On this first Sunday after Pascha, the Gospel reading and hymns all speak of the doubt that St. Thomas the Apostle showed with regard to the Resurrection of Christ (even with the assurances of the other Apostles). The Holy Gospels also reveal that the other Apostles showed the same skepticism, despite the testimony of the Myrrh-bearing women (see Luke 24:11,21, 37).
When we hear about this initial disbelief on their part, we may be tempted to criticize and judge them. But we should honestly ask ourselves: Would we have done otherwise? Let us take a hard look at the state of our souls today, and ask this question in regards to our current relationship with the Risen Christ.
At every service we affirm that God is “everywhere present, and fills all things.” The Holy Scriptures repeatedly make this point to us, of the complete presence of the Lord. The Psalmist says, “If I should ascend into heaven, You would be there; If I should descend into Hades, You would be there; … And if I should pitch camp at the furthest part of the sea, Even there Your hand would lead me” (Ps. 138 :8-10). Everywhere we go, the Lord is there. So God sees us, no matter what we are doing, and hears everything (our words and our thoughts).
As Orthodox Christians, we accept all of this, at least theoretically. But in truth, do we actually believe this? When I give in to a temptation and do something which pollutes my soul and body, do I really believe that God is there and sees what I am doing? Or, when I lie to another person, or otherwise offend them, do I have awareness that God hears what I am saying? If we would not dare do an awful thing in front of other people, how can we do it in the presence of God? If we truly believed that God was there, such an act would be impossible. We can see this in the life of Joseph, when as a young man he was sold as a slave to Potiphar’s house in Egypt. When Potiphar’s wicked wife invited Joseph to sin with her, his firm response was “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9). It is clear that the true cause of every evil act, is the lack of faith that shuts a person’s eyes to God, so they are blind to His presence.
Our Lord commanded us to forgive our enemies and to love them (see Matthew 5:44). He also promised that those who do this will be made worthy of becoming the children of God-the-Father in Heaven (verse 45). Do we really believe the Lord when He says this? Do we behave with love towards those who slander and malign us? Are we hearing the words of Christ? Or do we instead hold on to the old law that says “hate your enemy,” and “an eye for any eye” (see Matthew 5:38)?
The Lord also said that we should not seek revenge against those who harm us. He said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). Do we trust our Just and Almighty Lord with our defense, or are we faithlessly seeking our own vengeance, even at the risk of our lives?
The Lord has assured us that when we help those who are hungry, homeless or sick, that He will receive it as an offering made to Him. As a result, at His Second Coming, we will receive the eternal blessings of His heavenly Kingdom. In our own lives, when we meet someone in need of help who is hungry and destitute, do we actually believe that our charity is an additional offering for Christ Himself? Or do we instead turn the other way, wanting to avoid the situation?
My brothers and sisters, the sincere answers to all of these questions asked today will give each of us an idea of what state our faith is in, in regards to the Divine Person of our Lord.
Is it a vibrant and fervent faith? Then let that person give glory to God, seeking to keep the flame of devotion lit.
Is it a cold and theoretical faith, with no works? This is a cause for concern, because “faith without works is dead”, as St. James the Brother of Jesus writes (James 2:20).
If the faith itself is merely lukewarm, then the words of the Holy Spirit said to the Bishop of Laodicea apply: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of Mymouth” (Revelation 3:16).
These frightful words must remain in our minds, because we are all in danger of finding ourselves at various times in our lives with a lukewarm faith.
If we realize that we have fallen into such a state, let us fall to our knees, like the father of the boy possessed by the mute spirit, and ask for the Lord to help us in our unbelief (see Mark 9:24). In doing so, we also follow the Apostles, who pleaded: “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). St. Peter, who started sinking into the waters of the lake because of his lack of faith, called upon Him: “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30-31). In our own time of need, we can be sure that the Lord will extend His hand to us as well, saving us from doubt and faithlessness.