“This is a Doubt that Leads to Life…”:
Sermon of Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe on the Sunday of St Thomas, 2024.

Christ is risen!

In this world, my beloved Fathers, brothers and sisters, there are different ways to see, and to hear, and to think. We are confronted with this reality day by day: the words that the world speaks sound increasingly foreign to us as Christians; and the words that we speak — the words of the Gospel, of Truth — sound increasingly foreign and incomprehensible to the world around us. And it is not only what we say, but also what we do, and who we are. We look at the world differently, seeing everything from the perspective of God’s self-revelation; and we hear with different ears, always in light of the Resurrection of Christ that we continue to celebrate so radiantly throughout this Paschal season. When we hear of sorrow or pain, or “wars and rumours of wars,” (cf. Matthew 24.6) or even death itself, we hear these things always with ears in which is ever sounding the triumphal cry: “Christ is risen!” — and so we cannot despair, or lose heart, or “grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6.9). For there remain ever in our ears the prophetic words, repeated to us so recently by St John Chrysostom on Paschal midnight: “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages!”

So we, as Christians, know of a different way to speak, and to see, and to hear. And we learn, today, that there are different ways to doubt. In the world in which we live, doubt is most often a negative: something antithetical to knowledge or belief. And in some contexts, this is precisely correct, even in spiritual terms. Doubt can be the opposite of faith: it can be that which is enacted in the mind of man in opposition to God’s revelation and actions, which leads away from Him rather than towards Him. This is the kind of doubt we see at places in the Gospel; for example, when St Peter walks upon the water, but then begins to doubt and starts to sink — and Christ replies, “O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” (cf. Matthew 14.31). This is the kind of doubt we are commanded to avoid.

But in today’s Gospel, we are shown a different kind of doubt: a doubt that leads towards Christ, rather than away from Him. The doubt of St Thomas, to whose memory the whole of this first Sunday after Pascha is dedicated, is a doubt grounded not in faithlessness but in love. He loves Christ. He venerates Him. He wants, deep within his heart, to believe in the resurrection — for it is the natural culmination of his experiences and the desire of his faith. And yet the Apostle has beheld, in his life and in his own soul, too much despair, too much disappointment. He has had to deal with the destructive lies told to him by so many people who were supposed to be of support and aid, from close companions to the governmental and even religious leaders of his age. He had watched as those who had proclaimed the words of the Prophets and sought the coming of the Messiah, denied Him when He finally came. He heard the cries of “Hosanna in the highest!” as Christ entered into the Holy City; and then experienced the same lips crying out “Crucify Him!” And his own heart, too, perhaps, had fluctuated with the ebbs and flows of belief, as he experienced these things. People said Christ was the King, then betrayed Him. They proclaimed He was the Saviour, then crucified Him. They said so many hope-filled things, then turned and revealed a darker, tragic dimension to their words.

And now, his fellow men come to him and tell him that Christ is risen. “We have seen the Lord,” the other disciples say to him. And there must have been a greater joy in St Thomas’s heart at these words than even when he heard “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord!” Yet that heart also, in that very moment, remembered the pain, the true agony, felt when those cries changed, and when something so different was experienced. And so the Apostle says, “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” (John 20.25). It is as if his heart is crying out, “Not once more shall I permit myself be led astray by the weakness of my fellow man, or of my own mind. No, not now: this news is too great, too wonderful. It is the greatest joy which my heart can know — and therefore I must know it to be true. I must hear it from Christ Himself. I must see, and touch, so that my joy can be complete.”

My brothers and sisters, this is a doubt that leads to life. And the reason that the Holy Church brings us this message on the first Sunday after Holy Pascha, is precisely to remind us that we, like the Apostle Thomas, must not run from human doubt or questioning, but submit such doubts directly to God. Man struggles, now as then, to believe a miracle so profound as that of God’s resurrection. The greatness is too great, the goodness too good. His heart longs to contain it, but does not want to be deceived. And yes, it is better not to doubt, as the Lord answers St Thomas. But the risen Lord is merciful, and just as He took death and transformed it into life, today He shows us that, if it is piously offered and directed towards Him, He will take even doubt, and all the abundance of human questions, and will transform them, too, into sanctifying means of receiving His Grace.

Glory to our God, Who loves us with such love and saves us with such mercy! May we, together with the Apostle Thomas and all the saints, be not faithless, but believing; and may we ever cry out, even unto eternity:

Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen! Amen.



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