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May 4, 2008

Sunday of St. ThomasFrgeorge

Today we celebrate the Sunday of St. Thomas, who as we know doubted the testimony of his fellow Disciples regarding the Lord's Resurrection, yet he believed, when he was confronted by the Lord a week later. Since that time, 2000 years ago, the people who disbelieve, regarding anything accepted by many, are called doubting Thomases! Although Thomas disbelieved, when his fellow-Apostles were trying to convince him, that they had seen and spoken to the risen Lord, his disbelief prompted him to respond: "except I see the imprint of the nails in His Hands, and put my hand and touch His wounded side, I will not believe!"

A week later, our Lord appears miraculously through closed doors and windows, and seeing Thomas says to him: "Come Thomas and touch, to see the imprint of the nails in my Hands, and put your hand on my side, so that you will not be faithless, but believing."Thomas immediately falls on his knees and exclaims: "My Lord and my God!" It is then, that the Lord said: "Thomas, because you have seen you believed; but, blessed are they, who have not seen, and yet have believed!"

The true Christians of course, belong to the category of believers. They readily accept the testimony of others, as regards to the Lord's life; His Mission, -- His Passion -- His Burial -- and His Resurrection on the third day!

There is no question that Thomas was virtually renewed, and it affords an opportunity today, to speak and emphasize the merits of the familiar term, "renewal."
The week of Pascha, which commenced last Sunday, and ends today, is officially known as the "New Week", or "Bright Week," because, it sharply focuses on the Lord's Resurrection. In the tradition of the Church, the complete week is considered as one single day! A Day of total jubilation. That is why, the Wednesday and Friday fast of every week throughout the year is dispensed with, during this Bright Week!

We all know, that the Paschal period lasts 40 days, until the Day of our Lord's Ascension into Heaven. The tone of this 40 Day Festive period is set, so that we may sense the full effects of the new life, -- or better yet, --- of the renewed life, offered by the Resurrected Christ.

Traditionally we put on our best clothes each year to come to the Resurrection Service. This external act, is nothing short of symbolism; that is, of putting on the new self, as St. Paul states in the 3rd chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians.

It is a vibrant exhortation, and I would like all of you returning home today, to read the 3rd chapter of the St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians.

The Resurrection of our Lord, as St. Paul states, most definitely affirms, that we can have new life; and that life's renewed quality is to be found in the reconciled relationship to God!

It is nothing less, than the renewed power given by the Holy Spirit, which we receive in our life through the Holy Sacraments, so as to make us spiritually strong, and decisive in our actions.

Mentioning "renewal," may seem somewhat abstract! But, for the Christian of firm conviction, it is a power, which a Christian puts into action, and which gives substance, and new meaning to the renewed life. The spiritual renewal comes, after a firm decision to follow through, and as a result a person is transformed into a true and firm believer. Without a doubt, it is possible to be renewed; -- that is, if we choose to be so. We can live in the power of the Resurrection, here and now. This can be the beginning of the new life, which God promises to us, when we believe wholeheartedly.

When we speak about belief, I think that there are 3 implications to this faith. The first implication of faith is ethical. When we truly make the firm decision to renew our life, we will sense very early the primary characteristic of the "new life," with our ethical sensitivity, which will manifest itself, without question.

To be sure, the ethical concern of the Gospels is directed, not only against the obvious sins of adultery, dishonesty, deceit, betrayal and the like; but also, the ethical concern includes the sins of disposition, such as unkindness, rudeness, insincerity, anger, jealousy, gossip, rumor mongering, envy slander and the like, which so many Christians unfortunately dismiss so lightly, as not being sinful! But, these are sins and surely they can be very destructive.

In His chief exhortation, our Lord Jesus always reminds us, that our heart is the fountain, from which spring the most profound issues of life; and that the commandments of the law concentrate on our sincere love for one another. So it is, that we must never forget, that the first mark of our new life in Christ, is our ethical sensitivity and concern. The second implication of faith, is closely related to the first, but goes a little deeper. It has to do with our sense of values. If we are risen with Christ, to be sure we must focus our affections and our desires on things Above, rather than on the ephemeral earthly things!

Yes, this may appear difficult for us to learn, in the midst of our 21St Century of materialism, but, it is also St. Paul, who draws an interesting parallel with Jesus, when he says, that we are to set our affections on things Above. As we know, Jesus preached, that we should not seek earthly treasures, but rather seek to lay up treasures in Heaven.

Just a little thinking will convince us, how valid these teachings are. If we pause to think, we shall conclude, and believe, that we are not permanent residents here on earth, but visitors in a sense, -- or pilgrims.

We were not created for limited time only, as is experienced on earth, but we were created for Eternity! The purpose of God, goes beyond the things of this earth.

Therefore, as Christians, we must constantly guard ourselves against being absorbed strictly in the realm of materialism. All things on this earth were given to us by God, to help make like enjoyable. But,-- we must always be on guard, and keep strengthening ourselves, to always be in control,--- to be true masters over the material, and to never permit ourselves to become subjected to the material, which unfortunately seems to take hold, and subject so many people!

Therefore, we must seek to live as faithful stewards of our blessings; -- always looking forward to the City, which is to come, as St. Paul repeatedly emphasizes. We must constantly seek to prepare ourselves, so as to become citizens of the City, which is to come.

The third implication of this faith in the Resurrection, is simply the fact, that another opportunity has been afforded to us, to acquire the power of Christ, here and now!

That we may be drawn by the Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit, into a deeper relationship with God, and a more satisfying relationship with one another. This is a vital, and most serious move, which guarantees us Happiness on this earth, and Eternity in God's Kingdom.

When we acquire a proper relationship with God, as well as with our fellow humans, our life is automatically transformed, and we really begin to partake in the realm of Eternity. The promise of the New Testament is, that we can, and we should increase in our knowledge and love of God, here and now. Thus, we can proceed, and go on, from strength to strength, even now.

The Lord constantly stressed the fact, that we should strive for perfection; and this is achievable, step by step, --- one at a time.

The Lord specifically exhorted us: "strive to be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." Indeed, a most supreme, and lofty goal; and most assuredly it can be achieved, when we truly make our firm decision to walk in the ways of the Lord. Amen.

+ Fr. George Papadeas

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“Therefore brethren stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word or our epistle.” - Thessalonians 2:15