From the desk of Fr. Andrew

May 2019

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Χριστός Ανέστη!

Christ is Risen!

The Sunday following Pascha (May 5, 2019) is called the Sunday of Saint Thomas. We will hear from that Sunday's Gospel lesson (John 20:19-31) that Thomas required empirical, physical proof of Christ's resurrection. He needed to see the print of the nail and to feel His side and to hear His voice to believe that which Christ had foretold His intimate twelve. In other words, Thomas needed to experience things for himself, first hand, in order to believe. Conversely, like Thomas, sometimes we too need to experience something to believe it. Experiential knowledge is very powerful in our ability to learn and we, like Thomas rely on it in our daily walk. This is one reason why the Orthodox Church appeals to the senses (experiential) of the believer: it helps the faithful experience and remember an event in the life of the Church. Allow me to share with you four experiences from Sunday's Gospel lesson, which can still be seen, felt and experienced in the Orthodox Church nearly two thousand years after the birth of our Lord and Savior.

The first experience comes from the beginning verses of Sunday's Gospel lesson. From John 20:19 we are told the disciples were gathered together in an upper room. Those of like faith were all together. Doesn't that experience still take place today? Aren't we the contemporary Disciples of Christ? Aren't we the Ekklesia/Church/Body of Christ? After all these years we still gather together with those who are like us and become the Ekklesia, which is the Body of Christ on earth (I Cor. 12:27; Eph. 5:30). Like the disciples of old who gathered in the upper room, we too come to this Temple on Park Blvd. to help form the everlasting Body of Christ and are given the blessed opportunity to partake of God's mercy and grace.

The second experience comes from within the group itself, from within the Ekklesia. In that intimate group of believers there was at least one skeptic, one disbeliever. Thomas, known also as the twin, did not believe his brothers when they told him about Christ's revelation. As was mentioned earlier, Thomas needed to experience the event himself in order to believe. Sure enough God allowed for that to take place. The Gospel account tells us eight days later the disciples were gathered once again in the upper room but this time when Jesus appeared to them, Thomas is with them and proclaims Him to be my Lord and my God.

Isn't that exactly what happens within the Church today? Don't we still proclaim Jesus as our Lord and our God? Several times throughout the Divine Liturgy we proclaim Christ as our Lord and our God? However, we may not all come to proclaim Christ as Lord and God at the same time and with the same fervor because we are all at different spiritual and intellectual levels, as were the eleven. That is why St. Paul reminds us that we must carry each other's burdens; and why Christ reminds us not to be quick to judge one another.

While the disciples were gathered in teh upper room, Christ came and stood among them and said to them peace be with you. This third experience can still be experienced even today. Within the Divine Liturgy, the Bishop, and by extension the priest (seen as an icon of Christ) offers that same blessing to the faithful.

Many times during the Divine Liturgy the Priest says peace be with you and blesses the faithful. This peace is a gift from God and is freedom from all kinds of disturbances and distractions. Christ offers us peace from those things exterior, but more importantly, His peace reaches into the very core of our being for those who are prepared and ready to receive it.

The fourth experience that occured nearly two thousand years ago, which can still be felt today, is the manifestation of Christ. Throughout Sunday's Gospel, Christ is present. He is real. Christ's disciples actually saw Him. He was really in their midst. He manifested Himself, not only in the upper room, but also at many other times on many other occasions. Through the eyes of the believer, Christ was present and He was real.

Isn't that what Christ still offers today? Didn't He say wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He would be in their midst? Isn't that exactly what happens when we all come together to celebrate the Divine Liturgy? Every time we gather together to celebrate Divine Liturgy, Christ manifests Himself upon the Holy Altar. The simple offerings of bread and wine become the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as He promised. Through the spiritual eyes of the believer this change truly takes place and is quite an experience. Just as Christ truly appeared to those in the upper room, Christ still truly appears to us who proclaim Him to be my Lord and my God.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Thomas required direct proof that Christ indeed really did resurrect from the dead, and some of us are no different than the Apostle Thomas. We also need or want proof and that is why the Church remembers and uses teh words and actions of Christ within the Divine Liturgy and other Sacraments of the Church. As human beings one way we gain knowledge is through our experiences. This is why the Orthodox Church is an experiential church. This is why the Church appeals to our senses. Thomas wanted to touch and to see the print of the nail in Christ's hand before he believed. Many of us are no different. We need to have our own direct experience. We smell the incense. We hear the beautiful hymns of the Church. We venerate our icons and we partake of (taste) Christ's Body and Blood, so that through these experiences, we like Thomas, may one day and forever, come to truly proclaim and accept Christ as our Lord and our God.

God's continued blessing, +Fr. Andrew