During the Saturday night vigils we always hear Gospel readings; there are eleven of them in all. All these Gospel readings tell us of Christís resurrection from the dead, of His appearance to His disciples after the resurrection, of what they were instructed to do, knowing of this resurrection.
Christís resurrection affected not only His closest disciples, who lived twenty centuries ago; Christís resurrection affects all of mankind, all those who have lived and are living in the world, it affects also us who have come to church today.
But does Christ appear to us, has He appeared to us?
At the time when Christís closest disciples were still living and He appeared among them, a certain disciple named Thomas was absent, and when he was told that Christ had appeared to them, he said: I will not believe until I see for myself.
Christ appeared another time when this disciple was also present, and, seeing his Teacher resurrected, Thomas immediately believed of course, and Christ said to him: you have believed because you have seen, but blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.
Now we do not see Christ with our physical eyes, but do we believe, are we truly those blessed people whom Christ had commended?
Judging strictly, believing when one sees is not faith at all, but direct contemplation, if one can call it so. Faith is precisely when one does not see and yet believes.
But some say: it is hard to believe if you do not see. If the resurrected Christ were to appear now before our physical gaze - this would be entirely convincing.
But that is not the crux of the matter.
There are miraculous events even in our times, which shake us up, wake up our faith, but time passes and once again we become immersed in earthly busyness and lose the clarity of our faith. We again become as we were. And the Lord knows it, and does not try to spur on our faith by the force of reality, because in this there is a certain moment of constraint, of servitude, while God does not wish to constrain anyone, He wants free men, freely responding to His call, freely following Christ. Only through freedom does faith become alive, sincere, joyous, blessed, as Christ says. But freedom, though it is pleasant for everyone, is not achieved easily, we are all used to servitude, we are the slaves of our passions, and for this reason we often demand miracles, we demand something extraordinary. This is in a certain sense our bargain with God.
But what can we demand? - The Lord has given us everything to encourage our faith. And in order to understand this, to see with our spiritual eyes, as the Holy Fathers say, we must be able to judge wisely.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Christ arose from the dead!
This was seen by His closest disciples, they have recorded it, we have been left with the testimony of four Gospels! - this is the testimony of eyewitnesses, and as John the Theologian says: it has been written, in order for us to believe. And if we do not believe, that means we do not believe those people who have recorded it. We do not believe holy people, but we believe all kinds of falsified facts, we believe those who have not seen anything, who speak falsely. We do not believe holy men, but we believe sinners! And it turns out that we ourselves exchange our belief for disbelief.
That is the first situation.
Secondly - how many people in the course of twenty centuries have given up their lives for Christís resurrection! These were all the most honest, just, good, brave, wise people. And thus the steadfastness of these people, who have died for the resurrected Christ in the course of twenty centuries, should convince us of the undubitability of Christís resurrection, while many of us remain unconvinced - and this means we are being cowardly, we are trying to strike a bargain with our conscience. Or else we consider all those witnesses foolish and unbalanced, and ourselves wise and excellent. But despite all our so-called wisdom, how foolish we have become without a belief in Christís resurrection. How depraved we have become, how trivial. The example of life itself should convince us that disbelief in the Christís resurrection is disbelief in all that is good, holy, just. But if we are not convinced, then we exchange belief for this terrible emptiness in life - disbelief.
Blessed are those who do not see and yet believeÖ
Faith is the sole meaning of life, for if one does not believe in Christís resurrection, then one must belief only in death, for the resurrection of Christ is our own resurrection, our life.
And thus the resurrected Christ is with us, as it is said in the Gospel: lo, I am with you always to the end of the age. And if Christ is with us, then we must live for this resurrection. For it is not those who will inherit the Kingdom of God, the eternal life, who only say: Master, Master, - but those who obey Godís will.
We must obey Godís will! - and this will be our own resurrection from the dead. Faith without good deeds is in vain. In order for our faith not to be in vain, let us consider - what should we do? Let us turn to a concrete example. Here we are in church, attending a service. What should we do, in order that our presence in church, our participation in the service resurrect us from the dead? Both the church and the service affect us not by force, not mechanically, but in accordance with our perception of them. One can be in church and attend a service, yet at the same time be completely impervious to them and, on the contrary, become even worse off. The evil spirit particularly attacks those who are in holy places. So what should we do?
Let us begin with the smallest thing, even with the external side of things.
All those who are attending the service in church must be baptized, and during baptism we receive a cross to wear. This is a sign of our promise to be loyal to Christ, of our having received His badge. Well then, is everyone now wearing a cross?
It is necessary and important to wear a cross, because during the sacrament of baptism we become co-crucified with Christ. Also, let us imagine that the cross is like a ticket to an extremely important event. We reach the doors, but we do not have the ticket - our cross - with us. Do you think we will be allowed to enter? And let us remember the parable of the ten virgins, where five of them did not have enough oil. While they hurried hither and thither, the doors were closed and they were not let in.
The cross must not be worn mechanically, but with full awareness. The wearing of a cross must remind us of the general bearing of our cross. It is said in the Gospel: whosoever does not take up his cross and follow Me - is unworthy of Me.
We must wear our cross all the time, without being embarrassed by it, but rather being proud of it. This is the only form of pride that a Christian is allowed. If we must have pride in anything, says the apostle, it should only be in the cross of Christ.
Thus, let us begin this Sundayís resurrection with the very least - the wearing of a cross.
May the Crucified and Resurrected Christ help us all!
We shall continue these thoughts on Christís resurrection next time.
Father Dimitriy Dudko.