The story of the Apostle Thomas is familiar to us all. Along with the rest of the apostles, he witnessed the crucifixion and death of our Lord and he mourned with them. However, for whatever reason, he was not with the others when, after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them. And when he returned and heard the good news that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them, he doubted, he would not believe until he had seen the Risen Lord for himself, and placed his hands on the wounds of our Lord to know that they were real. In the hymns for the service today, much is said about this unbelief of Thomas. Often they speak of his “believing unbelief” by which the faithful are instructed. Indeed if it had not been for Thomas’ unbelief, we would not have the record of the confirmation of our Lord’s resurrection when He appeared again to the apostles, this time with Thomas present and invited him to place his hand in His side and his fingers into the prints of the nails. Every possible proof of the resurrection is given to us because of Thomas’ unbelief.
The hymns also speak of Thomas being bound by “the chains of unbelief”. Because he was not able to grasp the good news that Christ had risen from the dead, he was still trapped by his grief and despair, he was still under the dominion of sin and death - no longer bound by the chains of the evil one, but now bound by the chains of his own unbelief. When Jesus appeared again to the apostles and Thomas, He banished that unbelief by inviting Thomas to touch the nailprints and to put his hand into the wound in His side. And what was Thomas’ response? To fall down and cry out, “My Lord and my God.” His unbelief had been eliminated and Thomas now was freed from its chains and with the others entered into the freedom of the Resurrection.
We too often experience these chains of unbelief and by them are held back from the Kingdom of Heaven. At times we also have difficulty believing in the love of God and so are prevented by our own chains of unbelief from experiencing that love. Unlike Thomas we rarely plainly state our unbelief, but rather we deceive ourselves with our own words by confessing with our mouth our belief, but acting out of the unbelief of our hearts.
How then does this work? It is often apparent in our daily lives. We all know the life of the Church, and we all know that this is the path of salvation; however, we all also frequently depart that path for various reasons - job requirements, health requirements, convenience, outside commitments, whatever. We can easily become too busy or too tired to pray, to busy to attend the divine services, or too rushed and self absorbed to take the time to give compassion to others. The whirlwind of daily activity seems to swallow up our time and energy as though it were a bottomless pit leaving none left over to work out our salvation. And so we neglect our prayer, we neglect the fast, we neglect loving others. But if we look at our lives, we seem always to find the time for those things which are truly important - even when those things displace our regular routine. If we truly believed in eternal life and in the importance of salvation - if we truly believed that the life of the Church is the only path of salvation then we would never hesitate to make time for things of such great importance in our lives - but we are bound by the chains of our own unbelief.
If we truly believed in the Resurrection, that indeed Christ is Risen and that in doing so, He crushed the gates and power of hades, bound the evil one and defeated the power of sin and death, then we would no longer be tormented by sin or by our own fears and anxieties. Christ is Risen and all these things no longer have any real power over us. Sin only has the power that we give it by our own unbelief. We no longer have anything to fear for the great power of our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome all and His love casts out all fear. And yet we still sin and we still are influenced by our own fears. If the brilliance of the Resurrection remains before your face, then any temptation that you face would be drowned in that light. The sin would no longer even be tempting compared to the joy and grace of the Resurrection. But too often we are bound by our own unbelief in the joys of the heavenly kingdom and so the transitory joys of this world begin to appeal more strongly than the joys of heaven.
Our fears and anxieties come from unbelief in the providence and love of God. For if we truly believed that God in His great love cares for us and arranges all things so that we might have the greatest eternal (not worldly) benefit, then we would never be anxious but would trust in Him. But because of our unbelief, we take the reigns of our lives away from God and try to arrange things to our own advantage according to our own wisdom and once we have taken over control and responsibility for our lives from God, then we begin to have fears and anxieties that are born from wrong choices, from unknown effects and influences, from the pressure of our own passions and desires. But if all of our desire rests upon God, if we hear and believe the words of Christ who says to us, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto you” then these fears and anxieties fade for our own desire is for Christ and everything else is in His hands.
These are only a few of the ways by which we are bound by the chains of our own unbelief - just as Thomas was bound by the chains of his own unbelief. How is it then that we can cast off these chains. Thomas saw the light of belief in the faces of his fellow apostles and he then stated his desire to believe as well. He was blunt saying this is what I must see and do in order to overcome my unbelief - I must see the print of the nails and even touch them with my fingers - then I will know that this is indeed Jesus Christ in the body Who is risen from the dead and not a phantom or a substance-less vision. Then I will know that it is true that Christ is Risen.
And our Lord heard his prayer, for indeed it was a prayer, and returned to visit the apostles again, this time with Thomas present, inviting him to verify by sight and touch that it was indeed His true Body, which had suffered, had been nailed to the cross and pierced with a spear and had died. This was the same Jesus who now stood before them, in the light of the resurrection, in the glory and power of God and who offered them all freedom from the chains of sin, of death and of the devil - this same Lord now also offered to Thomas freedom from the chains of unbelief. And not rejecting this evidence, Thomas relinquished his unbelief and falling upon his knees cried out, “My Lord and my God.”
All we need do then, to be free of this unbelief is to ask of God that He will show Himself to us - that we might see His power and grace and work in our lives. And then open your mind and heart and eyes and ears to look for the work of God in your life. See how God has blessed you - indeed how He blesses you each day. See how God has protected you and kept you from the dangers of this world. See how God, knowing things that are unknown to you has provided for you with great care and love. Having made this prayer, then do not negate it by unbelief, but believe that God will hear your prayer and begin to see around you and in your life all of his care and love for you. Believe in the Resurrection and in the eternal and heavenly kingdom and see how God leads you there. God will hear your prayer, He will show you His presence in your life and all you need do is, like Thomas, to relinquish the chains of your unbelief and cry out, “My Lord and my God.”