Friday, April 28, 2006

St. Thomas Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

A couple of months ago, I was involved in a discussion with a few guys on a Christian internet forum. One of the participants, apparently an agnostic, put forth the idea that if God wants men to believe in Him, He should not make it so difficult for them to do so. In his mind, God should perhaps leave a flaming cross in the sky, or speak from heaven each day, or make some other obvious sign of His presence so that men could more easily believe in Him. I suppose there are many people who are sympathetic to this man’s point of view. If it is so important that men believe in God, why does He keep Himself “hidden” from them? Why doesn’t He give us proof of His existence?

To be fair, this is a completely rational question. But that is also the problem with it. The question presupposes that God wants to reach us on a strictly rational level; to provide us with intellectual proof of His existence, as if that were all we needed to believe in Him and be converted.

But that isn’t the case, is it? If we look in the Old Testament scriptures, we see that God provided exactly such rational proof to the children of Israel as they were set free from bondage to Egypt. Not only did He send the many plagues against the Egyptians, not only did He perform many miracles through Moses His prophet, not only did He drown Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, but He also provided the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day to be a sign of His presence with them, and to guide them in the wilderness. Yet, all these rational proofs of God’s presence did not convince them, and they still fell into grumbling and doubting and thanklessness, and into the worship of idols. They saw the proofs of God’s existence and presence clearly, yet most of them remained unconverted in heart.

These things were allowed to happen to them for our instruction. They demonstrate to us that the spiritual sickness of mankind has caused there to be an unnatural disconnection between the mind of man and his innermost being, his spiritual faculty, sometimes simply called his “heart”. What the eyes see and the mind observes does not often make it all the way to the heart to convert it. Thus no matter what outward and obvious sign God may give to men, such a witness still does not lead us automatically to have faith in Him. The mind may witness some sign or wonder, but the spiritual faculty in man is too darkened to comprehend its meaning and to be awakened from its slumber to a living faith in God.

Thus, to heal us, God must awaken that inner spiritual faculty. Whether as Christians or agnostics, if we live our lives strictly on the rational level, seeking some sort of “proof” without any stirring of a noetic awakening, we are living as “half-human” people and will ultimately fail to gain communion with the God who dwells primarily in the heart of man, rather than the mind of man.

Jesus once said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you” yet many people fail to grasp this reality, because we tend to live our entire lives on the rational or emotional or sensual level, and never find our way into the deeper realm of our own hearts to discover God. This is why God in a certain sense “hides” Himself from us on these outer levels, only to reveal Himself within the heart of man.

But of course, God does not hide Himself entirely in the outer levels. Romans 1 tells us that “…the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse…”. God’s presence and power and mercy can certainly be seen in the world around us, if we have the spiritual eyes to see them. Put two men under the desert sky at midnight and you can get two different reactions. One sees only distant balls of burning gas. The other is so moved by the witness in the sky that he exclaims with the Psalmist, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou are mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” What a man sees is ultimately determined by his level of spiritual awareness, and his relative ability to perceive the Creator behind the creation.

All of this I offer as an explanation for our Lord’s mysterious statement to Thomas in our Gospel Lesson this morning. Jesus said to him “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”. Jesus is of course speaking of us.

We are not direct eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ as the apostles were. This might seem to put us at a distinct disadvantage, especially in a fallen world that claims “seeing is believing” and thus dismisses the value of spiritual perception. Yet our Lord declares that we who have believed without seeing are more blessed even than those who did see. Why? Because for us to accept the testimony of these eyewitnesses and believe it, when even Thomas himself did not, means that there has to have taken place in us some small awakening of our noetic faculty by the grace of God. By believing in the resurrection of Christ, even in our tiny, imperfect way, we have taken a baby-step forward to becoming more fully human, and toward perceiving reality not just with the eyes of flesh, but with the eyes of the soul. To the saying that “seeing is believing” we respond rather that “believing is seeing”.

And so we come to the realization that God’s allegedly “poor method” of making Himself known to mankind, through refined spiritual means rather than by crude external signs and wonders, is in reality the highest and most perfect form of self-revelation as far as our spiritual health is concerned. For by utilizing this method, God forces man to discover and begin to use his noetic faculty which, if he continues to purify it through determined repentance, can open up an entirely new dimension of perception for him. Man can see angels, the saints, the kingdom of heaven, and even God Himself through a purified and illumined heart. This condition of spiritual vision, called by the Church “theoria”, is the highest form of perception, even higher than the mind of man alone.

By the gift of the Holy Spirit, that faculty has been awakened in us. You might say it is waiting for us to discover it if we haven’t already, and begin the process of cleaning it up so that, like through a window, the light of God may begin to shine through it into our lives. As our sins are responsible for dirtying it in the first place, turning from them to the therapeutic practices of Holy Orthodoxy are the means of cleaning it once again. This is why we place such an emphasis on repentance and ascetical struggle. These things aren’t given to us as a kind of ecclesiastical “busy-work” to keep us occupied; they are the very means of our purification which will lead in turn to the illumination of the inner man and the glorification of the entire man in Christ Jesus. The lives of holy people throughout the history of the Church and right to this very day demonstrate the truth of this. Their experiences of the divine, as well as our own limited experiences, cumulatively encourage us to “be not unbelieving, but believing” and confess Jesus as our Lord and our God.

“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”. Blessed are you when you receive this apostolic witness and nurture it into an inner purity leading to the glory of God.
Christ is risen!

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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