Doubt’s Antidote - Faith : A Homily on Thomas Sunday (2021)

May 09, 2021

Doubt’s Antidote - Faith : A Homily on Thomas Sunday (2021)

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Introduction

In 1910, at the age of fifty-four, Bishop Seraphim (Chicagov) wrote a letter to a close friend, prophetically describing the state of affairs of the Russian Church and State in his day and as he saw it. In this letter, he writes:

Everything has fallen apart. Educated society has lost all understanding of what Christianity is. Every day I can see before my eyes the ongoing corruption of our clergy. There is no hope at all that they will come to reason or understand their condition. Everywhere is drunkenness, debauchery, simony, extortion, and secular interests. The last remaining believers are trembling with repugnance over the condition of their clergy. And there is no one to finally realize just what brink of destruction the Church is standing on, or what is happening. The opportune time was missed. A disease of the spirit has taken over the entire state organism. The moment of recovery cannot recur, and the clergy is rushing headlong into an abyss, having no strength or desire to stop the process. Just one more year, just a little while, and there won’t even be simple folk left around us. They will all rise up and reject such insane and repulsive leaders. And what will happen to the state? It will perish along with us. It no longer makes any difference who is in the Synod, who is the procurator, what seminaries and academies there are—our agony and death are near.[1]

Twenty-seven years later, after being imprisoned and tortured several times for supposed “monarchist propaganda,” the now Metropolitan Seraphim was arrested a final time. Weak and debilitated in his old age, the NKVD officers had to carry him out of his apartment on a stretcher because he could not walk. Eleven days later, he was shot by a firing squad. However, in 1990, he would be one of the first New-martyrs of Russia to be canonized, and to this day he remains an example of faith, especially when the whole world had gone mad.

On Doubt

A significant aspect of faith is its opposition to doubt.

Where doubt debilitates, faith gives life;

Where doubt breeds cowardice, faith produces courage;

Where doubt gives birth to smallness of soul, faith enlarges the heart.[2]

Doubt is at the beginning of a whole host of spiritual ailments, which lead to, but is not limited to, despondency and discouragement, as well as to ungodly actions. Sometimes doubt arises as a result of intellectual pursuits. Other times, it appears as a result of some circumstance in life. Often it acts as a poison in the soul if it remains unchecked. Sometimes doubt is resolved through the wisdom of others, our spiritual father or a respected friend, and sometimes through prayer. Sometimes it does not get resolved and has to be left with God in prayer, so it does not debilitate us and hamper us spiritually.

Temptations leading to Doubt

Let us consider two examples that expose the subtlety of doubt.

First, in the late 1900s, a book was published describing the monasteries of the Holy Mountain of Athos. It enumerated the twenty monasteries that exist on the mountain, the geography, the architecture, the iconography, and lastly, the few monks that lived here. By all intents and purposes, the work was like a requiem because the monasteries contained only a few young monks, others were too old to do the labor required to maintain them, and many monasteries had fallen into disrepair. Little did this author know that at the same time as he wrote his work, there was a holy synodia which gathered around St. Joseph the Hesychast who would come to renew monastic life on the Holy Mountain. Instead, one would doubt that the glory of the Holy Mountain would ever come back. Since that time, monasticism has flourished, and several monastics have been canonized that either lived on or are connected with the Holy Mountain, such as Sts. Porphyrios of Kapsokalivia, Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Joseph the Hesychast, Daniel and Ephraim of Katounakia, Sophrony of Essex, and Ieronymos of Simonapetra. Despite the evidence that this author offered and the facts he enumerated, he could not see God’s purpose or the unfolding of His plans between and around all his evidence, the fruit of which is manifest today.

Second, in St. John Cassian’s work entitled, The Conferences, he writes about when he and his co-struggler Germanus visited the great Abba Serenus in Scetis. Germanus starts the conversation by noting how he assumed that by dwelling in the desert and living the austere, monastic life, he would have been brought to the “perfection of the inner man” by now. However, instead of achieving any degree of perfection through his monastic disciplines, he notes, he not only has not progressed at all but has become more aware of what he has not attained and concludes that he will never be able to achieve the end for which he desires. Abba Serenus responds, saying, “it is a dangerous presumption to claim to understand the nature of anything hastily… and to make a guess founded on one’s own [lack of expertise] rather than to offer an opinion based on the condition and quality of the practice itself or on the experience of other people.”[3]

Germanus assumes that the examples he draws from his own experience are enough to justify his conclusions. However, when he speaks to Abba Serenus, who has struggled in monasticism longer, he is enlightened as to his inexperience, despite his years of struggle, and is told that he thinks this way because he has not struggled long enough and that his goal can still be realized but only in time.

Many things tempt us to doubt. Today, being Thomas Sunday, we have just heard how the Apostle Thomas doubted the resurrection. To alleviate his doubt, Christ comes to Thomas, exposes his nail-pierced hands to him, and reveals his wounded side. Acknowledging that this is not how the Lord addresses everyone’s doubts, though He did so for Thomas, Jesus says, be not faithless, but believing, because blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20. 27, 29). In so doing, the Lord emphasizes the significance and blessedness that comes through faith in God.

Unless one is a prophet, no amount of calculation can determine the future of the Church or monasticism. Faith believes that God determines the destination of peoples and nations, and it is enough for us to patiently persevere in the Christian life

The Fathers have laid down the spiritual path and how to attain spiritual growth. One’s experience or learnedness does not dominate the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, but faith trusts them and not one’s own opinions.

Faith believes the message of the risen Saviour that followed His miracles and teachings, but doubt demands that the criteria of the senses be fulfilled.

Doubt and Faith

Doubts come and go, they wax and wane, but today’s Gospel passage indicates that the remedy to those doubts which persist, causing discouragement, despondency, and more, [the remedy] is faith; faith in God’s love for us, faith that trusts in God’s providence and faith in that God knows what is best for us.

Christ loved Thomas and therefore came to assuage his doubts but uses this occasion to emphasize the significance of faith, specifically, faith in what Christ had said and done.

St. Peter Damascene says that faith is:

the foundation of all blessings,

the door to God’s mysteries,

unflagging defeat of our enemies,

the most necessary of all virtues,

the wings of prayer,

and the dwelling of God within our soul.[4]

To acquire faith, he writes, one must endure every trial imposed on us by our enemies and by our many and various thoughts while at the same time continuing to practice the virtues and keeping the commandments. Through such means, faith is produced and also becomes more firmly established. [5]

God’s Love

Christ’s coming to Thomas reveals the love of God and the extent to which God seeks to heal him of his doubt, increase his faith, and restore him to the fellowship of the Apostles.

Christ loves us and comes to each of us who are struggling with little faith, who are plagued with thoughts, who are crushed under the weight of failures, who are unable to overcome the passions. He comes to us and says, “have faith.” “See My hands, touch my side.” “Have faith. I have overcome the world.”

What can separate us from this love of Christ? When we are unable to resolve our doubts, it is faith that allows us to overcome, and in truth, it is Christ in us through faith that overcomes.

Conclusion

For Bright Week, the Royal Doors and Deacons’ Doors have remained open, demonstrating that through the Resurrection of Christ, the gates of Paradise are opened for all to come in. We saw this every day and participated in it every day through prayer, but today they are closed. However, Christ comes through the closed doors to Thomas. These doors are not a barrier for the grace of God, and neither was the stone in front of the tomb a barrier for Christ to rise, and neither do doubts have to be a barrier between God and us.[6] Have faith, Fathers and brothers, sisters and mother, you beloved of God.

Have faith, and even if all around us should fail us and fall, like it was for Metropolitan Seraphim, and the night of sin prevails all around us, yet Christ can disperse the darkness of doubt, He can illumine and preserve our hearts, and, even in a world gone mad, He can establish us firmly in Him by faith. 

CHRIST IS RISEN!

 

[1] A Prophetic New-Martyr: St. Seraphim (Chicagov) by Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Egorievsk @ https://orthochristian.com/88678.html, accessed on 5/5/2021

[2] “Doubting hesitation of the heart introduces cowardice into the soul, but faith can make firm her volition even in the cutting-off of the body’s limbs.” St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011), 115.

[3] John Cassian, The Conferences, Boniface Ramsey, trans. (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 248-249.

[4] “A Treasury of Divine Knowledge” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text, G.E.H. Plamer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware trans. (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 3:164.

[5] Ibid. cf. 213-216.

[6] “While the tomb was sealed, Thou, O Life, didst shine forth from the grave, O Christ God. And while the doors were shut, Thou didst come unto Thy disciples, O Resurrection of all, renewing through them an upright Spirit in us according to Thy Great mercy” Troparion, Seventh Tone for Thomas Sunday.




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