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The Mystery of the Touch of Saint Thomas and the Empirical Experience of the Church
Beloved brethren, Christ is Risen!
The feast of the Resurrection of Christ, Pascha, is the central feast of the entire ecclesiastical year and the last of the Triodion and Great Lent, but also the beginning of another period that concludes with the great feast of Pentecost. This feast we celebrate today as well as throughout the entire period of the Pentecostarion, and every Sunday which is dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ.
Many events occurred on the first day of the Resurrection of Christ, as well as the days that followed. Christ appeared to His Disciples, who had prepared properly to see Him Risen and this appearance contributed to their salvation.
On the first day, late in the evening, the Risen Christ appeared to His Disciples, although Thomas was absent, and the next Sunday He appeared again to His Disciples in the Upper Room, with Thomas present. The Apostle Thomas wanted to put his finger on the mark of the nails and his hand on His side to be assured of His Resurrection. It is known that the nails of the crucifixion created wounds on the body of Christ and the lance opened His side from which flowed blood and water. For Thomas to see the wounds caused by the Cross and to touch them he considered it as an assurance of His Resurrection.
Christ, by His appearance after eight days, invited the Apostle Thomas to touch the wounds of His body and His side. This is the extreme humility – emptying of Christ, to accept to be touched, as well as His love towards man by satisfying all of his sacred desires. This is why in a hymn of the Church it is written: “Rejoice, investigator!”. In other words, Christ rejoices when we investigate. As soon as the Apostle Thomas saw Christ and heard His invitation to touch, he proclaimed: “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:19-29). This is a confession of the divinity of Christ with the vision of the Risen Body of Christ.
The Gospel of John does not confirm whether the Apostle Thomas touched the Risen Body of Christ, but it only records his confession.
However, in the hymns of the Church it is written that the Apostle Thomas confessed Christ, since previously he had touched the wounds of Christ created by the Cross. “Therefore, having touched and beheld, he confessed that Thou art an unabstract God, and an unsimple Man.” In another hymn it is written that the Apostle Thomas by “touching the side theologized the One incarnate”. He recognized that the Son of God suffered in the flesh and he preached the Risen God. Thus, in Orthodox theology the vision and touching of God are connected.
In another hymn it is written that John, who leaned on the breast of Christ, drew up from there the depth of theology, while Thomas was made worthy of the mystery of the divine economy by touching, that is, he came to know the mystery of the incarnation of Christ and he initiated us into it. Again, in another hymn it is written that Thomas, by putting his hand in the fiery side of Jesus Christ, was not burned by the touch, but the unbelief of his soul changed to verification.
The desire of the Apostle Thomas to see and touch the wounds of the body of Christ was not an unbelief in today's meaning of the word, but it was his desire to go from faith by hearing to faith by seeing. He did not only want to hear from the Disciples that Christ had risen, but he wanted to see and verify the Resurrection with his senses. This shows that the life of the Church is empirical, a spiritual relationship, a touching of Christ.
The Church is not an abstract system, but life in its fullest. Christ is not imaginary, but the God-man who has a resurrected body, that shines with the Light of Divinity and we have the ability to touch Him. The Church is the Body of Christ, that consists of its Mysteries, is expressed by its dogmas and sacred canons, and is established by a particular ecclesiastical government. The theology of the Church is empirical, it is “the mystery of the touch”.
We commune of the Body of Christ, when we Clergy liturgize we hold it in our hands. We kiss the Cross, the sacred relics of the Saints, the sacred icons. And when a Christian prays with spiritual strength, he touches eternity and participates in the glory of God.
My beloved brethren,
The Risen Christ is not a man who once lived, but He is the God-man who is always with us. The Resurrection of Christ is not an event of the past, but it is experienced within the life of the Church. We are not people who believe in God only in theory, but we are members of His Risen Body. Christ calls us to touch Him and we must respond to this invitation. This is “the mystery of the touch”. The mystery of divine communication.
I wish you all many years and exclaim: “Christ is Risen”.
With resurrectional paternal blessings,
+ HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou
Article published in English on: 16-4-2018.
Last update: 16-4-2018.