Today is Thomas Sunday, and Thomas gets a little bit of a bad reputation in modern days, because in Greek—actually, there’s this situation where it’s one of the few times the English actually expresses Thomas’ characteristics better than the Greek, because in Greek we call Thomas “O apistos Thomas,” which actually means “unbelieving Thomas,” but that’s not technically true, because in English we say “Doubting Thomas,” and that’s more of the appropriate word to use, that Thomas was not an atheist. It’s not that he did not believe. He believed in God, and he believed in Christ, but he had difficulty believing. He was tested in his belief.
So when the apostles told him that the Lord had resurrected and they had seen him but he had not, it’s not that he didn’t believe completely, but he had difficulty. He was challenged at that moment, and he said, “I need to see.” Hence where the saying goes, “Seeing is believing,” in our modern day and age. It comes from this gospel, today. So Thomas had this difficulty.
It’s interesting that the immediate Sunday after the Resurrection, after Pascha, the greatest Feast of the Church, instead of hearing in the gospels about great miracles that are happening amongst the apostles—which is what we heard in the epistle reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, about how the Spirit was moving among them and there were great signs that happened and miracles during this time after the Resurrection—but in the gospel reading, we don’t hear something happy, but rather we hear about doubt. We hear about losing our faith, and that’s really interesting that the Church would remind us about that, the immediate Sunday right after the greatest Feast of the Church, but if we look at our own selves, how we operate and how our belief works within us on a day-to-day basis, we find that we, too, suffer from this doubt quite a few times in our lives, or at least many of us do; I know that I have in my life, so that, even though we say we believe—we say that we’re Christians, we’ve grown up with a certain type of belief, many of us were baptized as young children and we grew up in the Church—many of us continue to find different things that challenge us, teachings in the Church.
Many times I have Orthodox Christians—or who consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians—who will say, “Father, I still have difficulty believing in the Resurrection. I don’t know if it really did happen.” Others, because they’ve been influenced by modern academia and things that they see on TV, will say, “Well, you know, Father, I have difficulty believing that Christ even existed as a human being. Maybe he was just kind of a mythological person in the first century that Christians made up to give themselves hope.” So I have Orthodox Christians saying that to me. Other people say, “Well, Father, I don’t know if I really believe in holy Communion. I don’t know if that really is anything holy there; rather, it’s just a symbol.” So there are many, many different questions that not just young people but older people, people of all ages, come to me with, even though they have been living within the Church, most of the time from a very young age.
So these doubts always exist within us. How do we battle them? Because for Thomas… Thomas had it easy, because Thomas, he doubted, and then Christ came to him and proved him, that he was wrong. Of course, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” when he sees him, and Christ says, “Do you believe because you saw me? Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” But for us, living 2,000 years later, it can be very, very difficult for us to maintain that faith in our daily lives. We can come to church sometimes, we can listen to the gospel reading, we can hear the services, and for a certain period of time we can feel very spiritual, but what happens when we leave the church and we go back into our daily lives? Do we continue to believe with the same strength and with the same zeal as we do, for example, during Holy Week or during Lent or during the Great Feasts? Or do we go back to basically living like everybody else does, basically a secular life, as if God doesn’t exist?
I think that all of us are guilty of that to a certain degree, that, many times, when we go out into the “real world” outside of the Church, we try to blend in and we try to hide the things that we believe here or the things that we grew up with, because they’re not very popular or because most people think that they’re fairy tales. We, in essence, are being like doubting Thomas because we are not holding fast to our faith, and our faith is not influencing every decision that we make in our lives, but rather, we are choosing when to believe and when not to believe, or the things that we find difficult, we choose to put them aside and we only choose to believe those things that seem logical to us or seem good to us or seem easy to believe.
So all those things are reminded to us today, on the Sunday of Thomas. We see that how many people were coming to church, not only in Lent but also in Holy Week and leading up to Easter. The churches were packed, and usually Thomas Sunday there are half of us here, because, even though we have experienced the light of the Resurrection, we have experienced the Feast of Feasts—some of us even stayed until the end to receive holy Communion—the next Sunday, the logical thing would be to have more zeal in our hearts, to be more dedicated to our faith, having gone through that experience.
But what happens is that the temptation comes into our minds, and this is a demonic temptation that tells us, “Well, you already reached the summit. You’re already good. You’re already holy. You don’t need to go to church any more. You can take a break now. You can come back, maybe at Christmastime.” This is what goes into our minds, and this is what people say. Ftanei [it’s enough], you know, we did all of Holy Week. Kourastikame, tora na xekourastoume ligaki [we got tired, now let’s rest a bit]. Time to rest a little bit.” But this is a temptation; this is a delusion, that we can rest now from our spiritual efforts.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite: that Easter and the holy feast days are there to strengthen us, to give us the energy to continue in our journey, and also to give us the ability to be more Christian, not less Christian; to be more holy, not less; to be more loving and giving and forgiving to people, than being less. So we never take a break from being good; we never take a break from being the people of God, but rather we are supposed to try harder and harder and become better and better and better. And because God is infinite and we can never know him 100%, the amount of holiness that we can achieve is infinite. We can never reach the top. We can always become better and better and holier and holier.
So I think that this Sunday reminds us of this, that there’s a great danger that even though we may see miracles in our lives, many times we can still have the danger of losing our faith afterwards, even when it’s proven to us. Christ is reminding us that the proof is not what’s important; rather, it’s your faith that is important: what is inside of you, and how you cultivate that faith. So regardless of whether you happen to see a miracle or not, you are a Christian throughout your whole life, so that we can turn to our God when it’s time to see him, when it’s time for us to leave this earth, and we, too, like Thomas, can say, “My Lord and my God!” Glory to Jesus Christ!