Homily for Thomas Sunday 2010

John 20:19-31

In the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.  Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

     “In peace let us pray to the Lord…”  “For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord…” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God…”  In the Litany of supplication we hear:  “Let us complete our prayer unto the Lord”   and then we ask for peace, peaceful times, an angel of peace, completing our life in peace, a peaceful death, and then Peace unto all….(we say that exchange about 4 or 5 times depending on whether we have a deacon or not)…finally we pray to depart in peace.   We are a Church that is concerned a lot with peace…if repetition means anything!  Today in the Gospel reading we heard our Lord tell those in the locked room: Peace be with you or peace to you….three times.  While it should be noted that the word Peace, Shalom, is the traditional greeting and parting words in Hebrew for Jews (and used to be for Christians too in an older day),  the Lord wasn’t just saying “hi” to the disciples when He appeared in the locked room.

          Peace is an important part of our faith as Orthodox Christians.  This gift of the Holy Spirit, for peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, is crucial to our Spiritual life.  However there is another passage of Scripture, the Savior’s own words, that seems to contradict this notion of peace:

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

At first glance this seems to be a contradiction.  But is it?  The Lord also predicted that there would be wars, persecution, and great sorrows and pains in the world until He returned at the end of days.  This does not sound like peace.  Perhaps a good way to approach this notion of peace is to compare the way that the Christian is to look at happiness versus joy.  As I have often stated, in the original languages of the Bible the word “Happy” does not appear.  We are not called to happiness.  What we are called to, is joy.  Happiness, as its name implies (in both Greek and English), refers to the circumstances and “fate” of a person.  Happiness and happens in English have the same root.  It is a person’s “destiny.”  We do not believe in fate, though….we believe in faith.  We are called to live lives of joy.  Joy is that which exists within us regardless of our outer circumstances.  In the same way that there is a distinction here, there is a distinction between the uses of the word peace. 

          In his instructions to the Apostles before the crucifixion Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

          Here we are given the key to understanding this peace that we are speaking of in the liturgy and when the Lord greets His servants with the words, “Peace unto you.”  This is a peace that is not of this world, but is above it. 

          One will note, though, that although the Lord tells the disciples not to be afraid, what do we hear when we read today’s Gospel?  Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  The disciples were afraid.  They did not have yet that peace that the Lord had spoken of….until he said the first “Peace be with you.”  It was then that they remembered that before His crucifixion Jesus had told them “My peace I leave with you….” as I quoted earlier.  Just after that very passage I quoted Jesus said that He was going to go away and come back to them and that if they loved Him, the disciples would rejoice because He was going to the Father and would return….just as He did when He was crucified and returned again from the dead.  Christ had made it a point to tell them these things earlier so that they would remember it when He did return and they would rejoice.  And when He said, “Peace be with you” and He showed them His hands and side, they did rejoice, knowing that it was indeed the Lord who had arisen. 

          What does The Risen Lord then say?  He says again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”   And with these words He blew upon the disciples and bade them to receive the Holy Spirit.  Later when Thomas was in the room, the Lord too greeted all of them with His peace.  We learn from this passage that the Lord’s peace is connected with the Holy Spirit.  It is, as St. Paul teaches us, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This is the peace of soul that enabled the lowly, frightened disciples, who scattered and fled when the Lord was arrested and executed, who hid in a locked room for fear of the authorities, to later fearlessly spread the Lord’s Gospel throughout the world.

                   The Lord gives peace to us because, as He said, He did not come to bring worldly peace with others, but a sword.  He predicted the many wars and terrors that beset all people of all times.  The Lord gives us His peace that surpasses worldly peace because we will live lives in conflict with the worldly, we will face the authorities of our day that are in conflict with our values.  If we follow the Gospel, the world will not love us as it did not love the Apostles…as it did not (and does not still) love Jesus.  This battle, this friction with the world can lead to a great deal of difficulty and temptations.  Facing such conflict, such difficulty and temptations without help, could leave one subject to despair and, on occasion, falling into sin.  The sinful world, if it doesn’t outright persecute a person, will try then to seduce him into emulating it. 

          The evil one loves to entice a person to sin and then when he has….entice him with despair and sorrow over his fall.  The devil wants us to think that when we fall, we cannot get back up.  He wants us enmeshed in his nets.  The Apostles weren’t the only fishermen, we should note.  The devil goes fishing too.

          The great modern Greek Elder Porphyrios of Athens teaches that the person that has the peace of God does not give in to despair when he faces conflict, though, or even when he sins.   He wrote, “I too, think that I am sinful and that I am not living as I should.”  He had just described how those who fight with the world, but fall, and then beat themselves up in despair have fallen prey to the deceiver of souls.  “Nevertheless,” he continued, “I make whatever distresses me into prayer.  I do not shut it up inside myself.  I go to my spiritual father and I confess it and it is finished and done with.”

          So we see from Elder Porphyrios that with the peace and love of God we gain the courage to move forward.  We do not languor in fear or self-loathing when we sin, but we boldly go forward and claim the peace and the forgiveness that the Lord had given us on the Cross.

          How do we acquire this peace?  How do we become peacemakers and thus become the children of God?  We follow the teachings of the Church.  We put their teachings into practice and not just leaving them as theories to ponder.  We pray, read scriptures; read the lives of saints and learn how to emulate them, but most of all we do these things with humility because we know that truly without God we can do nothing. 

          Our Lord Jesus Christ told us not to be anxious about anything, not to worry about anything.  Worrying won’t add a cubit to our stature.  The Lord knows what we need (not what we think we need… but what we really need) and will provide for us.  We are to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven which is the life in Christ, which is the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit and to live in communion with God the Holy Trinity and with our neighbor.

          We live in a world that is awash with despair and depression, anxiety and angst.   Atheism is becoming a popular philosophy.  This denial of God will not cure the soul of man, though.  Denying that a man even has a soul will not cure the soul sickness of our society.  Deifying oneself by proclaiming that God does not exist will not make us omnipotent in the face of the world’s sorrows.  It just makes us feel alone and anxious and fearful.  We cannot bear the weight of the world alone.  We are not meant to.  We are not alone, though.  We are not God, thank God.   But we are His Children and His delight….and we are to teach others of this fundamental fact which can obliterate the turmoil in one’s soul and restore it to the peace that God wants for us all.

          St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, (and everybody loves to quote him), “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.”  If we wish to save others, then, we are to first be saved ourselves.  We are to first find the peace that the Lord endows upon His Children.  How do we do this?  How do we reject the spirit of despair that seems to hang in the very air around us?

          “This state is cured by grace.” said Elder Porphyrios, “The soul must turn to God’s love.  The cure will come when we start to love God passionately.  Many of our saints transformed depression into joy with their love for Christ.  That is, they took this power of the soul which the devil wished to crush and gave it to God and they transformed it into joy and exultation.  Prayer and worship gradually transform depression and turn it into joy, because the grace of God takes effect.”

          God’s peace is His grace and God’s grace is His love….and there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  As St. Paul wrote in Romans,

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

      “ For Your sake we are killed all day long;
       We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And there are seven words that express this peace, and are proof of this love that God has for us, and we, like St. Seraphim of Sarov can say them every day of the year if we so wish:

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!





© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos