was not intelligent what he said.  He had heard the same things that the other apostles had said, and now all of his friends that he had been with for three years told him, "We have seen the Lord," and he would not believe.  But he would also not go away.  So let's learn that from Thomas. 


Let's understand that living according to the Resurrection is hard, and it is our purpose in life.  So let's stick with the Lord, by prayer, fasting, coming to the Services, even if they don't touch you.  Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes prayer is flat and dry.  Sometimes reading the Scripture is difficult or even boring or even confusing.  Do all those things.  And the Lord will enlighten you as much as He enlightened Thomas.

May God help you in all things.  Amen.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2011

Transcribed by the hand of Helen.May God save her and her loved ones.

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[1] The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

[2] Of course, the fulfillment of the prophesy “receive ye the Holy Spirit” was accomplished on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Pascha.

[3] John 20:27

[4] John 20:28

[5] John 20:29

[6] “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:  (40)  For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:39-40