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Thomas the Twin

With this article, His Grace Bishop Anthony has initiated a series of spiritual meditations on the Holy Apostles. The series begins with this reflection by Fr. Andrew Kishler of St. George Orthodox Church, Spring Valley, IL.

The Apostle Thomas, for the most part, lives in the background of the four Gospels. St. John tells us in his Gospel that Thomas was also called "Didymus," or "the Twin," but we really do not know anything about the origin of this nickname. Perhaps he had a twin brother or sister? The name "Thomas" seems to be derived from a Hebrew word which means "twin," so perhaps "Didymus" was simply his name translated into Greek. We know him colloquially as "Doubting Thomas," which is true up to a point, but still a rather unfortunate way to remember him! St. Thomas did at first doubt the Lord's resurrection, but only because he was not with the other disciples when the Lord first paid them a visit. When he met the Risen Lord, he believed!

Three times in St. John's Gospel St. Thomas rises to the forefront, and we can learn a great deal about him and about our own faith from these instances.

Thomas first speaks up on Lazarus Saturday. The Lord announces to the Twelve: "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him." St. Thomas, who knows the great risk this will entail, responds to the other disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (John 11:14-16). Thomas realizes they put their lives at risk, traveling so close to Jerusalem. But at the same time, if that is where the Master wishes to go, His followers must go with Him. We must stick with Jesus and obey His teachings, no matter what the risk to our fame, our fortune, or our lives.

St. Thomas' tomb in Chennai, IndiaSt. Thomas' tomb in Chennai, IndiaSecond, we again hear from Thomas three chapters later at the Last Supper. We hear this reading each year on Holy Thursday, during our Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels: Jesus announces to the disciples that He is going to His Father's house to prepare a place for all of them. "Where I go, you know; and the way you know" (John 14:4). Thomas pipes up: "Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?" (14:5). And the Lord responds with one of His most famous teachings in all of the New Testament: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (14:6). St. Thomas here teaches us that it is okay to ask questions if we do not understand something. Many times we hear or read the Bible, or a prayer or a hymn in Church, and we really have no idea what it's all about. There is nothing wrong with asking! St. Thomas gives us permission to ask if we do not understand.

And third, we hear again from Thomas after the Lord's resurrection. When Jesus first appears to the disciples, only ten of them are present. (Judas of course is no longer one of them, and Thomas is absent for some unknown reason.) They are scared; they are cowering behind closed doors "for fear of the Jews." Jesus appears to them, "show[s] them His hands and His side," and the disciples rejoice that He is still alive. Thomas, unfortunately, misses the whole event, and declares afterwards: "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25).

After eight days, Jesus appears to them again, and this time Thomas is a bit more fortunate. "Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side.'" Thomas responds with one of the greatest exclamations of faith in the entire Bible: "My Lord and my God!"

What takes St. Thomas from "I will not believe" to "my Lord and my God"? How do all of the disciples go from cowering behind closed doors to proclaiming the Risen Lord boldly throughout the entire world? The Lord gives them (and us) two things: His peace ("Peace be with you," 20:19 and 20:26), and the gift of the Holy Spirit ("He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit,'" 20:22).

It's with the peace of Jesus in our hearts, and the forgiveness that comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we find our voice as Christians. The disciples go from cowering behind closed doors, afraid of what the Jewish authorities will do to them, to public prayer, healing and preaching. When the peace and love of Jesus invades our hearts, we don't worry about what others may think. "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim. 1:7).

According to Origen, St. Thomas travelled through Syria and Persia, spreading the Gospel. We also know that he ended up in India, where his relics reside to this day. Christians in India have a particularly strong devotion to St. Thomas the Apostle.

Following in St. Thomas' footsteps, let us receive from Jesus His peace, and let us give to others His peace. Let us live in His love, so that we may follow in the footsteps of St. Thomas and the other apostles in their faith and their witness to Him.

Troparion for St. Thomas Sunday (Tone 7): "While the tomb was sealed, Thou didst shine forth from it, O Light! While the doors were closed, Thou didst come in to Thy disciples, O Christ God, resurrection of all, renewing in us through them an upright spirit, according to the greatness of Thy mercy."