On the first Sunday after Easter, the Church commemorates the disbelief of Thomas and his subsequent profession of Christ as Lord and God. We heard from the Lord the words addressed to His disciples, and especially to their followers, down to us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Think of it, my dear brothers and sisters: We can be among those the Lord beatifies, calls blessed, if only we believe in Him, that is if we place our trust and hope in Him and we live the kind of life He wants us to live. It’s that simple! So what do you think? Are we among those who believe? So the questions we’ll address are:
- Do we believe wholeheartedly in the risen Lord?
- Do we live His life?
We firmly believe in the resurrected Lord
Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, states that belief in the Risen Lord is a condition for salvation:
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the Good News [τὸ εὐαγγέλιον] that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received1, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved,2 if you hold firmly [εἰ κατέχετε] to the message that I proclaimed to you3—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you4 as of first importance what I in turn had received [this is tradition: something you receive, which then you pass on to others] that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Here we have a summary of the plan of dispensation. Belief in the εὐαγγέλιον of Jesus Christ and the divine plan of salvation constitute the beginning of our salvation. Elsewhere the Apostle restates the same message, in what came to be one of the most misinterpreted passages of the scripture: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (notice, σωθήσῃ, future tense—Rom. 10:9). Do you believe with an unshakable faith that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He truly rose from the dead? If you have come to believe in these truths, according to the Lord’s words you are blessed.
Τhe Resurrection of Christ is a historic fact, well attested to by many reliable witnesses. The disciples did not merely see the Risen Lord. The risen Lord did not just appear to them, as in a vision, they did not have hallucinations, this was not a case of massive hysteria, it was not a figment of their imagination. No. We heard in today’s Gospel passage (which incidentally is the same passage read in different languages at the Agape service) written by an eye witness, St. John, the Beloved Disciple, the account of the double appearance of the Lord Jesus to His disciples, the first on the same day the Lord had risen from the dead without Thomas, the second eight days later with Thomas. They all saw His pierced hands and His side.
In another appearance, also attested to by the same disciple, the risen Lord sat down and had breakfast with them. St. John the Evangelist writes: “This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:14). And in closing the gospel narrative that carries his name, St John attests: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Indeed we do. And to the godless deniers of Christ and of His Resurrection from the dead, we repeat the words of St. Augustine:
“Unbelievers, you are not disbelievers, you are the easiest believers. Because you accept the most unreasonable and nonsensical things, in order not to accept one, the miracle.”
This is especially true with the miracle of all miracles, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We Orthodox Christians remain adamant in the faith that was passed down to us by the eye witnesses of the risen Lord, the holy Apostles. And we remain adamant to the admonition of St. Paul to his spiritual child, Timothy: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20). Our faith is being tested continuously, especially by the media. Two consecutive issues of the TV Guide (cannot help noticing them, by the cash registers of the supermarkets) have pictures of actors portraying Jesus Christ. Let me warn you: Do not watch the advertised new miniseries made-for-TV Jesus movie: if your faith is weak it will be shaken. It portrays a “very human Christ,” who is at odds with the biblical account, a controversial and iconoclast Jesus, irreverently called fit “for the new millennium.”
We don’t need such phony christs, the product of sick minds, with sick intentions. What we need is to strengthen our faith, not to weaken it, by casting doubts on the divine nature of the Lord and on His Resurrection from the dead. Let us take courage, my dear Christians, for Christ has indeed risen from the dead, and remains eternally risen. Let us give Him our faith, although we have not seen Him, but let us give Him a strong, living faith, not a feeble and anemic one.
We live His life
Thus we come to the second question, we were going to ask ourselves: Do we live Christ’s life? The end of our faith is not salvation, but the works of love, that is living a life of purity and holiness, given entirely to the Lord. Despite anything said to the contrary, saying that we believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, does not save us! Is faith then inadequate? No! But it must be “πίστις δι᾽ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη, faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). We need an enacted faith, a working faith. Our faith must energize us! The life of the spirit begins with faith, but it is proven through the works of love. We must realize that we are supposed to live a new life, where sin has no place. “Come to a right mind, and sin no more” (1 Cor. 15:34), exclaims St. Paul.
If we say we believe in the Lord and in His resurrection from the dead, we must display that faith with our steadfastness and perseverance in the faith and with our holy life, which is the fruit of our faith. This is what St. Paul says, closing the chapter on the faith in the Resurrected Lord:
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
How many times do our actions fall short of the faith our lips pronounce?
- If we believe that the Lord is risen why do we worry?
- Why do we get upset?
- Why do we hold grudges?
- Why do we criticize others?
- Why do we get discouraged?
You see, if we truly believed, then we should be living the resurrected life now. We should occupy our time praising and glorifying God, living already the eighth day granted to us. We should live the Resurrection every day, as Saint Herman of Alaska did, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov did, as Saint Iakovos of Evia did, as all the saints did.
We want to believe. We want to have life in His name. But we don’t know how to go about doing it. We have before us the path, the way to attain the life of the Resurrected Lord. It is shown to us with sign posts, given to us by our mother, the holy Church, directing us with certainty to our goal. What are they? The Cross and the Tomb. Look at the Cross with the garland of victory. Look at the empty Tomb. This is the path: death to sin, burial to the old sinful self, and resurrection to a new life in Jesus Christ. This is said quite eloquently by the Apostle Paul, in his lofty letter to the Romans:
How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Rom. 6:2-13).
May we all, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, make our own the words of the Apostle,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19-20).
Thus free from sin, and the corruption and death it brings, we may experience the power of the resurrection, and give glory to the One Crucified, out of love for us, and resurrected from the dead, Christ our God. And may each one of us be truly addressed by the Lord with the words, “Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
- παρελάβετε, from which παράδοσις, tradition, comes
- notice, not “have been saved,” but “σώζεσθε,” being saved, present continuous. Why? Because there is a condition here.
- [you see, the condition of salvation?
- παρέδωκα from παραδίδωμι, hand over, pass on to another, hand down to one’s posterity