митрополит Антоний Су́рожский (Блум)

St Thomas

SERMON GIVEN on 19th October 1997:

The feast of St. Thomas (John 20:19–31)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Thomas is known, in common speech, as the Doubter. And this name the Doubter casts aspersions on a man who was very far from being unfaithful to his Master and Lord.

When Christ had left Jerusalem because the Jews wanted to murder Him, He received the news of the illness and death of Lazarus; and He turned to His disciples and said, 'Let us go back to Jerusalem to heal him, to bring him to life.' And every one of the Apostles was saying, 'They wanted to kill you. Are you returning there?' Only Thomas said to his fellow Apostles, 'Let us go with Him and die with Him'. This is not the word of a doubter, of someone who is divided in his mind and in his loyalty. It is the word of one who is totally devoted to his master, totally given to him, totally faithful.

What happened, then, on the day when Christ appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection in his absence, what happened, that when he came back to them and heard the news of the Resurrection, he looked round and said, 'I will believe only if I have proof myself, if I can test – bodily – the Resurrection of the Master, of the Lord whom I saw crucified and dead.' What happened, why could he not believe their words?

It was because, I believe, they were full of exulting joy; but nothing had happened to them. They were rejoicing, yes, that Christ had visited them, that He had been in their midst, that He was alive; but they were the same. He had changed; they had not. It was only when the Holy Spirit came upon them that they became new creatures, new men, new witnesses; because then, people meeting them looked at them, heard them, and saw people who were possessed in this world of eternal life.

C. S. Lewis in one of his writings said that when people saw the Apostles, they looked at them and said, 'Look, statues have become living men.' Yes, we are all, it may well be, like statues. But we are called to be a living people. We are called, all of us, to be witnesses of the Resurrection, of the life, of the death, of Christ, of the victory of God.

But meeting us – me and you – can people say, 'Yes, it is true. Christ is risen, because this woman, this child, this man is alive with a life of which I had no suspicion, a life that I couldn't even imagine' – not an intensity of life in the sense of enthusiasm only, but an intensity of life divine in us. And this is a question which is being asked of each of us. We must be able to convey it, not in words, but somehow differently.

I remember an example from years ago from my youth, of how a very remarkable preacher was invited to give a lesson to Sunday school children. He spoke magnificently. We youth leaders were lined against the walls, listening with nothing but admiration for what he had said. But when he had finished, Professor Zander called a little boy of seven and said to him, 'Well, how was it?' And the little boy said, 'Oh, it was entertaining; but what a pity that Father does not believe what he says.'

It was not true. But the children's response stemmed from the fact that this preacher was used to speaking to grown-up people on an intellectual level. It was not his heart he was bringing forth, it was convincing arguments, and they had not reached the children. And the children thought he did not mean what he said, because what he said meant nothing to them.

Isn't it the same with us when we speak of our faith? Of God? Of life eternal? Of Orthodoxy? Can people look at us and say: 'Yes, it is true, because I can see that he is no longer a statue, a piece of wood, a piece of stone. He is alive with eternal life.' And this is a challenge to us. We must all learn to ask ourselves questions about ourselves, and ask ourselves: do I know that Christ is risen? Not from hearsay, not from books, not from others, but from an inner experience. Am I alive with life eternal, or not?

If I am, then my words will be life and power. When Christ spoke to his disciples, as St. John the Divine tells us, the crowd left, and Christ said, 'Are you also going to leave me?' And Peter, speaking for all of them, said, 'Where could we go? You have the words of life eternal.' It was not a description of eternal life. It was not a discourse about life eternal that they had been reading. But every word of His was life, and life-giving; when He spoke it awoke eternal life dormant in each of them. So should be our words; so should be our presence; so should be our testimony in the world. Let us reflect on it, because we are responsible for the world in which we live. Are we truly alive or are we simply part and parcel of a world that has lost its way? Amen.

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