Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: New Sunday,
Jesus Appears To Disciples and St. Thomas

Volume 6 No. 342 April 1, 2016
The Great Lent is over and most of us spent a very busy 10 days of Passion week at the church. This year, we had seen the historic confluence of Annunciation to St. Mary and Good Friday on the same day. It provided us with a rare opportunity to meditate on the word becoming flesh in the womb of St. Mary and the flesh dying on the cross at Calvary.

Jesus came to this world to redeem the mankind by dying on the cross. We lose that perspective when we give more importance to the festivities surrounding the Christmas. This year we could experience what Symeon predicted on Mayaltho that a sword will penetrate the heart of St. Mary. We saw how that prophesy being fulfilled on Good Friday while St. Mary standing at the foot of the cross and Jesus hung on the cross. She would have gladly exchanged the place with Jesus so that he didn't have to go through that suffering! How she must have wished that she can at least apply a wet cloth on his lips that were parched in the strong sunlight. How she wished she can put some lotion/cream on his wounds that are bleeding!

Can you imagine the contrast for St. Mary. When the angel gave her the message from God saying that she was selected to bear the son of God, the second person of the trinity, Mary was only 13-15 years old, daydreaming of her upcoming marriage with Joseph and living a quiet life in Nazareth. When she heard the angel giving the annunciation, she wondered what she did to deserve this honor. She was very excited when she visited her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country and when she gave her grand welcome apt for the mother of God:

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43)

Mary was very excited and humbled to hear this and she delivered the immortal 'Magnificat':

And Mary said:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."
- (Luke 1:46-49)

The full impact of what she will be facing in the future didn't dawn on her till she heard Symeon telling her on the day of Mayaltho:

Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
- (Luke 2:34-35)

Mary, as the first disciple of Jesus, carried the cross like others. Her whole life was that of suffering. The Good Friday ended with her holding the lifeless body of Jesus on her lap as pictured by Michael Angelo in Pieta.

Although, we spend most of the day in church on Good Friday, the most important day is the Easter Sunday when Jesus defeated the death and resurrected, completing the redemption plan laid out by God to save the humanity from the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus had to first die to resurrect on Easter. The empty cross and empty tomb are the centerpiece of Christianity. No other religion can claim a resurrected Savior. We have a savior who only know how to love us, he came to serve not to be served; he lowered himself from being a God to become man and be persecuted by the same people he came to save. What a paradox!

Talking about the Good Friday falling on March 25, the day of the annunciation, it is very rare. Last time it happened was in 2005. Of course, it happened this year (2016). The next time it is not going to happen till 2157. All of us will be long gone by then. Most of us are very fortunate to be able to attend two of those in our lifetime.

We know of the "bleeding crosses or paintings in India. How about a bleeding thorn? A thorn said to be part of the crown of thorn wore by Jesus is said to bleed on March 25 when it is Good Friday. It did bleed this year as the following article says:

Italy's 'bleeding thorn' marks the coincidence of Good Friday, Annunciation

Andria, Italy, Mar 25, 2016 (CNA)

A single thorn held to have been taken from Christ's crown of thorns that traditionally 'bleeds' each time that Good Friday falls on March 25, has done so again this year.

Bishop Raffaele Calabro, Bishop Emeritus of Andria in Italy's Apulia region, confirmed today that the thorn has bled.

"The miracle has started, the wonder is underway," Bishop Calabro stated.

The thorn has been kept in a reliquary in Andria's cathedral since 1308.

A commission who observed the miracle confirmed the formation of three spherical formations or "gems" on the thorn and that "on the base of the thorn is the residue of the preceding miracle of 2005, renewing."

The last time the miracle of the bleeding thorn took place was in 2005, and it is not expected to do so again until 2157. The occurrence has been recorded since 1633.

Bishop Calabro thanked God "for what he is doing, as the miracle is a gift from the love of God and is a sign of his love for this community."


This week - New Sunday - Jesus Appears to Disciples and St. Thomas

This Sunday is known as the New Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. We recall Jesus appearing the disciples who are behind closed doors fearing the Jews. Jesus came to them and give them peace and then blow on them to 'ordain them'. St. Thomas was not there at that time. He perhaps went out to buy them food. He was the most courageous of the group. When Jesus told them that they will go to Bethany to visit Lazar, everyone discouraged him from going there as temple authorities were getting closer to capturing Jesus. But Thomas was the only one who said to Jesus, "Let us go!!" Thomas had no hesitation to die with Jesus. So, when Thomas returned and others told him about Jesus visiting them, Thomas didn't believe them. Let us see how St. John described the scene:

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord."

So he said to them, "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."

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace to you!" 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. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."

And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!"
John 20:24-27

St. Peter is credited with delivering the faith statement, declaring Jesus as 'the Christ, the Son of the living God.' He was given the keys to the Kingdom and the position as the first among the disciples. Let us take a look:

15 He (Jesus) said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Matthew 16:15-19

If you look at the declaration of Thomas, we see that Thomas had no doubt that to him Jesus was "My Lord and my God!" Thomas gave an extraordinary confession of faith. There cannot be any doubt about the faith of Thomas, Jesus was the God as well as his savior. He is not the doubting Thomas, but is the "Believing Thomas."

His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis beautifully describes the significance of this encounter:

There is no doubt that John's central theme in the Thomas incident (Jn. 20:24-29), is the relation between seeing and believing. This theme seems to run through the two final chapters of the Fourth Gospel (Jn. 20 and 21). It is, however, in the splendid narrative of Christ's appearance to Thomas that the question of the relation between seeing and believing receives its definitive answer.

Believing after seeing the risen Christ was, according to John, the way of the disciples and apostles who have been with Jesus throughout his ministry. This truth has been convincingly demonstrated in John 20 (also in John 21). The Thomas episode eloquently attests to that truth. Thomas was not denied his request to see the risen Lord in order to believe. In his case, even touching and handling were added to seeing. And after the meeting with him and Thomas' astonishing confession of faith, Jesus unequivocally states that the previously unbelieving disciple has seen him and, as a consequence, has now believed. Both in his case and in the case of the other apostles, seeing was instrumental in leading to the faith that the crucified and buried Lord has risen indeed.

If John presents in such a masterful manner the various post-resurrection meetings of Christ with his disciples and especially with Thomas, he does so in order to establish once and for all Christ's resurrection as a fundamental and undeniable fact. The disciples, including the unbelieving Thomas, saw and believed that Jesus was risen indeed and that he truly is their Lord and God.

Believing after seeing the risen Christ, however, was a way limited only to the apostolic generation. John was fully aware of this fact, thus subtly and powerfully projected another way, namely the way of believing without previously seeing, and more specifically of believing on the basis of the testimony of the apostolic eyewitnesses. For such a way of arriving at the state of faith in Christ as Lord and God, John has preserved, as we have seen, the masterpiece of narrative art and sophisticated theology which is the story of Thomas: A story deeply human and divine, strategically placed within a superbly articulated context, and culminating in the supreme dominical proclamation/ beatitude, "Blessed are those who have not seen and (yet) believed."

We, the people of Malankara, are extremely proud of our guardian angel, St. Thomas. There are some evidence that Jesus has considered very highly of St. Thomas and has shared many things to him. St. Thomas was also entrusted to make the dangerous trip to India to evangelize the people there and died a martyr in Mylapore.

There are people who do not ask questions although they do not quite understand or have doubts. They keep quiet to be in conformance. Then there are people like St. Thomas, who will openly express his viewpoints and doubts, even if it is not politically correct; but once clarified will believe it without compromise and will die protecting it voluntarily. Isn't that a true faith all about?

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World


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