My Lord and My God!

John 20:19-31
Thomas Sunday

Today, the first Sunday after Pascha, is known as Thomas Sunday, for we hear how Jesus Christ appeared to the Apostle Thomas and strengthened his faith.

Saint John tells us that Jesus Christ had appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection, confirming their mission and breathing on them the Holy Spirit. However, Saint Thomas was not with them on this occasion, and insisted that he would not believe unless Christ appeared to him too. And eight days after the Resurrection Jesus Christ came to him. Overcome by faith, Thomas cried out: “My Lord and my God.”

Saint Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” yet today’s Gospel shows us his deep faith which would lead him to proclaiming the Gospel in distant lands. However, he was not content to simply accept things on hearsay, or to assent to things simply to please others. He knew that faith had to be real, and he therefore had to go through a process which culminated in his meeting with the Risen Lord.

Like Saint Thomas, we may also go through times when we find it difficult to believe, or we may have difficulty accepting something simply because others say so. However, today’s Gospel shows us that we come to faith not simply through rational reasoning, nor through simply accepting the reports of others. Rather, we also need to encounter the Risen Christ in our lives, for it is in meeting Him that we too will be overcome by the reality of His presence. And we encounter Him in an ongoing life of prayer – in listening to the Gospel and participating in the sacramental life of the Church, in opening ourselves to Him so that He can become ever-more real to us.

It was not an accident that that particular disciple was not present. The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more profitable to our faith than the belief of the other disciples. For the touch by which he is brought to believe confirms our minds in belief, beyond all questions.

Saint Gregory Dialogos

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 20:19-31:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them: “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him: “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in His side, I will not believe.”

Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said: “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to Him: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

 

Humility & Greatness

John 3:22-33
Bright Saturday

Today we see the humility and true greatness of Saint John the Forerunner. When told that Jesus had started baptizing and when questioned about Him, John responded by pointing out that his task was simply to bear witness to Jesus Christ. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease,’ he said.

Here we see someone with true self-knowledge. Saint John knows who he is and what his task is – and he doesn’t need to make himself greater than he is. And herein, paradoxically, lies his true greatness. Saint Augustine comments,

There were prophets before John, and many of them, and great ones, worthy of God, full of God, who foretold the Saviour and bore witness to the truth. Yet for all that, of none of them could it be said, as it was said of John, ‘Among those born of women, none has arisen greater than John the Baptist.’ So what is the meaning of such greatness, sent before the great One? It is a testimonial to extraordinary humility. After all, he was so great that people could think he was the Christ. John could have taken advantage of people’s mistake, and he would not have had to work hard to persuade them he was the Christ, because those who heard and saw him had already thought this without his saying it. There was no need for him to sow the seeds of the error; all he would have to do would be to confirm it.

He, however, as the bridegroom’s friend, is jealous for the bridegroom. And he does not put himself forward as an adulterer in the bridegroom’s place but bears witness to his friend and commends the one who really was the bridegroom to the bride. He wants to be loved in him and hates the idea of being loved instead of him. ‘The one who has the bride,’ he says, ‘is the bridegroom.’ And if you were to say, ‘What about you?’ he would respond, ‘But the friend of the bridegroom stands and hears and joyfully rejoices because of the bridegroom’s voice.’ ‘Stands and hears.’ The disciple hears the master; because he hears, he stands, because if he does not hear, he falls. It is here that John’s greatness is supremely brought to our notice; that when he could be thought to be the Christ, he preferred to bear witness to the Christ, to bring Him to our notice. He preferred to humble himself rather than to be taken for the Christ and taken in by himself.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 3:22-33:
At that time, Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there He remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized. For John had not yet been put in prison.

Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying. And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what He has seen and heard, yet no one receives His testimony; he who receives His testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.”

All Things New

John 2:12-22
Bright Friday

Today, on Bright Friday, we hear of Jesus Christ not only chasing the merchants out of the temple, but also comparing the temple to His own body as He prophesied His own resurrection. Reading this text in the light of Pascha, we not only see how Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, but also how the entire worship of the temple finds its fulfilment in Him.

The resurrection of Christ makes all things new and turns everything that we are accustomed to on its head. In it we see how God’s power breaks into our world, reforming and renewing all that had become corrupted and worn-out. Saint Hilary of Poitiers writes,

By the power to take His soul again and to raise the temple up, He declares Himself God and the resurrection His own work: yet He refers all to the authority of His Father’s command. This is not contrary to the meaning of the apostle, when he proclaims Christ, the ‘power of God and the wisdom of God,’ thus referring all the magnificence of His work to the glory of the Father. For whatever Christ does, the power and the wisdom of God does. … Christ was raised from the dead by the working of God, for He Himself worked the works of God with a nature indistinguishable from God’s. And our faith in the resurrection rests on God who raised Christ from the dead.

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The Gospel According to John 2:12-22:
At that time, Jesus came to Capernaum with his mother and his brothers and his disciples; and there they stayed for a few days.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

A New Birth

John 3:1-15
Bright Thursday

Today we hear Jesus’ astonishing words to Nicodemus on the necessity of being born anew, or born from above. If we stop to think about it, this is an extraordinary image, for, as Nicodemus responds, how can one really be born a second time? Yet Jesus is referring to a transformation that is so radical that it plunges us into a newness that can best be described as a new birth. Saint Gregory the Theologian writes,

And indeed from the Spirit comes our new birth, and from the new birth our new creation, and from the new creation our deeper knowledge of the dignity of Him from whom it is derived.

Saint Athanasius the Great tells us that this rebirth really involves the re-creation of God’s image in us. We are created in God’s image, but this image has become distorted by the fall and so Jesus Christ comes to raise up that which had fallen, as we sing at Pascha. He writes,

Once the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from outside itself, the one whose likeness it is needs to come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood. And, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline is renewed upon it. In the same way, the most holy Son of the Father, being the image of the Father, came to our world to renew humankind once made in His likeness. He came to find such lost individuals by the remission of their sins. He says as much Himself in the Gospels: ‘I came to find and save the lost.’ This is why He also said to the Jews, ‘Except one be born again,’ not meaning, as they thought, birth from a woman, but speaking of the soul born and created anew in the likeness of God’s image.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 3:1-15:
At that time, there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nikodemos, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nikodemos said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The Spirit blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, and you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nikodemos said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

We Have Found the Messiah

John 1:35-52
Bright Wednesday

Today we see how Jesus calls His first disciples. It is clear that these men were already searching for something –  or, rather, for Someone. They knew that the Messiah was expected, but they didn’t know exactly how they would recognise Him. And, by inviting them to ‘Come and see,’ Jesus Christ gives them the opportunity to get to know Him better. Saint John Chrysostom writes,

Observe what Andrew says to his brother, ‘We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.’ You see how, in a short time, he demonstrates not only the persuasiveness of the wise teacher, but also his own longing that he had from the beginning. For this word, ‘we have found,’ is the expression of a soul that longs for His presence, looking for His coming from above, and is so ecstatic when what he is looking for happens that he hurries to tell others the good news. This is what brotherly affection, natural friendship, is all about when someone is eager to extend a hand to another when it comes to spiritual matters. Also see how he adds the article, for he does not say ‘Messiah’ but ‘the Messiah.’ They were expecting the Christ who would have nothing in common with the others.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:35-52:
At that time, John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Their Eyes were Opened

Luke 24:12-35
Bright Tuesday

Today, on Bright Tuesday, we hear Saint Luke’s account of how two travellers met the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. However, they did not recognise Him, but were instead despondent at the news of His death and confused by the reports of His resurrection. It was only as Jesus journeyed with them, explained the Scriptures to them, spent time with them, and finally broke bread with them that they came to recognise who He was.

We see here that it is not enough to simply hear reports of the Risen Christ. Rather, if the resurrection is to become a reality to us, we need to spend time with Him and allow Him to reveal Himself to us. And, as we do so, we will encounter Him both in a correct understanding of the Scriptures and in the ‘breaking of the bread,’ which is the Eucharistic worship of the Church. Saint Augustine writes,

All that we read in holy Scripture for our instruction and salvation demands an attentive ear. You have just heard how the eyes of those two disciples whom the Lord joined on their way were kept from recognising Him. He found them in despair of the redemption that was in Christ, supposing Him now to have suffered and died as a man, not imagining Him to live forever as the Son of God. So He opened to them the Scriptures and showed them that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and for all things to be fulfilled that were written concerning Him in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms – in short, the whole of the Old Testament. Everything in those Scriptures speaks of Christ, but only to him who has ears. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And so let us pray that He will open our own.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 24:12-35:
At that time, Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened.

And behold, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Fountain of Wisdom

John 1:18-28
Bright Monday

Today, on Bright Monday, we read how Saint John the Forerunner bears witness to Jesus Christ. He is well aware that the One he is proclaiming someone great, someone whose sandal he is not worthy to untie. He is proclaiming the One whom Saint Paul refers to as ‘the mystery hidden for ages and generations.’ (Colossians 1:26) Saint Ambrose of Milan writes,

The Word of God is in the bosom of the Father, that is, in the hidden and secret places of God. The fountain of wisdom is there, and from it one may drink the everlasting drink of eternal life in place of death.

At Pascha we re-live and celebrate the fact that this eternal Word of God has recreated all things in His death and resurrection. And therefore we are able to sing,

Come let us drink a new drink, not one marvelously brought forth from a barren rock, but a Source of incorruption, which pours out from the tomb of Christ, in whom we are established.

Now all things have been filled with light, both heaven and earth and those beneath the earth; so let all creation sing Christ’s rising, by which it is established.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint John 1:18-28:
No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, ” I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordon, where John was baptizing.