The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (20:19-31)
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the Disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the Disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other Disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, His Disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the Disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Brothers and Sisters, as we again are basking in the bright and festive and joy-filled glow of the Paschal Season, having journeyed through the fast of Great Lent and, even in our shortcomings and weaknesses, come to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ from death, we again find the first joyous week of joy capped by a strikingly familiar, yet perhaps always strange story: the account of the Apostle Thomas, who doubted that Our Lord Jesus had risen from death.
This Sunday is known by many names in the Church: it is the First Sunday of the Pascha Season, because the radiant day of Pascha, itself, is above and, almost “outside” of all of our reckonings of time, a singularly special event; it is known, also, as the Sunday of the Holy Apostle Thomas, or “Thomas Sunday,” for short, because of today’s Gospel reading; and it is known as “Antipascha,” from the Greek root meaning “opposite, set against, or reflecting” – a day in which the glory of Pascha is again reflected, and held up for us, almost as if the day itself is a mirror reflecting Pascha – and a mirror held up for ourselves to see our own lives, our selves, our journeys, reflected in the story of Christ and Saint Thomas.
The Holy Apostle Thomas, too, has several names. Thomas, of course, is how we usually know him. Saint John’s Gospel tells us (twice) that he was “also called,” or nicknamed, Didymus, Greek for “the Twin”. What we do not know is whether he actually had a twin brother, or if this was a nickname for some other reason. One Father of the Church, Blessed Theophylct of Ochrid, suggests that Thomas earned this nickname because he could give the appearance of two entirely separate (if related!) people, all by himself: one steadfastly, almost fanatically, devoted; the other, when his belief and dedication was challenged, almost unable to be convinced, without the most direct, graphic, and physical “proof”.
Apart from this morning’s Gospel, we find almost nothing about Saint Thomas in the Bible; he is mentioned by name in several lists of the Apostles (in the Gospels and in the book of the Acts of the Apostles), with no further information, apart from that mention by Saint John that he was nicknamed “Twin”. [Maybe briefly read through the scripture citations, at the end, here …????] Beyond the lists, the Holy Evangelist Saint John gives us two tantalizing short mentions of what Thomas was like, told in the context of the journey which Jesus and the Apostles were making towards Jerusalem, towards the Passover, towards the death and resurrection:
So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
(This was when Jesus had learned that Lazarus, His friend, had died, and Jesus decided to go the village where Lazarus had lived, with his sisters, the town of Bethany):
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
(John 11:5-10 ESV)
b. John 14:5
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” *
- …and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:3-7 ESV)
So, then, we know that this man, this Thomas, was devoted enough to Christ that, rather than leave or forsake Him, he would rather follow Him all the way, even unto death (which, it seems, was exactly what Thomas expected of the journey to the grave of Lazarus). He was, we might say, an “all or none” kind of a guy: even in doubting, he was willing to die with Jesus. Also, too, even though he couldn’t understand, at first, “where Jesus was going,” and how they could follow, he, nonetheless, stuck by Jesus, stayed in the company of the apostles, and stayed the course of the whole journey of Christ’s going to Jerusalem, His betrayal, the mock trial, and the brutal execution by crucifixion. And, yet, then, after all of that, he seems to have “missed” the true ending of All These Things, at first.
We do not know – and, maybe, were not meant to know – why Thomas was absent and away on that first Holy Pascha. Blessed Theophylact and other commentators on the Scriptures suggest that, perhaps, Thomas was “running scared,” after the crucifixion and death of Jesus. He may have, literally, “run for the hills,” taken to hiding because of fear and uncertainty and doubt after all that had happened. The Romans and the Jewish leadership had destroyed the one thing – rather, the One Person – on whom and in whom we know that Thomas, as with the rest of the Apostles and followers of Jesus, had put all his trust and hopes and faith. He may have felt that there was no reason to even stay close to his companions, the followers of Christ, or even to the Holy City of Jerusalem – the city which had become, for Thomas and the others, seemingly not a place of holiness and of coming close to God, but was, now, for them, after the crucifixion, the place where their hope, their life, their meeting with God had, it appeared, come to a sudden, violent, heart-rending end.
Why, after Jesus had appeared to the Eleven, did a whole week pass before the next time that Our Lord Christ came to His followers? Theophylact and other Fathers note that, a week later, Jesus clearly indicates that He had been invisibly present, previously, in the very room, when Thomas heard the joyous, if unbelievable, news that Christ, the crucified, was alive from his friends: we know this, say the commentators, because Jesus invited Thomas to fulfill the very “test” or proofs which he had demanded before, that he place his finger in the nail-scarred hands, his hand into Christ’s wounded side. He was present, right there with Thomas and the others, although, after His first visit on the evening of the first Pascha, He was invisible to them, not able to be seen as He was during the “visits” recorded by Saint John. The commentators suggest that, perhaps, the whole week between Jesus’s first visit and the next one was, for Thomas, a time in which, slowly, little-by-little, the other disciples shared with him their experiences of the newly-risen Lord Jesus, the details of the experiences which they did not, necessarily, fully understand, and were not “logically” able to comprehend… But, still, they knew what they had seen, and, maybe, bit-by-bit, Thomas’ unbelief was being transformed by these witnesses, this sharing, so that, when the next Sunday came, he, too, would be fully ready to believe.
What may we learn from Saint Thomas?What does he teach us for our lives, seeking to live in Christ, today? Quite a lot! This Apostle, often nowadays known for his “Doubting,” is among the greatest examples of faith in Christ in all the centuries between then and now. This man, like (almost all) the other apostles and other early followers of Christ, ended his life as a martyr. He did, then, eventually, in fact, follow Jesus all the way to the point of dying with him – and, in his faithfulness, of living with him, both in this earthly life, and in the true life of eternity. He also spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There are, to this day, communities of Orthodox Christians in Southern India whose tradition records that, almost two-thousand years ago, it was Saint Thomas who came to bring the message of the crucified and risen Christ to their ancestors.
In these days of the Pascha season, we may learn and grow from Saint Thomas’s example, and from that of the other disciples. The joyous news of the resurrection is so overwhelming, so profound, so counter-to-everything-we-are taught, so BIG, that we may not be able to “take it in,” or to share it around, all at once. The Church gives us Fifty Days just for the liturgical celebration of “so great a mystery.” In addition to this, we also have all of our lives on this earth to – if we choose – share the “joyful message of the resurrection” with one another, and with all the world. The Holy Apostle Thomas teaches us that we are called to this, and empowered by Christ, Himself, to do so, even though we, too, are sometimes hampered by our own doubts and disbelief.
Let us then, Fathers and Mothers, Brothers and Sisters, look to Saint Thomas – not “Doubting” Thomas, but “Believing” Thomas! – for inspiration, intercession, encouragement, and hope. Let us, even when we are beset by doubts and the trials of life, make up our minds, and choose to stay with Christ, all the way. Let us share the Good News of the Resurrection, through all the Pascha season, in everything we do, in every place we go. And, also, too, each day, may our lives reflect the joy of the Resurrection so that we, ourselves, may be a sign for others, that each of us may be like scriptures, like Gospels, for others, which “are written that [they] may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing [they] may have life in His Name.”
- Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.
NOTES, additional Scriptural References, etc.
Times Thomas is mentioned in the Scriptures:
Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot,
and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot,
So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together.
And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.
- This Sunday is called “Thomas Sunday,” or “Anti-Pascha,” the mirror, or reflection, of Pascha
- Thomas’s experience may mirror our own experience, as we have not physically seen the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ
- Thomas is often, today, associated with the phrase “a Doubting Thomas,” but this phrase may date no further back than the 1800s [1883 is the first recorded instance]. Thomas was:
- An Apostle, one of the Chosen Twelve
- A Martyr for the faith in Christ
- One of the greatest evangelists ever, spreading the Faith in Christ all the way to India, according to tradition (Mar Thoma Syrian Orthodox community in South India to this day)
- Blessed Theophylact of Ohrid, in his commentary on the Scriptures, emphasizes that the apostles who heard the glad tidings from Mary Magdalene and the Myrrh-Bearers probably felt “either they did not believe her, or, if they did, they were crestfallen because they were not deemed worthy to see Christ”. Then, later, most of them were;
- How did Thomas feel?
- Where was he, anyway…? In hiding? Did a week pass so that he might hear, and begin to believe, the testimony of the others?