Sermon for the Sunday of Saint Thomas
Commemorated on 18 April 1999
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is risen!
This greeting, which we use so frequently in the 40 days following Pascha every year, seems to many of us to become merely a greeting and nothing more. It becomes ‘something you do’ as a Paschal (Easter) tradition, something akin to the greeting of ‘Merry Christmas’ around the feast of the Nativity. However, let us look for a moment at what the real meaning behind this salutation is. To begin with, the whole concept of Pascha and the Resurrection of Christ is one of the most central and fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The great Apostle Saint Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, states, "If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins". In other words, if there is no Resurrection of Christ, then Christianity is the biggest lie ever told, and we, and all those that have gone before us, have to be the most gullible fools that ever walked the earth. If we choose to term ourselves as Christians, and discard or even ignore the Resurrection of Christ as some kind of myth or fairytale, then we really need to opt for a completely different religion and way of life. That is how important the event of Christ’s resurrection is to our faith and us.
Acknowledging and confessing Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah is also equated with the Resurrection and the fundamental belief of Christianity. It was man who was the first to die, but it was the God-man, the Theanthropos who died in order to raise up fallen man, and who Himself resurrected after His necessary death on a cross. So the first part of the Paschal greeting ‘Christ’ is in itself an expression of faith, of us confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Saviour, the Messiah. The second part ‘is risen’ is a confession of Christ in the here and now.
Throughout the hymns and prayers of the Orthodox Church, we always use the term ‘today’, and various other words to denote an event as happening now. For example at the end of the doxology, before the liturgy commences, we chant 'today salvation has come to the world', as if everything was happening right here and now; so too with the Resurrection of Christ. We don’t commemorate the Resurrection of Christ as something that happened nearly two thousand years ago, we celebrate the Resurrection as a timeless event that happens for us now. In fact, we celebrate Christ's Resurrection every single Sunday in the Church calendar. This is why the hymn of the small entrance, when the priest proceeds through the church holding the gospels up high, is based solely on the Resurrection, and on Sunday the book of Gospels always has the icon of the Resurrection instead of the crucifixion facing upwards. This is why we call this Sunday of St. Thomas Antipascha. This is not translated as anti-Easter, but it is the first instead of Easter- instead of the great celebration that we experienced last Sunday, that we continue to celebrate every Sunday of the year until the great celebration of the Anastasis, the Resurrection greets us again next year.
Therefore, we say Christ is risen, replied by Truly He is risen, as if His Resurrection is an immanent event in our lives. We don’t say Christ rose, or Christ has risen, as if it is a distant concept to us, but we confess the Christ who is present with us here and now.
The truth of Christ's Resurrection is becoming more and more the topic if debate among various groups of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other Christian sects, while within the secular world the idea of Jesus rising from grave is totally disregarded as some type of myth created by the church to give a more God-like credibility to Christ. Many non-Orthodox Christians (and I use the term non-Orthodox with both upper and lower case ‘O’) are claiming forthright that Jesus never actually physically rose from the dead. They also claim that all those testimonies recorded in the New Testament of the 500 that saw Jesus after the Resurrection, as well as the 12 Disciples and the myrrhbearing women, were just ways of saying that Jesus was living on in their hearts. This is the same sort of thing you say when a loved one goes to their rest. In fact there are so many theories around from scholars who claim themselves as credible authorities that would make your head spin. Theories ranging from a conspiracy by Joseph of Arimathea to take down the body of Christ off the Cross before he had died, to the wrongful death suit where Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross was accidentally crucified instead of Jesus, and has Jesus popping up 3 days later to witnesses. Moreover, who could forget the theory that all of those who saw Christ after the Resurrection had actually ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms and only thought they saw Christ who was dead and buried?
Thank God, and I say this with all of my heart, that the Orthodox Church is the last remaining bastion of the fullness of the Christian faith. This includes without any doubts, faith in the actual Resurrection of Christ, and the last remaining bastion of Christian faith where absurd theories are not thrown around as if to make a mockery of this most exceptional event in the life of Christ, and indeed in our lives. Sure enough each and every one of us at some stage in our life will be like Saint Thomas in today’s Gospel, where we will question certain things sometimes to the point of doubting. To question things about your belief is a sign of a healthy attitude toward your faith, because obviously you are not doing what so many in the Church seem to do; that is, to take their faith for granted. It actually shows that you are showing an interest in something that is an important part of you. However, don’t go out of your way seeking or justifying with signs and proofs. That is the whole experience of faith, to seek and to know within your heart that your faith is the ultimate truth, and don’t ever forget it. Let’s take the example of Saint Thomas who didn’t need to put his finger into Christ’s side, but confessed openly that Jesus is his Lord and God. Then when we have done this, we will know that it is you and I that Christ was talking about when He said, "Blessed are those have not seen and yet have believed".
by Nick Brown
Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George, Brisbane QLD