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Apostle Thomas

On October 19th (the 6th by the old calendar) the Church commemorate the holy Apostle Thomas.

Apostle Thomas was one of the 12 apostles and was called Didymus (the twin). Little is known to us of his life. He was apparently distinguished by several character traits, among which stood out a penchant for doubt in matters of faith, which particularly exhibited after the Saviour’s resurrection.

The majestically moving description in the Gospel of John (20:20-29) tells us of how the resurrected Saviour appeared to His disciples, gathered behind closed doors together with Thomas, who was doubting His resurrection, and allowed him to thrust his hand into His side and to feel His wounds. “Be not faithless, but believing,” – the Lord then said to Him. “My Lord and my God!” – was Thomas’s exultant reply. But earlier, in the Gospel of John, the holy Apostle Thomas is singled out twice among the other disciples, namely: when Jesus Christ declared His intention to go to Judea together with His disciples, in order to resurrect Lazarus, Thomas said to the others: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (11:16). Another time, when the Lord said to His disciples during His farewell talk with them before His suffering: “And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know,” Thomas said to Him: “Lord, we know not whither Thou goest, and how can we know the way?” (14:4-5). According to tradition, the holy Apostle Thomas preached the Gospel in India and was martyred there. On the shores of Malabar in India there still remains a considerable number of Christians who call themselves St. Thomas’s Christians. Apostle Thomas is also commemorated on the first Sunday after Pascha, which is consequently called the Sunday of Thomas.

Holy Apostle THomas
Holy Apostle THomas

“Thomas’s good disbelief”

In our life we often hear the common expression, “Well, I am a doubting Thomas,” meaning ‘I am not very quick to believe’. The person who uses this expression usually never imagines what in reality this disbelief of the apostle Thomas consisted of, the disbelief which the Church in its prayers has named “Thomas’s good disbelief.”

When we read those passages in the Gospels in which there is mention of the holy apostle Thomas, we see that in the person of this apostle we have a skeptic. For instance, when our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples before the resurrection of Lazarus, “Let us go into Judea,” the apostle Thomas said to his fellow apostles, “Let us also go that we may die with Him.” These words are the combination, on the one hand, of the unconditional love of the apostle’s heart, which is ready for anything, even unto death with his beloved Teacher and, on the other hand, of a sort of skeptical mistrust — could anything come of this journey? Could one expect any other result from it than the death of a beloved Teacher and his disciples? And then at the Mystical Supper our Lord, while conversing with the apostles, tells them that they know where He must go—“And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Then followed Thomas’s answer, “Lord we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?”

Apostle Thomas touches the Lord's wounds

In other words, ‘we do not know where you are going, and how could we know?’ And finally the account of Thomas’s need to feel Christ’s pierced side. We know what the apostle Thomas, who had not yet seen the resurrected Teacher, said to his fellow disciples when he heard them tell of His resurrection. “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.” A week went by. The apostle still could not believe. How dark, how difficult this week must have been for him. The other apostles were exulting and rejoicing, and still he did not believe. Seven days later the Lord appeared to His disciples, and Thomas was among them. After saying “Peace be unto you,” Christ said to Thomas, paraphrasing the very words with which Thomas had renounced his faith: “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” Then from the lips of the apostle Thomas burst forth that magnificent heart-felt confession to which he remained faithful even until his death. “My Lord and my God,” he exclaimed. The last vestige of doubt had fled from his soul.

Why does the Church call Thomas’s disbelief good? Because, brethren, Thomas loved his Teacher just as much as all the other apostles did, and they loved Him so much that we can only pray to God to grant us one-hundredth part of the love that was in their hearts. When the Lord died on the cross, the apostles felt that the sun, as they say, had been extinguished in the world. The world became terrible for them, dark and cold. They knew Whom they had lost. Thomas could not believe it. Without faith, without his Teacher, the world became empty for him. Because his Teacher was so exceedingly dear to him, his heart yearned too much for the kind of faith in which there was not a shadow of doubt. And the truth of Christ’s teaching about the resurrection was similarly too dear for the apostle. And thus the Church calls his disbelief good, because it showed to what extent his heart and his soul remained faithful to his Teacher even while his mind could not believe.

Is that how things are in our times? Are those who say ‘I am a doubting Thomas’ really like the apostle Thomas? Usually their disbelief is as far removed from the disbelief of the apostle Thomas as east is from west, as heaven is from earth.

See, my brothers, how precious to the apostle Thomas was the truth of the Resurrection, the truth of the Holy Gospel! But the characteristic of our times lies precisely in the fact that people are becoming increasingly indifferent to the Divine Truth. They speak many beautiful words, but actually, in reality, people are completely indifferent. They are as indifferent as was Pontius Pilate when the Lord stood before him for judgment. Before Pilate stood Truth itself, but he, nevertheless, skeptically declared, “What is truth?” In other words, ‘Is there truth? And even if there is, it is too far from us. And maybe there is no truth.’ And with complete indifference, Pilate turned away from Him Who brought him truth, Who was Truth itself. That is how indifferent people are today. You have no doubt heard, and heard often, beautiful, grandiloquent speeches, Christian-sounding speeches, about uniting mankind in one faith, one religion. But remember that what underlies all this talk is indifference to the truth. If truth were precious to man, no man would be fooled by this talk. It is precisely because people are not really interested in truth but just want to live more simply, more comfortably, even in the matter of religion, that they say, “We should all be united.” In other words, each one of us must admit that his faith is not the true faith, and only when all these untrue faiths are melded into one, then somehow, from somewhere, true faith will appear.

Let us, brethren, fear such indifference to truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ clearly shows us in the book of Revelation how dreadful is indifference to truth. Addressing the angel, the head of the Church of the Laodiceans, He says, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So, then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” (warm is neither one nor the other, i.e. truth is not dear to you) “I will spew thee out of my mouth.” In the Slavonic text it is said even more harshly, more forcefully: “I will vomit you forth from my mouth,” just as any organism expels what is decidedly noxious and harmful to it.

Let us remember that this indifference to truth is one of the principle disasters of our age of apostasy. O man, cherish the truth! Be a champion of the truth. Remember how fervently the apostle Thomas loved the truth of Christ’s resurrection, the divine truth of the Gospel. This apostle’s love of truth, his love for the Teacher of truth, is an example of how precious truth must be to man, how man must love Him Who is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ our Lord Jesus Christ. O man, place truth above all things in life and never stray from the way of truth. Of course, we are all sinners, in our infirmity we all fall. But it is one thing to fall because one is infirm, and quite another to fall because one is indifferent to the truth, because one consciously departs from the truth. Let that not happen to us! Let each one of our parishes, as a united spiritual family, stand firm in the truth and be like a faithful nucleus of our Holy Russian Orthodox Church. No other church is so reviled these days as is ours. What does this mean? It is the surest sign of all that our Church is built on truth, and that is why a war of lies and untruths is now waged against Her. If our Church were not built on truth, She would not be attacked. Everything would be quiet and peaceful. But because She is built on truth, because She preaches truth, proclaims it and defends it, She is now under attack.

Let us understand this, and let us together treasure the fact that together we belong to the holy Church which has not in any way transgressed against the truth, but maintains it just as was commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ and the holy apostles. Amen.

Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
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