On the first day of Holy Easter, at the Vespers, which we just carried out here in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, we read the Gospel of Doubting Thomas… a Gospel passage that told us how Apostle Thomas, at first, didn’t believe in the resurrection of the Saviour. Surprisingly, the disbelief of Thomas has continued throughout human history. If the apostle, who was so close to the Saviour, who saw His miracles, who heard His prophecy about the three-day resurrection… if he didn’t believe it, if the other apostles didn’t believe it, as evidenced by the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, which tells how they came after the resurrection to Galilee, to a mountain where Jesus had commanded them to go, and seeing Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Thomas wasn’t alone… some others doubted, too…
Why do some have joyful faith and preserve it throughout their life, and, moreover, why are some ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith… in fact, amongst the glorified saints the largest part are martyrs and confessors, that is, those whose faith was so precious that even the fear of death couldn’t dispel it… but why don’t others believe? Perhaps, succinctly, the answer would be the words that the Apostle Thomas said, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe (cf. The Gospel according to St John 20.25). Constantly, people check everything that comes to them from the outside against known facts and their own personal experience. However, the evidence for faith lies outside the experience of earthly physical life, because God Himself is beyond this physical reality. We have no experience of the physical sight of God; we have no experience of a physical vision of the underworld. We can’t touch it, and evidence for the faith based on simple human logic doesn’t exist.
Many people don’t believe in the resurrection of the Saviour, or in the Divine origin of life. However, why do others believe? Does the logic of the Gospel narrative convince them? Do they find Orthodox theology and Orthodox philosophy persuasive? Are all of us who stand now in Cathedral of Christ the Saviour positive of the truth of these theological conclusions? What about those who filled the churches last night on Easter? Yes, many of them don’t even know this theology! Why do we believe? Yes, it’s because we’ve experienced it… the encounter isn’t physical; it’s a spiritual experience of touching the divine world. We know that in answer to prayer, God answers us. If He had stopped responding, then, people would stop praying. In a special way, I felt it today when I was at the Institute of Paediatric Oncology. I saw that these suffering kids were amazing people. I saw faith in their eyes. You need to see how a child looks at an icon as they receive a blessing! With powerful faith, they listen to what you have to say! Here, all logic of the physical world recedes… it’s not there, it’s absorbed by the logic of spiritual being. The power of spiritual experience, which is stronger and more convincing than physical force, is our point of contact with the Divine, and our faith is based upon it. It’s important today, when many people are unable to think beyond physical categories, when their knowledge is limited only to the physical parameters of being, to help people discover the spiritual perspective of life!
One of the bishops reminded me of the great call of the Saviour, addressed to the apostles… Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (cf. The Gospel according to Matthew 28.19). The time has come when we must carry out this mandate of our Lord with much ardour and with intense energy. Someone might ask us, why? Well, here’s our answer. Recently, in our country, and throughout the entire expanse of historical Russia, we lived in a godless milieu, so, many people know first-hand through their own experience how terrible it is to live without God. Even our defeat indirectly testified that, without God, mankind couldn’t achieve the goals it set for itself. In the wake of the failure of atheism, we saw a massive return of people to faith. When surprised foreigners asked us what was going on, why were so many people coming to church, we responded, “People come to church because they know how terrible life is without God”.
Yet, 20 years have passed since then, a new generation is coming up that doesn’t know that history. They don’t know what it means to live in a society that has banished faith. They don’t know what it means to risk a career, pensions, wages, or a good apartment by going to services. They don’t know this, they’re accustomed to modern life, and they find all the arguments concerning the fact that a godless life is pointless are simply irrelevant to them. Still, this generation will replace us in due course. They will determine the future of the Church, of our country, and, perhaps, of all mankind, for Russia (and the other countries in which our Local Church has authority) plays a great role in the world. That is why, today, we lay a special emphasis on and give a great commitment to working with young people… although, of course, not only to young people. We must help them to see and understand the spiritual perspective of life; we must help them to feel the beauty and power of faith that can change people’s lives. The younger generation should know that the Church isn’t only beautiful ceremonies; it isn’t just glittering vestments. The Church is a community of people being saved by God; it’s where people come into direct contact with God, and, where they find, from God, the strength to live according to God’s truth.
That’s why the Archpastoral Council called on us to strengthen our service to the world through preaching, through evangelism, through mission, and through teaching, not doing anything newfangled, but basing everything on the words of the Saviour. We must bear in mind that it’s of relevance today, and it’s of particular consequence in the context of our contemporary life. I’d like to confide to the Moscow clergy, dear brothers, that the burden of this lies upon you, that your faith your vigilance, and your ability will enable you to earnestly and boldly carry out your priestly ministry, to baptise and to preach, to spread the word of God amongst both young and old. It will determine how all of our Church will fulfil the call laid upon it by the Lord through His disciples. Easter gives us great spiritual experiences, which are, undoubtedly, the basis of our faith. I wish that we’d all renew our commitment, become enlightened in our beliefs, and become stronger in the way of spiritual growth, so that we could enjoy the experience of faith, which can’t be crushed by any temptations of this world, giving us a solid foundation for the task of world-building that God has laid upon us.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Indeed, Christ is Risen!
24 April 2011
Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias
Official MP Website