The Two Pre-Eminent Confessors
by Archbishop Stylianos of Australia
With Christ's Passion and the joys of Bright Week, which climaxed with the Apostle Thomas touching Christ's side, still fresh in our mind, it is worth pausing momentarily on a few striking points amongst the many events which the blessed Evangelists recorded.
The first point is a scene from the Crucifixion. Actually it would be more accurate to say a detail from the scene of the Crucifixion. In fact that macabre scene is made up of a whole series of snapshots.
Christ, on the one hand, is being tormented by the Roman soldiers who were "following orders". On the other hand, exhausted, He endures the mocking of the passers-by and especially of one of the two robbers who had the honour of being crucified together with the only Sinless One. Certainly the tortures imposed by the Roman soldiers were part of a set procedure — a certain protocol — and did not express the soul of the soldiers. Anyway they would have been young — probably adolescents. But the robber's unforced mocking came directly from the confusion of his tormented soul which needed no pretext or cause to deride an innocent person: "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:40).
Beside this somewhat invisible antithesis, amongst the crucifiers and the robber, almost simultaneously with the blaspheming criminal, the other robber begins to speak in order to curb the unrestrained injustice: "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds..." (Luke 23:40-42).
So now there arises a new antithesis — more acute and outspoken — that between the two robbers. While the first, totally unprovoked "condemns" unjustly, the second, totally uninvited, supports the one unjustly condemned. But the honourable and just robber does not stop at that. He does something even more significant. He confesses the divinity of the crucified one and at the same time calls on him as God for his personal salvation. These two things are expressed in his cry of adoration: "Lord, remember me when You come in Your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This robber, therefore, the second and more philanthropic one, was the first who recognised and confessed that the crucified one was the "Lord" of life and death. This is why He became the first "inhabitant" of Paradise according to Christ's own declaration: "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Who would have expected that such a "privilege" would have been won by a robber? And by "privilege", of course, we do not mean the fact that he entered first into Paradise. We mean mainly the primacy of the recognition and confession which were rewarded by the entrance to Paradise. The marvelous thing about this case is that the primacy of confession was not won by a "virtuous" or "pious" person but by a robber — one who repented and was humbled to such an extent that he was able to see things that others could not see. But Christ Himself had foretold this: "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (Matt: 21:31). The other pre-eminent confessor was the Apostle Thomas. The touching of Christ's side, which he placed as a "condition" to believe, was not done out of unbelief or little faith or curiosity. It was an unquenchable thirst which could not be satisfied merely by hearing about the Resurrection or just seeing the Risen One. He wanted to touch the wounds themselves which saved Him by placing his own finger on "the print of the nails".
In other words, it was not enough for Thomas to "confirm" the miracle. He wanted to live it as closely as possible so that he would be able to preach it more convincingly and with greater authority.
These are not merely conjecture or arbitrary hypotheses as to the deeper mind of Thomas whom popular piety has unjustly called doubting. We see this immediately from what he said upon encountering the Risen Christ. While the other eleven disciples who had previously met him were merely "...glad when they saw the Lord" John: 20:20) this was not so with Thomas. Even though Christ condescended to his desire and invited Thomas to touch Him (see John 20:27), Thomas hastened to cry out without hesitation "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). It is worth the effort to analyze this moving confession of Thomas a little further.
Firstly, he did not confess the Risen One merely as "Lord" as did the robber who only indirectly implied the "divinity" of Christ by saying "Lord" when he asked to be remembered in Paradise.
Secondly, in confessing directly the divinity of Christ, Thomas hastens at the same time to declare his personal subjection i.e. he receives him wholeheartedly firstly as his own "Lord and God", therefore as the absolute regulator of his life and death.
Thirdly, and perhaps even more importantly, Thomas did not make his confession after first "touching" Christ, as he had previously demanded. While the Lord told him directly: "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" John 20:27), Thomas did not dare to touch Him. At least the text of the holy Gospel does not refer at all, or even hint at, the touching of Christ's side actually taking place. It simply notes that, as a direct consequence of Christ's invitation: "...Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Such a burning confession relating to the person of Christ, and indeed immediately after His Passion and Resurrection, was expressed by no other disciple or Apostle. Even the Apostle Peter in Caesaria Philippi when answering the Lord's question, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (Matt. 16:13), declared without hesitation that "You are the Son of the living God" and was blessed by Christ for this. Yet he did not directly connect this confession to his personal existence and life. And when on the other occasion Christ asked Peter if he loved Him more than the others (see John 21:15) he immediately answered without any difficulty that he not only loved Him, but that he would even sacrifice his life for Him. But Peter was not able to keep this promise, and denied Him three times as Christ had foretold (see Matt. 26:75).
After all these comparisons and correlations between the Crucifiers, Robbers and Disciples of Christ — in which each was shaken by the events of the Cross and the Passion — we see once more the depths of the mystery of the human soul, such that no one can boast about anything or condemn anyone. Who would have expected the first confession from a robber? And who would have expected the most ardent search from Thomas the "doubter" who was instantaneously transformed into the most intense proclaimer and worshipper of the Risen One!
Indeed His ways are unsearchable and inexpressible: "...and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty" (I Cor. 1:27).
from Voice of Orthodoxy, 1999
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia