By St. Cyril of Alexandria
(Commentary on the Gospel of John)
Luke 20:22, 23, 26, 27 - "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosesoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.' ... And after eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace be unto you.' Then said He to Thomas, 'Reach out your finger, and see My hands; and reach out your hand, and put it into My side. Be not faithless, but believing.'"
After dignifying the holy Apostles with the glorious distinction of the apostleship, and appointing them ministers and priests of the Divine Altar, as I have just said, He at once sanctifies them by vouchsafing His Spirit unto them, through the outward sign of His breath, that we might be firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit is not alien to the Son, but Consubstantial with Him, and through Him proceeding from the Father; He shows that the gift of the Spirit necessarily attends those who are ordained by Him to be Apostles of God....
But, perhaps, someone will come and say as follows, with a praiseworthy desire for knowledge, it may be, putting to us the question, "Where then, and when, did the Savior's disciples receive the grace of the Spirit? When the Savior appeared unto them in the house, immediately after the Resurrection, and breathed upon them, saying: 'Receive the Holy Spirit;' or in the days of the holy Pentecost, when, as they were again assembled together in one place, suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance?" For either, such an one will say, we must suppose that a double grace was given unto them, or we must remain in ignorance of the occasion on which they, in fact, became partakers in the Holy Spirit; if indeed our Savior's saying, and that which is written in the Acts of the holy Apostles, is found to be true. And, indeed, the question may well excite our perplexity, especially as Christ Himself said: "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter cannot come unto you; but when I depart, I will send Him unto you;" for the inquirer will perhaps go on to say, "The Truth, that is, Christ, cannot lie. When, then, He said in plain words that the Comforter would not come unto the disciples unless He were taken up unto the Father, but of a surety He would send Him then, when He was in heaven at His side; how, then, can He be supposed to grant the gift of the Spirit, though His journey from hence was not yet accomplished?" Still, though the inquiry is very obscure, and very likely to cause perplexity, it yet allows of an appropriate solution, when we remember our faith that Christ is not as one of ourselves, but rather is God, and of God, and so exercises dominion over His own words, and moulds them to suit His purposes.
For He proclaimed that He would send down to us from heaven the Comforter, when He was ascended to God the Father; and this, indeed, He did, when He had gone away to the Father, and vouchsafed to shed forth the Spirit abundantly upon all who were willing to receive it. For any man could receive it, through faith, that is, and Holy Baptism; and then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the voice of the Prophet: "I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh." But it was necessary that the Son should appear as co-operating with the Father in granting the Spirit; it was necessary that those who believed on Him should understand that He is the Power of the Father, that has created this whole world, and called man out of nothing into being....
They, therefore, partook of the Holy Spirit when He breathed on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit;" for it were impossible for Christ to lie, and He would never have said "Receive" without giving; but in the days of Holy Pentecost, when God more openly proclaimed His grace, and manifested the establishment of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, there appeared unto them tongues through flame, not signifying the beginning of the gift of the Spirit in their hearts, but rather having reference to the time when they were first endowed with the gift of languages. It is written, indeed, that they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Note, that they began to speak, not to receive sanctification, and that the gift of diverse tongues came down upon them; and this was the working of the Spirit that was in them. For just as the Father spake from heaven, and bare witness to His Son, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased;" and did this to satisfy the minds of those who heard, uttering, or causing to be uttered, a sound as of some instrument which fell upon the ear; even so, also, in the case of the holy disciples He made the manifestation of the grace given them more public, sending down upon them tongues as of fire, and causing the descent of the Holy Spirit to resemble the sound of the rushing of a mighty wind. And that this very portent was given unto the Jews by way of a sign, you will readily see, if you listen to God, the Lord of all, saying by the mouth of the Prophet: "By men of strange tongues, and by the lips of strangers, will I speak unto this people, and yet will they not believe." And to the intent that we might believe that the blessed disciples did, in fact, partake of the Holy Spirit, and were from henceforth honored with the grace of Christ from above, and that they were able to expound the truth, and that the glory of their apostleship was worthy all admiration, witness being borne thereto by the gift from on high, therefore it was that fire came down in the form of tongues.
I think, indeed, that I have here said enough to accurately explain the meaning of the passage; but, inasmuch as we are bound to take every precaution in our treatise, that no stumbling block spring up to offend the brethren through the carping spirit of any amongst us, let us make this addition to what we have said, and refute the vain talk that we may expect will be started. We shall find, then, in the passage that follows, the words: "Thomas, called Didymus, was not with the disciples when Jesus came." How, then, someone may not unreasonably inquire, if he were away, was he in fact made partaker in the Holy Spirit when the Savior appeared unto the disciples and breathed on them, saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit"? We reply that the power of the Spirit pervaded every man who received grace, and fulfilled the aim of the Lord Who gave Him unto them; and Christ gave the Spirit not to some only but to all the disciples. Therefore, if any were absent, they also received Him, the munificence of the Giver not being confined to those only who were present, but extending to the entire company of the holy Apostles. And that this interpretation is not strained, or our idea extravagant, we may convince you from Holy Scripture itself, bringing forward as a proof a passage in the Books of Moses. The Lord God commanded the all-wise Moses to select elders, to the number of seventy, from the assembly of the Jews, and plainly declared: "I will take of the Spirit which is upon you and will put it upon them." Moses, as he was bidden, brought them together, and fulfilled the Divine decree. Two only of the men who were included in the number of the seventy elders were left behind, and remained in the assembly, to wit, Eldad and Medad. Then when God put upon them all the Divine Spirit, as He had promised, those whom Moses had collected together immediately received grace, and prophesied; but none the less also the two who were in the assembly prophesied, and, in fact, the grace from above came upon them first. Nay, further, Joshua, that was called the son of Nun, who was the constant attendant of Moses, not understanding at once the meaning of the mystery, but thinking that after the manner of Dathan and Abiram they were rivals in the art of prophecy to those whom Moses had brought together, said unto him: "Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp; my lord Moses, forbid them." And what answered that truly wise and great man, seeing in his wisdom the working of the grace given unto them, and the power of the Spirit? "Do you envy for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" Observe how he rebukes the saying of Joshua, who knew not what had been done. Would that, he says, the Spirit were given to all the people! Nay, this will indeed come to pass in due season, when the Lord, that is, Christ, will grant unto them His Spirit; breathing upon His holy Apostles as upon the first-fruits of those whose due it is to receive Him, and saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Then, if Thomas were absent, he was not cut off from receiving the Spirit, for the Spirit pervaded all whose due it was to receive Him, and who were included among the number of His honored disciples....
Let the attentive reader call to mind that our Lord repulsed Mary Magdalene from touching Him, saying plainly: 'Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto the Father.' Yet He allows Thomas to touch His side, and to feel with his fingers the print of the nails. We have already explained why our Lord did this, but none the less will we call back to mind the reason, briefly recapitulating what we said. For not yet had the time arrived for Mary to touch Him, because she had not yet been sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit; for while Christ was yet in our midst, and had not yet ascended to the Father in heaven, it was impossible to see the descent of the Comforter fully accomplished among men. It was meet, however, for Thomas to touch Him, as he, as well as the rest, had been enriched with the Spirit. For, as we said before, he was not on account of his absence without his share in the Spirit. For the munificence of the Giver reached unto him also, when the favor was granted to the entire company of the holy disciples.
By St. Gregory Palamas
(Homily 18, On the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers)
Following the resurrection, however, it was a woman who saw Him first before the others, as we have heard from Mark’s Gospel today. "After his resurrection Jesus appeared on the morning of the Lord’s Day to Mary Magdalene first...."
According to John, she did not come to the tomb alone, even though she left the tomb without yet having seen the Lord. For she ran to Peter and John, and instead of announcing to them that the Lord was risen, told them that he had been taken from the tomb. Therefore, she did not yet know about the resurrection. It is not Mary Magdalene’s claim that Christ appeared to her first but that he appeared after the actual beginning of the day. There is, of course, a certain shadow covering this matter on the part of the Evangelists that I shall, through your love, uncover. The good news of the resurrection of Christ was received from the Lord first, before all others, by the Theotokos....
We are informed of this by the Evangelist Matthew who said: "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre" (Matthew 28:1). Mary Magdalene and the other Mary–who was, of course, the Mother of the Lord-went to look at the sepulchre.... And they approached, touched his feet and worshipped him.
Just as the Theotokos alone understood the power of the angelic words – even if she heard the good news of the resurrection together with Mary Magdalene – when she met her son and God with the other women she saw and recognized the risen one before all the other women. And falling down, she touched his feet and became his apostle to his apostles. We learn from John that Mary Magdalene was not with the Mother of God when, on her return to the sepulchre, she encountered the Lord. He writes: She runs to Peter Simon and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and tells them: "they have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him." If she had seen and touched him with her hands and heard him speak, how could she say the words “they have taken him and placed him elsewhere, and we don’t know where?” But after Peter and John ran to the grave and saw the burial clothes and returned, John says that Mary Magdalene was standing near the tomb and crying. You see that not only had she not yet seen him but neither had she been informed of the resurrection.
See also: Why Did The Lord Forbid Mary Magdalene From Touching Him After His Resurrection?