A homily given at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg Pa on the Second Sunday of Pascha, 26 April 7529 (May 9, 2021 on the civil calendar.
Christ is Risen! In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus breathes on His disciples after the Resurrection, to impart unto them the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness or retention of sins, prior to the coming of the Spirit to the whole Church, which would occur after His Ascension at Pentecost. This speaks to the Apostolic succession of the Bishops and priests of our Lord’s Church. St. John Chrysostom wrote of this passage that, “The priest, even if he rightly orders his own life, if he does not have an anxious care for yours, yes and that of all those around him, will depart with the wicked into hell; and often when not betrayed by his own conduct, he perishes by yours, if he has not righty performed his part… “For they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account”…. for this is the Faith, to receive things not seen, since “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (citing Hebrews).
There is a recognition here of the Church in mysterious unity as the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, of which we are all a part, as we communicate in the Eucharist and the other mysteries of the Church including Confession. This emerges too from the wondrous realization of the Apostle Thomas, who although his faith wavered for a moment in doubt, experienced the bodily presence of Christ and awareness of His being fully God and fully man, which has come down to us as a blessing for all of us gathered in Orthodox worship around the world today on Thomas Sunday. “My Lord and my God,” the Apostle Thomas said. There are icons of the Apostle that in Greek are captioned with the message, “the touch of Thomas,” and in Slavonic, “Believing Thomas,” but sometimes in English rendered incompletely as “Doubting Thomas.” The Apostle’s touch brought forth an experiential wisdom, an embodied inspiration, that are at the heart of the mysterious of the Orthodox Church and our participation in her. Orthodoxy is not metaphysical, it does not operate by analogy like Scholasticism. It involves full experience of the uncreated divine energies of grace. Those uncreated energies are embodied grace. They come from the Holy Trinity as a whole, and especially the Holy Spirit, which in Orthodoxy is not reduced by the filioque to a secondary role, breathed upon us.
St. Thomas felt this when he touched Jesus and realized the embodied and transcendent to be together in mystery in His body. “Thomas, being once weaker in faith than the other apostles,” says St John Chrysostom, “toiled through the grace of God more bravely, more zealously and tirelessly than them all, so that he went preaching over nearly all the earth, not fearing to proclaim the Word of God to savage nations.”
St. Thomas realized the Church to be the conciliarity of the people and the mystical hierarchy together in that spiritual unity or communion with Jesus Christ called sobornost in Slavonic. This empowered his incredible missionary work as far as India. But the Apostle Thomas today, on this Sunday after Pascha, also stands for us as modern people who have found refuge from the ruins of secularism, in our salvation in the Orthodox Church. Like the Apostle Thomas we come to Eucharist and say “My Lord and my God,” and experience more than just religious feeling, but His body and blood. And our Savior tells us, blessed are those who have not seen but believe, knowing of the experience of the Believing Thomas. Today, all the Communists and post-human technocrats operating in the spirit of Anti-Christ in this world cannot prevail against His Church, His Body. They cannot take from us that embodied experience of the mysteries, from which we like St. Thomas exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” We can unworthily follow the Apostle in evangelism work near and far. May the Lord our God, with the intercessions of the Believing Thomas, prosper our efforts to build this mission in her work to evangelize our region for the Orthodox Church, which is the Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.