26 April 2009

'Unbelief Has Engendered Firm Faith'—Thomas Sunday


Christ is risen! According to the Synaxarion, ‘On this Sunday, the second Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Antipascha, that is to say the rededication of the Resurrection of Christ, and also commemorate the event of the Holy Apostle Thomas’s touching the wounds of Christ’ (The Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, trans. Fr David [Kidd] and Mother Gabriella [Ursache] [Rives Junction, MI: HDM, 1999], p. 175). As we sing in the Aposticha at Vespers for Thomas Sunday, Idiomel Stichera, Tone 4 (taken from the translation by Fr Ephrem [Lash] here):

O amazing wonder! Unbelief has engendered firm faith for Thomas, who said ‘Unless I see, I will not believe’, having handled the side, acknowledged as God incarnate the same Son of God: he recognised that he had suffered in the flesh; he proclaimed the risen God and he cried in shining tones ‘My Lord and my God, glory to you’.

Felix Culpa, as is his wont, has assembled a great collection of resources on Thomas Sunday here. He has also given us three further texts for this commemoration: his own translation of a brief homily by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galicia, the founding primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, here, his translation of a homily by Bishop Mefody of Campanie (Russian Exarchate of the EP) here, and a thorough revision of a portion of the commentary on today’s Gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy (John 20:19-31) by Archbishop Averky of Jordanville, another illustrious ROCOR bishop of blessed memory, here. He also gives us (in this post) the following interesting passage from St Gregory the Dialogist:

When the doubting disciple touched the wounds in his Master's body, He cured the wounds of our unbelief. Thomas' unbelief was of more advantage to our faith than the faith of the believing disciples, because when he was led back to faith by touching Jesus, our minds were relieved of all doubt and made firm in faith.

I hope no one takes this as some kind of boast (particularly in light of St Gregory's words above), but I’ve never been much inclined toward doubt, whatever other spiritual struggles I’ve gone through. My feeling of personal connection with Thomas Sunday was changed a few years ago, however, through an experience with a friend of mine. When I worked at Barnes & Noble back in my college days, a young man who went to elementary school with my wife was one of my first friends there. Although I learned that he was the son of a Protestant minister, when the subject of faith came up at some point in our friendship, I surmised that my friend was more or less what one might call an agnostic, though he asked sincere questions and didn’t try to argue with people.

When my wife and I left for Greece the first time (for a stay of a few months), our friend asked us if we would find an icon of St Thomas touching Christ’s wounds and send it back to the States for him. This request we duly carried out, but after we returned to the States for a year, and then moved back to Greece for nearly two more years, we lost touch with our friend. My parents told me that he’d picked the icon up from their house (this would be in February or March of 2001) and of course we continued to keep him in our prayers, but that was the last we heard of him for quite some time.

Well then in, I believe, December of 2005, over a year after we finally returned to the States, he called us. He said he had gone to the local Antiochian parish, thinking that was where we attended church (for the record, we’ve never been members there!), and though he didn’t find us he did meet someone who knew us and was able to give him our phone number. It turned out that our friend, who was a brilliant musician and had an exhaustive knowledge of Classical music, who had long been a fan of Russian liturgical settings by Rakhmaninov and others, had become a devotee of the Estonian Orthodox composer, Arvo Pärt. At some point, while listening to Arvo Pärt (I’m not sure that he ever told me which piece), he had an overwhelming sense of the reality and presence of God, and he knew that he had to become Orthodox.

Needless to say, we rekindled our friendship amid much joy. He started attending our parish with us, and we had him over to our house frequently for drinks and conversation. I helped him move into a rental house that his parents owned, and had the chance to meet his mom, brother, and sister-in-law. He spoke with our parish priest and scheduled a date to be made a catechumen, and even before that service he already asked me if I would be his sponsor in baptism.

The last time I saw him was at a hierarchical liturgy a week before the Making of a Catechumen. He had to be at work quite early that Sunday, and so was supposed to leave before the end of the lengthy service. But although I thought the time he needed to be on his way had come and gone, he just stood there, watching the proceedings and not even checking his watch. Finally, I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, ‘What time are you supposed to be at work?’ He then saw that he was due to be there in five minutes or so and thanked me for the reminder, apologising that he had simply lost track of the time. I stepped outside with him to say goodbye and watched him pull out of the parking lot.

Friday morning of that week, my wife called me at work to say that our friend’s sister had just told her he was killed in a car accident. To make a long story short, his family, whom we didn’t know very well, was very kind to us, and grateful for the rôle our friend had told them we played in his life. Among other kindnesses, they invited us to come over to his house and see if there was anything we’d like to take. We chose a small table, a few books and cd’s, and a knick-knack. And we saw the icon of St Thomas touching the wounds of Christ hanging on his wall. After we told them the story of that icon, which they had never heard before, they allowed us to take it, and it now hangs in a proud place in our icon corner. I always think that St Thomas must have done some heavy interceding for our friend during those years of silence.

2 comments:

Fr. Milovan Katanic said...

XB!

This a wonderful story Aaron. Tragic, but inspiring.

May God grant him memory eternal!


Fr. Milovan

The Ochlophobist said...

Beautiful. Memory Eternal!