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May 9, 2021

Thomas Sunday - Wrestling With God (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Unless I see ... I will not believe" (Jn. 20:25)

The Apostle Thomas, in order to believe in the Resurrection of Christ, asked to see, because he had not yet received the Holy Spirit and had not acquired an inner sense, which would assure him of the Deity of Christ. He wanted to see and feel in order to gain tangible knowledge of God. But the knowledge of God is not an experience of the senses, but of inner information, inner communion with Christ, which is channeled into the body as well. However, the sacred hymn of this Sunday calls the unbelief of Thomas "good", on the one hand because it was well-intentioned, and on the other hand because it became a cause to prove the Resurrection of Christ.

Wrestling With God

Reading today's passage regarding the case of the Apostle Thomas, we see man wrestling with God. The Apostle asks to see God. The Lord appears and he exclaims: "My Lord and my God!" He was indeed defeated because none of the saints were able to match up against God. So we can highlight the fact that if there is one common feature throughout time and especially of our time it is the wresting with God.

All people, each in a different way, wrestle with God. They are basically divided into two categories:

To the first belong those who wrestle against God. They question His existence and do everything to prove His non-existence. The terrible thing in this case is that they are fighting someone they never knew, because if they had known Him they would have been captured by His love and His meekness. Usually we passionate people, ignorant of the holy will of God, attribute to Him all our reflections and failures, resulting in our turning against Him. It is tragic to think that man considers a blessing what is a "curse" and considers a "curse" what is a real blessing. That is, the life of sin, life in the present fallen world, which is a "curse", the result of turning away from God, we consider it blessed, the only one worth talking about and to which we dedicate all our capacity, while sorrow, pain, which work on behalf of our salvation, which are a blessing from God, we consider a curse.

To the second category belong the saints who thirst and desire the meeting with God. When they achieve it, a greater, unbearable thirst begins. They fight because they want to give themselves completely to God, to gain a more perfect knowledge of God.

Thus all people have God as their center and we wrestle with Him. Others wrestle against Him (and basically against themselves) and others in order to obtain Him, to make Him the property of their heart, a "lovely Bridegroom".

Three Cases of Atheism

We see great atheism around us and inside us. When we say atheism we do not mean the non-existence of God, since God exists and acts everywhere, but the inability of man to have knowledge of God.

Saint Gregory Palamas mentions three cases of atheism. First, atheists are those who do not believe in the existence of God, "the multifaceted delusion of the Greeks", that is, the delusion of the pagans, some of whom did not believe in God and satisfied their desires of pleasure and others worshiped the elements of nature as gods. Second, atheists are heretics, who deny the divinity of Christ and the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Athanasius the Great says "an atheist is the one who divides the Son from the Father and lowers into a creature the Holy Spirit." Thus atheism is "the multifaceted and multiform deception of heretics." Third, atheists are the Orthodox who do not accept the doctrines of the Church, which are terms of salvation, and they question the value of the words of the Holy Fathers. Because true piety is "not questioning the God-bearing Fathers." And of course when one reaches the point of not acknowledging the doctrines, which are the expression of salvation, or not acknowledging the words of the Holy Fathers, it shows that one has no Grace, no personal knowledge of God. Whoever  therefore does not have an inner sense of divine Grace, whoever does not know how divine Grace acts within him and does not recognize the saints, is no different from those who deny the existence of God.

The Path to the Knowledge of God

All people seek an encounter with God. And even these atheists reveal this search. Because no one is fighting something they think does not exist. But there is an error in the path towards meeting God. Many seek Him within the bounds of rational processing, others within the bounds of the bodily senses (like Thomas), and most are completely unaware of what God is.

The Holy Fathers have recorded the conditions for the true knowledge of God. First, they emphasize that in God there is a distinction between essence and energy. The essence of God is incomprehensible, while His energy is comprehensible. This means that God is unknown in His essence, but known in His energies. This is very important for Orthodox Theology and is a matter of life and death.

Then the meeting with God is a crisis for man. It constitutes either his eternal life or his eternal condemnation. Just as our presence in court is a critical moment, which implies acquittal or imprisonment, so is man's encounter with God. For the purified, God becomes Light; while for the impure He becomes fire that burns him. This is what happens in Holy Communion. When man communes unworthily, the divine Communion becomes "unto judgment and condemnation", while when he communes after preparation, it becomes Light.

This has eternal implications. In the next life all people (righteous and sinners) will receive the rays of God's love, but to the righteous they will become Light that will illumine them, while to the unrepentant sinners, who will not have spiritual vision, they will become fire that will burn them. So the path towards the knowledge of God is the path of purification, of humility. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," said the Lord. Indeed, whoever was not afraid to become a "baby" and a "child" is going to enter the Kingdom of God, that is, he is going to have communion with God, which is the necessary element of the knowledge of God and salvation. Because the salvation of man is the knowledge of Christ.

The "good unbelief" of Thomas is proof to get out of the prison of atheism, which oppresses our whole existence. "Our" concerns everyone, since we do not have an inner personal experience of deification. Because, as we have mentioned, the simple rational knowledge of God, studies done about God, without the inner life, is a kind of atheism. Not only the case of Thomas, but all the cases of the saints, who experienced God, are proofs of His existence. With his transformed life he confessed "My Lord and my God". There is a lot of evidence around us, as long as we have eyes and ears to see and hear.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.