Thomas Sunday

Bishop Seraphim : Homily
Complete Confidence in His Love
Thomas Sunday
8 May, 2005

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we have the doubt of Thomas. This doubt is a big blessing for you, for me, and for the whole Church. It is not that the Apostle Thomas had some sort of intellectual doubt, as we have sometimes. In this case, it is simply that no-one had ever seen resurrection like this before. Yes, it is true that the Apostle Thomas himself had been there at the time of the resurrection of Lazarus. This apostle should have been prepared, but he was not prepared to believe so quickly that Jesus would rise from the dead. Although his brothers, the other apostles, as well as Saint Mary Magdalene and the other Myrrh-bearing women, said that they had encountered the Risen Christ, the Apostle Thomas said : “‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe’”.

This determination to have proof was good for you and for me, and for the whole Church. It absolutely underlined the fact that Jesus did rise bodily from the dead. The Apostle Thomas today is told by our Saviour : “‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing’”. As we see and hear, this invitation by our Saviour produces instant acceptance by the Apostle Thomas.

His acceptance can be very strengthening for you and for me when people say that perhaps Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, or when they come up with some other strange idea about the Resurrection. All the apostles saw, experienced, and touched Jesus Christ risen bodily from the dead. It is their universal experience and testimony to us that enables us to continue our Christian life in hope, confident that Jesus Christ really did rise bodily from the dead. In rising bodily from the dead, He conquered death by His death. Death could not hold eternal life : Jesus Christ, the Author of Life.

We see in the icon of the Resurrection here on the wall, the Risen Christ breaking down the doors of Hades, and bringing up with Him Adam and Eve and all the others who were held captive by death. The Giver of Life is giving life to you and to me, as well as to the apostles. It is because of His victory over death that we have hope. We have sure confidence in His love for us, because He Himself said that He did all this only because He loves us. He loves you and me and all His creatures so much that He suffered and died, and rose from the dead. In all this, He is giving hope to you and to me. He is giving strength to you and to me, and He is enabling us to live the difficult lives that we have to live.

At the end of today’s reading, the Apostle John says that there were many other things Jesus did and said when He was appearing constantly and repeatedly to the apostles and others over the forty days after His Resurrection. It was not only one time, but many, many times over the forty days that our Saviour appeared to the apostles and other disciples, and many other people. In His appearing to them, He was showing them concretely that He is risen from the dead. The Apostle John says that our Lord said and did many other things. However, what has been written, has been written so that you and I truly will be able to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Son of God, that He is the Giver of Life, that He is victorious over death, that we do have life in Him, and that He is truly with us.

The testimony of His Resurrection has not stopped there with the writing, because the person-to-person experience of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, has continued amongst Christians generation after generation up until now. It is true that for many people, for many believers, it is sufficient that other believers speak about their experience of the Risen Christ. Such people accept it, believe it, and live by it. They eventually have their own experience of the Risen Christ. This is what we are supposed to be doing, you know, in our life of prayer – having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Sometimes, for the good of the Church, Jesus Christ actually does show Himself to people in order to strengthen them.

Besides, we have the experience every year at Pascha of the New Fire coming in Jerusalem during the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. The Fire comes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Temple of the Holy Resurrection. Once, when the Orthodox Patriarch was excluded from the Temple, the Fire came from one of the pillars by the door and split the pillar. Anyone can see that today. It is a Fire that is not lit by matches. It just comes, by the Grace of God, to the candles that the Patriarch is holding while he is praying in the tomb. If people have doubts about that, one can read the recollections by and about a certain man who, as a child was in the school and the monastery of the Brotherhood of the Resurrection 100 years ago. Because he was doubting, he hid himself in the tomb of Christ. He saw with his own eyes that the Fire came out of nowhere to the candles of the Patriarch.

The Saviour does everything to ensure that we have complete confidence in His love. One can read about this Fire on on the internet. Even on the internet, there are all sorts of writings and examples about the coming of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem for the strengthening of Orthodox believers. There are books written about it. There are videos produced about it as well. People who have been there from North America, Russia and Greece have told me that this Fire, coming from the tomb of Christ, does not burn a person for the first half-hour. It does not burn beards. If people put their hands in the Fire, it does not burn their hands.

Two years ago, I was in Washington for the enthronement of Metropolitan Herman, and one of the bishops of Jerusalem was there. We asked him about his experience of the Holy Fire. He said that he had been in the Brotherhood of the Resurrection since he was a young boy in school. After school every day, it was his responsibility to come into the Temple of the Holy Resurrection, and, using ladders, renew the oil lamps, and keep them burning properly. “What about on Pascha ?” we asked him. He said : “On Pascha, I did not have to do anything because when all the lamps had been put out, they lit themselves. The Fire came to the tomb of Christ, to the Patriarch’s candles, and when the Patriarch came out, these lamps were lighting themselves. They do that to this day”.

My brothers and sisters, we see how far the Lord goes in order to confirm His love for you and for me, and to remind us not to forget that He is with us, even though we are burdened with so many cares. The Apostle Thomas, after he had been confirmed in his faith, and had confessed Jesus Christ as God, went as a missionary first to Egypt, and then to India where he converted very many people, including a king. He established the Orthodox Faith in northern and southern India. On the southwest coast of India is the state of Kerala, a state of India that people say is the closest to the garden of Eden that one can find on earth : it is so beautiful and so full of light. There are Orthodox Christian families there that can trace back their family histories to the time when their ancestors were converted by the Apostle Thomas. Then the Apostle Thomas went to the east coast of India, to a city called Madras. It is there that he was finally killed by pagan troops.

His witness for Jesus Christ lives until this very day in India. We, who are Orthodox Christian believers here in Canada, have the same responsibility to witness to the love of Jesus Christ by how we live, by how we behave in society. We have the responsibility to share our hope, like the Apostle Thomas shared his hope in Jesus Christ, so that people around us can find their way to Jesus Christ. In n, especially, there are many who are lost, who are searching for the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth that their hearts are longing for. May we, by our hope, by our love, by our Christian behaviour, bring this hope to them so that they will have the same hope and the same strength that we have for living through all sorts of difficulties. Let us ask the holy Apostle Thomas, by his prayers, to strengthen us today in our following of Jesus Christ, whom he loves, whom he served, and for whom he gave his life. Let us ask him, by his prayers, to enable us to glorify with him our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.