“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”. That is how the apostle Thomas answered the Saviour’s disciples when they told him that they saw the risen Lord (Jn. 20:25).
“Unless I see I will not believe”. This is how people who demand from us logical, tangible proof of the Christian faith often answer us, the faithful. But there are not and cannot be such proof, for the Christian faith is beyond the grasp of rational thought, being super-rational. Nothing in the Christian faith, be it the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ or other truths, can be proven logically: one can only accept them or reject them on the basis of faith.
“No one has seen God at any time”, writes John the Evangelist (Jn. 1:18). Nobody has ever proved the existence of God. And nobody has ever born witness to the resurrection of Christ in such a way that it might become an obvious fact for all of mankind. Nevertheless, regardless of the seeming lack of proofs of the Christian faith, millions of people came, still come and will come to Christ; they believed, believe and will believe in His resurrection; they accepted, accept and will accept the existence of God. Why? Because they encountered God in their lives, and no additional proofs were necessary for them.
How does this encounter with God take place? It is different for each person. For some it occurs as an unexpected revelation and vision, when people suddenly realize that God is right next to them, that He sees and hears them, and they see and hear Him. For others it happens as a gradual acknowledging of the risen Christ, when the sense of God’s presence grows in them to such an extent that they come to believe. Christ also reaches out to people and knocks on the doors of their hearts, but sometimes they do not realize this or only later do they begin to understand that what they had experienced was an encounter with God. This is exactly what happened to the two disciples returning from Jerusalem to Emmaus, who did not recognize Jesus in the traveler they had met on the way since His appearance after the resurrection had changed. The Lord conversed with them during their entire journey, entered the house with them, and only when He was breaking bread did they recognize Him. But immediately He became invisible. The disciples then said: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the way?” (Lk. 24:32). With joy they went and told the disciples of their encounter with the risen Lord.
It is striking that the disciples did not recognize Christ when He was next to them. Their physical eyes did not help them to see the risen God. But with the inner eyes of their soul they recognized Him. As soon as they knew this, He became invisible to them, for physical sight is not necessary when the heart is alive with faith.
That is what happened and happens to Christians when they come to believe in God. They have not seen Him, but their hearts are aflame with love for Him. Christ spoke about such people when He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn. 20:29). They are blessed, for they did not seek logical proofs, but the fire which God places in people’s hearts.
We believe in the resurrection of Christ not because somebody convinced us of it, but because we ourselves have come to know the Risen Christ through our inner experience. We have come to believe not because we saw God, but because we have felt His real presence in our hearts.
The skeptical mind of contemporary man says: “Unless I see I will not believe”. But we say: “I believe even though I do not see”. If everything in religion were visible, tangible and provable, why and in what would we need to believe? If there were not any mysteries in religion, how would it be different from everything else in our earthly life?
When we begin our lives as Christians, we challenge the world around us which demands from us a logical justification of our faith. Moreover, we challenge our own reasoning, which often doubts the existence of God. Setting sail on the ship of Christian faith, we put much at risk. We have no guarantee that we will reach our destination without suffering a “shipwreck in our faith” (1 Tim. 1:19). We have not been promised a face-to-face encounter with Christ or the chance to touch His wounds and receive the palpable evidence of Christ’s resurrection which Thomas was granted. Of course, in the age to come we will see Christ face-to-face, but this is just another thing that we must believe in! For the time being we have been given the inner experience of the risen Christ, an experience that is stronger than any logical proofs or any physical “seeing”.
Why has this experience been given to us, Christians? So that we may share it with others. We should remember that until the world comes to believe in Christ’s resurrection, until the risen Lord becomes the experience of all people, Christ’s mission on earth will not be completed. And just as the apostles went and preached Christ after His resurrection, so are we called to preach Him through our entire lives, not just in word, but in deeds.
Why are services of the Orthodox Church during Paschal days conducted not only inside the church, but also outside? Why do we not just serve the usual services instead of considering it necessary to proceed outside with crosses, icons and banners? Because our mission is not just to enjoy closeness with the risen Christ in church, but to testify to Him outside, where the rest of the world lives its own life.
We are called to continue the work of the apostles who, though they did not see the resurrection of Christ with their physical eyes, nevertheless saw Him with the eyes of their souls. Let us remember that the following words of the Savior were addressed not only to them, but also to us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen” (Mt. 28:20).