Homily for Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles in the Orthodox Church. Fr. Philip LeMasters

There are many problems in our society and around the world that can easily distract us from what is most important in the Christian life. Even though they come to us easily, anger, judgment, worry, and fear about matters beyond our control cannot make us holy and usually only distract us from finding healing where we need it in our souls, relationships, and daily challenges. Christ calls us to play our role in saving the world by becoming living icons of His salvation that attract others to the life of the Kingdom of Heaven in stark contrast to the corrupt ways of the world. In other to do that, we ourselves must become holy. Otherwise, we will have nothing to offer the world that it does not already have.
Last Sunday was the feast of Pentecost, when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The Spirit has been poured out richly upon all in the Body of Christ, which shows that God wants to dwell in the hearts and souls of human beings, that He wants to make us partakers of the divine nature by grace.
Today is both the Sunday of All Saints and the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now we remember all of those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, who have been transformed by our Lord and His love, as well as the great pillars of the Church who first answered our Lord’s call to seek the first the Kingdom of God. The root meaning of the word “saint” is holy, and we are reminded today that the great cloud of witnesses includes both those whose names and stories are celebrated openly in the Church, as well as those whose holiness is not famous. For the Lord’s blessing is for all in every generation who respond to Him with obedience, faith, humility, and love, whether they are widely known or not.
Surely, most of our Lord’s most saints haven’t been officially given a title by the Church or had their images put on icons. But they are known by God and glorified in the Kingdom because in ways, perhaps known only to God, they entered into His holiness, they embraced His love and became beacons of light in our darkened world.
But what does that have to do with you and me, who probably can’t imagine ourselves as saints? Well, the good news of the gospel is that we are all called to become holy, yes, actually to become saints. No matter who we are, what mistakes we have made in our lives, no matter what our circumstances are, we are all able to find the healing and fulfillment that the saints have known. We too are able to enter into the holiness of God, to receive and be changed by His love. He wants nothing more than to make our lives shine with the glory of His Kingdom, right now and throughout all eternity. Of course, it’s a journey, a process for all of us to become holy. It takes repentance, humility, and a refusal to give up. Remember that Jesus Christ said that He will confess us to His Father in heaven if we confess Him before other people. But if we don’t, He won’t claim us before the Father. If we want to unite our lives to Christ, we must confess Him every day in word and deed in the small details of our lives.
Do we treat other people with the love, care, and the dignity that we would show to the Lord Himself? Do we speak to others in ways that are blessings to them, that help them experience peace and joy? Don’t think only of your friends or those whom you admire. What about people who don’t like you, who have wronged you in some way, whom you find it easy to judge, or whom you just don’t like? The real test is how we treat them. We confess our faith when we live our faith. If we don’t act or talk like Christians, we deny Christ. We give the impression that we want no part of Him, and thus turn away from Him and judge ourselves. That’s not the way of the saints, however, and it must not be our way of living if we want to share in His life and play our role in the salvation of the world.
Christ tells us that we have to take up our cross and follow Him, as did the Twelve Apostles. In order to understand this hard saying, we have to remember that our Lord went to the cross for us; He bore the consequences of all human sinfulness and corruption to the point of death, burial, and Hades so that He could conquer them and bring us into eternal life through His resurrection. That is the ultimate act of love. If we want to share in the new life that He has brought to the world, we have to keep all our blessings and relationships in perspective and not make idols of them. Instead, we must offer them to the Father even as the Son offered Himself up on the cross.
We have to bear the cross of sacrificing the idolatry even of our spouses, children, parents, and other loved ones. For like us, they are simply human beings and not God. And if we make false gods of them, we will cause them and us many problems by acting as though they are the center of the universe. We will bend them and ourselves all out of shape, putting more weight on them and us than anyone can bear. Instead, we must take up the cross of loving others in Christ, for He is the source and standard of all love worthy of the name. Out of love, the Father gave the Son for the salvation of the world and the Son offered Himself in free obedience. That is sacrifice beyond what we can understand. And if we share in that love, we must sacrifice the ultimately self-centered illusion that we will find or give other people true fulfillment and happiness apart from Him. And if we put ourselves, others, and even worthy causes before faithfulness to the Lord, we will end up confessing some false God rather than Jesus Christ. That’s not the way of the saints, and it must not be our way if we want to open our lives to His glory.
If we really love others in God, we will offer our relationships with them to the Lord as best we can; and by His mercy, these relationships will become holy. That’s what’s best for others and for us; it works both ways. For example, parents shouldn’t live through their children or use them to meet their own goals, but instead guide them to become their true selves to the glory of God. Neither should we indulge our kids as though they are little gods, but we must do everything possible to help them grow into the full stature of Christ, to be those who love God with every ounce of their being and their neighbors as themselves. We offer our children to the Lord by the example we set for them, how we treat them, how we speak to them, all toward the end that we and they will put God first in our lives.
The same is true of marriage. If we have an unrealistic romantic or financial or social ideal about marriage–and think that a spouse will meet all our needs and bring us complete fulfillment in life, we will miss the true calling of husband and wife to make their life together an icon, a living image of the Kingdom of God. Mutual forgiveness, patience, self-sacrifice, self-control, and steadfast commitment are the signs of a holy marriage. Faithful spouses pray for and with one another. Faithful parents do the same with their children. When families pray and worship and serve God together in His church, they make of their life together an offering to the Lord. They confess Jesus Christ to one another and the world. They open their lives to the holiness of God and follow in the way of the saints.
Yes, this kind of family life is a cross to bear in many respects; it’s not easy and we very often fall short of it. We all struggle to fulfill our calling to confess Jesus as Lord with integrity each day in all that we say and do. But we must continue fighting the good fight, for these are the crosses that will make us holy, which little by little will purify our souls and open our lives to the healing grace of God.
Fortunately, we don’t become holy simply by our own power; if that were the case, we would have no hope for we know how weak we are. Instead, we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit with the strength given us by the boundless love of Christ, Who conquered sin and death through His cross and empty tomb. Together with all the Twelve Apostles and all the saints, we will know His holiness and joy if we take up our cross, offer our lives to Him, and confess Him in what we say and do each day.
True discipleship is rarely dramatic, flamboyant, or popular and we will sometimes wonder if we are making any progress at all, but it’s the way that ordinary people like us will grow in holiness. We keep falling down and we keep getting up. But whatever else we do, we must not give up. For through prayer, fasting, and repentance, and seeking first the Kingdom of God, we grow bit by bit into the holiness shared by all the saints. That is how we will be saved and play our role in the salvation of the world.


On the Sunday of Pentecost Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 3, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Pentecost is a theophany, a revelation of God I think best compared to other famous theophanies like Moses on Mt. Sinai or the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Witnesses of these events try hard to describe them, but words fail, so there is a special type of dramatic, stylized language used in Holy Scripture using symbols.
Wind and divine fire are common because both are symbols of wild, uncontrollable power. In the great biblical theophanies we see God as He is, unbounded, wild, uncontrollable, and free. The experience leaves witnesses staggering and confused like the apostles and disciples who were accused on this day of being drunk.
Theophanies are sensory-overload events for God is greater than the senses. In them God is revealed as He is, not as we want or believe him to be. At such times what we think, our theologies, myths, legends, holy traditions become irrelevant. All of it burns away like the empty chaff that it is. Everything we hold dear melts away as what really is reveals itself and that includes our view of ourselves.
The great holocaust survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl described it like this. “What is to give light must endure burning.” If we are to become as Jesus says we are, “the light of the world,” then all that is false and all that is true in us must submit to the flame.
Of course, the spiritual life cannot always be a grand theophany. We could not possibly bear it. Pentecost is like a surge of 10,000 volts of electricity. We are not built to contain that much power for long. We run pretty well on 110 volts most of the time.
Therefore, it comes to us in stages, as we are able to handle it. That is the meaning of the verse, “God will not give us more than we can bear.” But the corollary of that statement is that God will also not give us less than we can bear.
Receiving the fullness of the Spirit is beyond us; it would be like pouring the seven oceans into a teacup. The teacup could not handle it. Neither could we. When the teacup breaks, it must be replaced by something larger. More space must be made for more tea. So as we become more and more empty more space becomes available for God. But since God is infinite, we must always be expanding and becoming empty. The heart must break to grow. The space we create by letting go will always prove inadequate for deification because God is infinite. Thus, the progress of deification never ends.
Jesus once told his disciples a strange thing. “Before now you have asked nothing in my name.” I have always wondered what that meant and have never been satisfied with the usual answers. But the psychologist John Sanford offers a great explanation.
Before we can ask anything “in the name of Jesus” we must give up our own name; our ego must be dissolved. Without that dissolution we are only able to pray in our own names because we will always be asking for what we want, desire, and expect even, perhaps especially, when we cloak ourselves in conspicuous piety. To pray “in the name of Jesus” implies that we have given up our own name for his. “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.”
What comes after Jesus says these words is the Great Example of total dissolution: the Cross. Of the Cross we must all have our own personal experience. Dean Alan Jones suggests it comes in the form of three crises: the crisis of meaning where all we hold dear comes into question; the crisis of betrayal, of being untethered, forgotten, alone; and, finally, the crisis of utter emptiness, of dereliction, the Crucifixion. Through these stages the ego is dissolved and we begin to live as little “christs”.
As we grow we discover that our personality formations and ego structures are too small, inadequate to contain the growth in knowledge and enlightenment. The new wine bursts the old wine skins.
The coming of the Spirit points us to this essential work, to our hearts, where the truth about ourselves and God is revealed. It is here that the necessary work is done and why it was better that Jesus go away. If he had not ascended, then we would have been tempted to cling to him, as Mary Magdalene did in the Garden. It was not the Lord’s desire that we make an idol of him. That is to hold on to old inadequate ways of perceiving Him. Instead he ascended and sent the Holy Spirit so that we would not be tempted to cling to exterior forms that must pass away as they all do, but rather turn to the Christ who lives within the heart, where the Holy Trinity dwells. “Christ in you,” St. Paul exclaimed, “the hope of glory.”
In the coming of the Holy Spirit the prophecy of our Lord to the Samaritan Woman comes true, “There is a time coming when worshippers will no longer worship in Jerusalem or on this mountain, but rather in spirit and in truth.”
Here is a beautiful and cogent quote from the great psychologist Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit is a cleansing and purifying fire. To open our hearts to receive it is to accept the martyric death of the false self, a death to all that we have built and called “ourselves” or rather, a transformation so great that we must endure the periodic shedding of our egoic exoskeletons to make way for more and more of the Truth.
It is in the heart that Christ dwells and it is within that the Holy Spirit directs us.

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (Pravmir.com)

Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
In order for us to have the Holy Spirit fully and completely living in us, in our hearts and souls, we must change. We must not shrink away or hide when Christ puts Himself on our path, directly in front of us, which happens more often than we think or will admit. Instead, we must be like the Samaritan Woman, and eagerly ask for and receive the Holy Spirit, this Living Water.
Hieroschemamonk Ambrose (formerly Fr. Alexey) Young | 21 May 2011

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Not only did our Lord Jesus Christ teach large crowds—for example, at the Sermon on the Mount—but he also spent time with individuals, in one-on-one situations. The Gospel for this Sunday, the account of the Woman at the Well, the Samaritan Woman, is one example of this, and a very interesting one it is.
The Lord and His followers had come to the city of Sychar in Samaria, near Mount Gerizim, which is about forty miles north of Jerusalem. They stopped at Jacob’s Well, a site venerated by Jews and Christians to this day because the spring here was contained in a cistern created by the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob.
This well was in the news back in the early 80’s, when Jewish zealots broke into the Orthodox chapel over the site and savagely murdered the monk guardian there, who is now regarded as a genuine martyr for the faith—St. Philemon of Jacob’s Well. (When we were in Jerusalem we venerated his incorrupt body at the chapel of the seminary of the Patriarchate of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.)
It was evening and the Savior, in His human nature, was tired, hungry, and thirsty and sat down at the well. His followers went into the town to see what they could find for a communal meal with the Lord, and at this moment a woman arrived to draw water and the Lord asked her for a drink. There are two important points to make here: first, she was a Samaritan, and the Samaritans were a sect, regarded as heretics by the Jews. In fact there was a saying among the Jews: “May I never set eyes on a Samaritan!” Observant Jews would actually close their eyes when a Samaritan approached.
Secondly, a pious Jewish man would not enter into conversation with a woman in public, not even if she was related to Him. Further, as most of us have heard, an observant Jewish man, even in our time, begins the day with a prayer thanking God for not making him a woman.
So, here we see Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, immediately breaking two of the laws that were binding on the Jews. This woman—whose name, by the way, was Photini—was taken aback and challenged Christ in a tone of voice that said, “Who do you think you are, you, a Jew, speaking to me?” And He responded: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked of Him, and he would have given you living water.”
Now, “living water” is an interesting term. The Savior meant a“water” that gives life. There is a considerable amount of important information packed into this. First, the Lord speaks of a free gift, something you can’t earn. Then, He makes it clear that He is the only one who can give this gift. And the gift itself life—that is, eternal life and union with God for those who are otherwise dead in sin, as this woman was.
The effect of these words had an immediate effect and she quickly changed tone in which she was talking to Him. Suddenly He was a “somebody” to her. So she initiated a theological conversation with Him, asking if, since He claimed to give “living water,” He is greater than the Patriarch Jacob, at whose well they are conversing. The Lord saw that she did not yet understand and explained to her that anyone who drinks of the water He can give, will never by thirsty again. At this, the woman immediately asked for this “water.”
We all remember—and we heard again in the reading this morning—that Jesus now moved to gently expose her sins to her—and these sins were many and serious. Needless to say, this was even more startling to the woman. Their conversation continued, but we don’t have time to touch on all of the other important elements of this encounter today, except to recall that the Woman at the Well finally said that she knew the Messiah is coming, and when He comes,” she says, “He will teach us everything.”

Fresco by Theophanes the Cretan, Monastery of Stavronikita, Mt Athos, 16th century
We must pause here for a moment to note that the Samaritan woman clearly believes that a Messiah is coming but has not yet arrived; that this Messiah was not an abstract idea but a real person and a teacher, not a military conqueror.
One writer has observed that she seemed to have a clearer understanding of Christ than even some of His weak-kneed and weak-minded disciples did!
Not long ago a bright Protestant theologian made this observation: “If the Samaritans could discern the coming of the Messiah and subsequently identify Christ as the fulfillment [of the Old Testament prophecies], what does that say about the Jews [then and today]”?
And then the Lord Jesus Christ quietly said to the woman, who has just acknowledged that the Messiah will come, “I,” He proclaims, “I, the very one speaking to you, am He.”
Now this is only one of several times in the Gospels when Christ speaks in this very distinct and recognizable way—recognizable to the Jews, who knew their Scripture. When the Lord says to her, “I am He”, He uses the Greek from the Book of Exodus (3:14) where the Lord God reveals His personal name, “I AM.”
Jesus used this expression in order to show that He and the Father are One; He and the Father are God.
As I said, this Gospel account is so rich that it cannot be fully and exhaustively explored in just one sermon. As an Orthodox priest once said, “we could speak for days and not exhaust the story of the conversion of Saint Photini, Equal to the Apostles, the Samaritan Woman.”
The Holy Fathers of the Church tell us that, safely tucked away in this remarkable encounter, like a nugget, is a story about how we may obtain the Holy Spirit—for, the Fathers explain, this woman of Samaria did indeed receive the Holy Spirit.
In both Scripture and the Fathers, the Holy Spirit is referred to as both water and, sometimes, fire. As water—for example in Holy Baptism—the Holy Spirit washes the sinner clean. When the Spirit is described as fire, it reminds us that fire burns sin away and also warms a person. In the conversation at Jacob’s Well, the Lord chose to use the image of the Holy Spirit as Living Water.
Jesus Christ put Himself on the path this woman at the Well, just as He often confronts us, too. He did this because He wanted to forgive her sins and also because He wanted to give her Living Water, that is, the Holy Spirit–salvation.
And how does this apply to us?
In order for us to have the Holy Spirit fully and completely living in us, in our hearts and souls, we must change. We must not shrink away or hide when Christ puts Himself on our path, directly in front of us, which happens more often than we think or will admit. Instead, we must be like the Samaritan Woman, and eagerly ask for and receive the Holy Spirit, this Living Water.
To “change” means to become something other than what we are right now, at the present moment. It means admitting that we can’t go on like this. But this can only happen if we choose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this saving work, for, as we are now, we have changed very little or not at all from what we perhaps were, say, a year ago, and this lack of ongoing change could well keep us out of the Kingdom of Heaven unless we wake up and pay attention.
Remember, Christ will not always continue to confront us, placing Himself on our path, in front of us. There will come a time when, if we continue to disdain Him, He will stop trying to make “contact” by revealing Himself. And then there will be no change, and the Living Water of the Holy Spirit will not fill us up, and we will be lost. This is Orthodox Christianity, as anyone knows who has read St. Seraphim of Sarov’s famous conversation with Motovilov about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. (And even if we have read it, I suggest reading it again, as preparation for the coming Feast of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.)
For us Orthodox Christians, this is our way of life.
This is what it’s all about. But if this is our way of life, why is it that we do, and say, and think so many things that are clearly NOT part of this saving way of life? This is the question that I want to ask.
We all of us received Baptism and Chrismation, and in these Holy Mysteries, we received the potential for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the washing away of sins. For some, we were but wee babes when this mystical event occurred. Others of us were already full-grown, but we received the same potential as those who came on to the saving Ark of Orthodoxy as infants. At some point in our lives, however, whether we are cradle Orthodox or converts, we had an experience with meeting Christ. Perhaps it was very subtle and fleeting, perhaps it was much more than that. But it happened, and it was real. But when we encountered the Lord, did we change? Again, that is the question with which I want to leave us all this morning.
Fr. Seraphim of Platina is famous for telling all of his spiritual children, “It’s later than you think!” And he was right. But I say to all of you this morning here at this humble Skete, gathered for the Divine Liturgy, “It’s still not TOO late for us!” But only if we begin now, today, and do not postpone it one single day longer.
The Lord is here, in the Mystery of the Eucharist. He is here as surely as when He walked upon the earth 2 thousand years ago. And through the power and authority of the priesthood, He will shortly descend and enter into the Holy Gifts, the Bread and the Wine. This is done when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to complete this mystical action. Therefore, whether you thought about it or not, whether you like it or not, the Lord is right here on your path, right before each and every one of us, once again, through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, may we eagerly listen to Him, like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, and ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to change!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is Risen!

Sunday of the Paralytic, by Hieroschemamonk Ambrose (Pravmir.com)

And finally, there are those who are us, we are spiritually paralyzed – and that describes the majority of us, we who make little or no effort to appeal to the Lord for healing of our spiritual illnesses and ailments. We who make little or no attempt to cooperate with the powerful grace and energy that God sends to us every day and which we turn away from; we who confess our sins and then turn right around and do them all over again, demonstrating our complete lack of repentance and determination to change.
Hieroschemamonk Ambrose (formerly Fr. Alexey) Young | 14 May 2011
John 5:1-15
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is risen!
Today is called the Sunday of the Paralytic in the Orthodox liturgical calendar. It is so called because of the Gospel appointed to be read today, John 5:1, which recounts the healing by our Lord Jesus Christ of a paralytic at the Sheep Pool, called Bethesda. (You have probably heard of a very famous hospital in Maryland, near Washington D.C., called “Bethesda” – and, if you didn’t know before, now you know that it’s called that because of the Gospel association of Bethesda with healing.) In 1988, Gerondissa and my late wife and two of our children were in Jerusalem and stood right at the side of the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda. It is located in a Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, just behind the beautiful crusader church of St. Anna, which stands next to the site of the house in which the parents of the Theotokos lived, and where the Virgin Mary was also born.
There is a back story here. As you know, in the first century the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and so, until the 19th century, there was no visible, above-ground evidence for this pool. As a result, skeptical biblical scholars decided that both the place and the and the story in the Gospel were fiction; this Gospel, they maintained (without any actual evidence, I may say) was actually written long after St. John’s death and by someone who wasn’t familiar with the layout and geography of Jerusalem in the time of Christ.
But then, however, archaeologists discovered the ruins under much rubble of a holding tank that exactly corresponds to the Pool of Bethesda in St. John’s account! Further digging confirmed this. Of course this didn’t stop the skeptics, who have continued to maintain their impious and even unscientific views of Scripture in general. But the ruins of the pool are there: and it has been verified by scientists to be the real McCoy; you can go there and pray and read the account of the healing of the paralytic on the spot where it happened!
It’s also called the Sheep Pool, by the way, because this was the place where sheep that were to be sacrificed in the nearby Temple were washed and inspected to be sure that they were without blemish.
There were also five porches or porticos around the pool, and in the shelter of these marble porches great numbers of the sick and diseased gathered, waiting for what was called “the troubling of the water.” What was this about, this “troubling of the water”? According to Jewish belief, once a year an angel would descend and stir up the waters, and the first person to get into the water when the angel did this, would be healed.
According to the Orthodox patristic tradition, there is more to this story. Our Holy Fathers teach us that when Adam was expelled from Eden he took with him two seeds from the Tree of Life. One of these seeds he planted in what was much later to become a suburb of Jerusalem. This seed grew into the tree that became the wood of the Cross, and this spot is marked today by an Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Holy Cross.

The other seed, however, was dropped accidentally by Adam, and the waters of a spring immediately came to the surface and hid it; in time this became what we call the Pool of Bethesda, or the Sheep Pool. And thus, each year, on the anniversary of Adam’s having dropped this seed there, an angel from heaven descended and stirred the water into a whirlpool, seeking the seed. But of course the action of a holy angel is filled with grace – grace so strong that it could heal someone of even a dire or terminal illness.
This is the “back story” to this Gospel account. (Of course modern bible scholars discount all of this because they discount anything that is miraculous.) And this “back story” has taken up most of my sermon this morning. But there is one other thing I need to point out before concluding, and that is this:
Let me explain. People who are not open to knowledge and learning and new ideas are intellectually paralyzed and, I’m afraid, this describes the majority of people in our society and culture today, including many of those who attend our very left-leaning and agnostic colleges and universities and are considered “educated”. These are people who have turned their backs on Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and they have closed their minds to the miraculous and the Church which was established upon the faith of St. Peter and the other Apostles. And then there are those who are mental paralyzed – those suffering from mental illnesses and from advanced forms of dementia.
And finally, there are those who are us, we are spiritually paralyzed – and that describes the majority of us, we who make little or no effort to appeal to the Lord for healing of our spiritual illnesses and ailments. We who make little or no attempt to cooperate with the powerful grace and energy that God sends to us every day and which we turn away from; we who confess our sins and then turn right around and do them all over again, demonstrating our complete lack of repentance and determination to change.
Remember, in this particular healing, Christ says that the man’s paralysis is the result of his sins and that if he continues to sin, an even worse malady will come upon him. Now, not all physical illness is the result of sin, but this Gospel lets us know that some illness is!
However, brothers and sisters, we can know for sure that all spiritual illness is the result of sin. Sins that we repeatedly commit; sins with which we do even struggle; sins that we do not seek the Lord’s strength to deal with; sins that we justify to ourselves and others – all of these plant a seed of spiritual disease that grows and increases all through our lives, becoming stronger and stronger, greater and greater in their size and ability to corrupt us…unless, that is, we finally humble down and seek the Lord’s healing.
Of course, we can receive healing and grace and strength through the traditional channels of grace, which are the sacraments or Holy Mysteries of the Church – in particular worthily-received Holy Communion and sincere and frequent Confession. But we must never overlook the fact that our Lord can and often acts directly on the human soul. This direct contact between the Lord Jesus Christ and a troubled soul is often overlooked, underestimated, or ignored. But this contact, this healing, comes specifically through an active and mature prayer life and through a broken heart, a heart that realizes, finally, that it can do nothing for itself without Christ, as the Psalm says, “a broken and a contrite heart, God will not despise.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ is risen!

St. Thomas Sunday: Keeping the Joy of Pascha Alive, by Father Christopher Foley (OCA website)

I am sure many of us experience what I have come to call the “post-Paschal funk.” We spend long hours in church during the Great Fast and Holy Week. We experience the intensity of the Lord’s final days in Jerusalem. We stand at the foot of the Cross and see Him laid in the tomb. We experience the palpable joy of our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead. We feast together in our own resurrection with Christ. And then, the let down. We have a hard time keeping the Paschal joy intact. Liturgically, Bright Week in parish life is rarely observed. A repeat of the Paschal Liturgy is called for every day, as is the celebration of Paschal Matins and Vespers. It is hard to sustain another week of a full liturgical cycle in a parish context, but the result is that we can very easily sink into the “post-Paschal funk.”
How are we to keep the joy of Pascha alive within our hearts after Pascha and, for that matter, the whole year? We go through times of doubt, despair and difficulties, and somehow the Bright Light of Pascha begins to fade. We return, not to the empty tomb of Christ, but to Holy Saturday, that unique moment between death and resurrection.
Thankfully, the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has given us many days to continue pondering and celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. This is why we are given Saint Thomas Sunday as the first Sunday after Pascha. The Church knows how quickly we forget, how quickly we fall into the darkness of doubt, and how that can squeeze out all of the joy of the Resurrection.
Saint Thomas is sometimes called the doubter, but if we are attentive to the Holy Gospels, we see that he was also the one who, as Metropolitan Anthony Bloom reminds us, “When the Apostles and the Lord heard of the illness of Lazarus, Christ said to them: Let us return to Jerusalem. To which the others said: But the Jews wanted to kill you there. Why should we return? Only Thomas the Apostle answered: Let us go with Him and die with Him. He was prepared not only to be His disciple in words, not only to follow Him as one follows a teacher, but to die with Him as one dies with a friend and, if necessary, for a friend. So, let us remember his greatness, his faithfulness, his wholeness.”
Saint Thomas was faithful, and his doubt becomes the very means by which we all have come to behold the Resurrection of Christ. In fact the hymns even praise his doubt.

The disciples were assembled on the eighth day, and the Savior appeared to them.
He gave them peace and said to Thomas:
“Come, Apostle! Feel my hands, which were pierced by the nails!”
Most wonderful doubt of Thomas!
It brought the hearts of the faithful to knowledge.
And with fear he cried: “My Lord and my God, glory to You!”
O most glorious wonder! Doubt bore certain faith!

The Lord confirmed Thomas in faith through his doubt. We read this in the Gospel given for this Sunday: “And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
The other theme given to us for this particular Sunday is that of the closed doors. Christ appears to His disciples even though the doors were shut. The closed doors, through which Christ appears, are linked to the sealed tomb from which Christ has shown forth.

From the sealed tomb, Thou didst shine forth, O Life!
Through closed doors Thou didst come to Thy disciples, O Christ God.
Renew in us, through them, an upright spirit,
By the greatness of Thy mercy, O Resurrection of all!

It is always striking to close the doors before Vespers on Saint Thomas Sunday. The service books instruct us to close all of the doors of the iconostasis, which had been open throughout Bright Week, before the Ninth Hour preceding the Vespers of Thomas Sunday. Then we hear all of the references to the closed doors through which Christ appears. And then it dawns on us—Christ can manifest Himself to us even when our doors are shut. Is this not the key to the joy of Pascha remaining with us? We recall lines from the Lamentations from the Matins of Holy Saturday as we stand at the sealed tomb.

Oh Life, how canst Thou die, how canst Thou dwell in a narrow tomb?
When Thou wast placed in a tomb, O Christ, the foundations of hell shook and the graves of the dead were opened.
Thou didst descend to earth to save Adam, not finding him on earth.
O Master, Thou didst descend as far as Hades in search of him.
O the joy, O the boundless delight, with which Thou didst fill those who lay bound in hell,
When Thou madest light blaze throughout its murky depths.
Thy tomb, O Christ, is the fountain of our resurrection!

Christ indeed comes, searching for us even in our doubt, even in our “post-Paschal funk.” He comes to us even though the doors of hearts are shut. Even when we are in a terrible place and have closed our doors – He still comes. We put our hands in the wounds in His hands and we touch His side. He comes to dispel all sorrow and sadness. Again, from the services of Thomas Sunday, we sing

O Lord, shining with the splendor of Thy divinity,
Thou camest through closed doors to Thy disciples, showing Thy pierced side,
the wounds from the nails, dispelling all sadness and sorrow!
“O friends, see that I am not a spirit, but truly man!”
Thou didst command the disbelieving disciple to look, saying:
“Prove to yourself, then come and believe!”
He touched Thy side with his own hand and cried in faith and fear:
“My Lord and my God, glory to Thee!”

Christ’s coming to the disciples through closed doors is the effect of Christ’s Resurrection. What He accomplished through the power of His Resurrection is still being accomplished today. Pascha is not merely a commemoration of an event in the past, but one in which we continue to participate in daily. Christ comes to us every day. He comes to us today through closed doors.
Christ’s death and Resurrection is our death and resurrection. We are dead, and Christ comes to bring us back to life, entering again and again into our baptism into Christ. As Olivier Clément reminds us, “Life in the spirit means gradually becoming aware of ‘baptismal grace,’ and this awareness transforms the whole person. Each present moment has to become baptismal: a moment of anguish and death if I seek to cling to it and so experience its non-existence, but a moment of resurrection if I accept it humbly as ‘present’ in both senses of the word.… We come finally to the moment of agony when we are overwhelmed by the waters of death. Through our baptism, according to the measure of our faith, they will be transformed into the womb of eternity.”
Each day may we continue to rejoice in our Lord’s Resurrection. May we continue to offer our praise and glory—and even offer our glorious doubt—like Thomas. Christ continues to come to us even though the doors are shut, leading us to deeper faith in Him. He not only offers His hands and His side, but He allows us to be partakers of Himself in His Holy Mysteries. O most glorious wonder! As we sing from the depths of our hearts as we did on that bright night,

This is the day of Resurrection, let us rejoice, O people.
The Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord.
For from death to life, and from earth to heaven,
Has Christ our God led us, as we sing the hymn of victory!
Father Christopher Foley is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Cross Mission, High Point, NC.