The Grace of Faith - Homily on Thomas Sunday (2024)

The Grace of Faith - Homily on Thomas Sunday (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery

We have just finished the super-abundant festivities of Bright Week, where every day is Pascha and now, while it is still Paschatide for another month, we turn the dial down a little bit. Thomas Sunday is a good time to reflect on the nature of faith and doubt because all of us at one point or another in our life will run up against doubts. Doubts can come in a number of directions. Intellectual doubts about the faith. Doubts from being scandalized seeing someone we respect and admire apostatize and seem to live a wicked life quite comfortably. Or it can be the crushing existential doubts—does God exist? How can God exist and be a good and loving God in the face of so much tragedy—the senseless suffering and death of children, of the helpless? These doubts can absolutely crush us.

It’s natural for us to want proof to resolve our doubts. We want bullet points and quotes from the Bible or from saints to dispel the confusion we might have about our faith. We want justice on behalf of the oppressed and defenseless. We secretly desire miraculous interventions. We want God to finally just show Himself to us so we can be relieved of our doubts. All doubts.

St. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ. He wanted to see with his eyes and touch with his hands the body of his teacher. And God, Who is good and loves mankind, condescended to the desire and yearning of His disciple. Today Christ comes again in the upper room through locked doors (just like last week) and allows His disciple to handle Him. There’s something simultaneously bizarre and sweet that our God allows his sincere, but doubting disciple to insert his fingers into the wound in His side to bring him to faith.

This is a beautiful passage in its own right. However, the Church teaches us today in her hymnography that it was not by physical evidence alone that Thomas believed in Christ. While that helped, that was not sufficient. The oikos in Matins says “Who preserved the Disciple’s hand unconsumed when he drew nigh unto the fiery side of the Lord? Who gave it the daring and strength to feel the bone that was flaming? Surely, it was that which was touched. For if that side had not bestowed might unto that earthen right hand, how could it have touched those wounds which caused both things above and below to quake? This grace was given to Thomas that he might touch and cry out to Christ: Thou art my Lord and my God.” So the Church teaches us that it is the uncreated divine grace of God that gave the Apostle faith to believe. It was not just because Thomas touched Christ’s hands and thrust his hand into his side that caused him to change his mind. Because the spiritual life is not merely a rational enterprise. Grace was pouring forth from Christ’s resurrected and glorified body into Thomas when Thomas touched Him. This grace given to him is what enabled him to have faith. So what this tells us is that questions of faith and doubt are not about proofs, it’s not about reasonings or experiences of miracles. It’s about God’s grace and our ability to receive it.

Elder Zachariah, the disciple of St. Sophrony of Essex, makes this very clear when he says that “When people say they lost faith, what they really mean is that they have lost grace.” He wants us to understand the correct diagnosis of our problems when we doubt. Because if we have the wrong diagnosis, we will look for the wrong solutions. We will keep looking for arguments that shore up our beliefs, we will keep waiting for and demanding miracles in order for us to be convinced.

This helps us understand why people in the face of good evidence, even in the face of miracles, do not believe in God. They do not become convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy. Because it’s not about evidence. It’s about God’s grace and our free will to accept or reject it. Look at the entire Bible and history of the Church. How many tyrants persecuted the faithful and were whipped by God for what they did and did not repent. Pharoah in Egypt witnessed mighty miracles and did not believe. The Jews themselves witnessed the sea split in two, walked on dry ground, watched all their pursuers drown in the same sea. And yet they still doubted God, they still complained to Moses, they still fell away into idolatry. It is a rare occurrence in the lives of the martyrs for the persecutors to actually repent in the face of the tortured saint either performing miracles or being miraculously healed. The reason why unbelievers do not change their minds in the face of this evidence, and part of the reason we struggle with belief in God, is the same—the hardness of our hearts due to sin. This is what really closes us off from God’s grace and prevents us from believing in Him.

So how do we open our hearts to be receptive to God’s grace? At the mystical supper, St. Jude asks the Lord, “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” Christ tells us that if we love Him and follow His commandments, He, along with His Father and the Holy Spirit will make their dwelling in us. This is the answer to our doubts, our desire for God to show Himself to us. For confirmation in the faith. If we love Christ and struggle to follow Him, if we prepare our hearts, then God’s grace will find a place in us, He will manifest Himself inside us.

Christ tells us in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” It is in mercy most particularly of all the virtues that open us up to God’s grace. Almsgiving really is any act of mercy we can bestow on others—visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, comforting the grief. Abba Dorotheos of Gaza tells us that when we show mercy “with knowledge” we receive the most benefit. To show mercy with knowledge means that when we do a good deed for others, we do it knowing that the spiritual benefit they bestow upon us is greater than the physical relief we might be able to give them. When we do these things for others with the right understanding, our hearts can be humbled even while we do good.

But the greatest mercy we can show on others is to forgive them their sins against us from our hearts. This is especially hard for us because in order to forgive, we have to let go. We have to let go of any demand that the other should recognize his faults, any demand that they ask forgiveness before we forgive them. We have to let go of any desire that the other change her ways. We have to let go of any insult to our dignity, with no desire that it should be restored. We have to dispense with any sense of justice being done so that we can get back what we think we lost. But when we struggle to do this, when we struggle to be merciful and forgive, our hearts are crushed and ground down to dust. We are unable to do this on our own, so we learn that this commandment, to love our enemies, to forgive those who do us wrong, is a supernatural commandment coming from the Godman. We need to ask God to help us. In our inability to forgive, our ego, our pride is shattered to pieces. And that’s exactly the perfect environment God requires for His grace to grow in us, a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.

The presence of God’s grace in our hearts will provide us with a certainty that will require no miracles and no proofs. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding. This is why the saints could be totally abandoned by society, by their family, even by mistaken or malicious leaders of the Church, and did not succumb to doubts. This is why they could handle scandals and disasters. This is why they could bear injustice and tragedy.

And so in this way by struggling to forgive, slowly we will come to understand the mercy that God has for the world. We will begin to understand His unconditional love. God will no longer be an idea in our heads. He will not be distant, even if we have no proof of His existence, even if we never encounter a miracle, because He will be living in our hearts and we will know in ourselves that God is real, that He is good, and that He loves mankind with an incomprehensible love. Christ is risen!

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