Thomas the Apostle

Today is Thomas Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, commemorating the appearance of our risen Lord to Thomas and the other disciples. Many people refer to St Thomas of the Twelve as “Doubting Thomas,” the phrase even having entered English as a trope describing any doubtful person. There is more to the story of St Thomas than this, however.

This is the same Thomas who, with Jesus leading them to Judea just after Lazarus died, knowing the Lord was in danger from the Judeans, says to the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11.16). These are not the words of a disciple without conviction, the words of one who is not wholeheartedly attached to his Master.

Later, on the day Lord rose, the disciples were gathered in a locked room, “for fear of the Judeans” (John 20.19), Thomas was not there. Why? Perhaps he was in seclusion, but then again, perhaps he wasn’t afraid. In any case, he wasn’t with the rest of the group. When he hears from the other disciples that they have seen the Lord, he refuses to accept their testimony, stating that he will require personal, physical confirmation before he believes that the Lord lives. This is a double problem. He has rejected the testimony of eyewitnesses to the living Lord, his own companions, and has resorted to personal investigation and rationalization, to the basest sense of all, that of touch, though perhaps hoping against hope that they are, after all, not deluded. Regardless, his lack of faith is not necessarily in the Lord Himself, but certainly a lack of faith in his companions.

But then, a week later, the Lord appears again, telling Thomas to do just as he said he would require before he would believe. And his response? It is not, “Welcome back!” or, “Glad to see you!” It is, “My Lord and my God!” These are not the words of an utter doubter. Even so, we learn the lesson that “Blessed are those,” like ourselves, “who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20.29). We aren’t told what the other disciples said, but Thomas’ response is certainly worthy of remembrance. A spark of faith in his heart was in that moment fanned into a flame that would burn throughout the East, spreading the light and warmth of that faith to uncounted others.

We certainly learn from Thomas’ example several things: a loyalty that doesn’t shrink even at martyrdom, a recognition of Jesus as Lord and God, and that we who have received the testimony of, among others, Thomas and the rest of the disciples, without requiring a physical or visionary experience of the Lord, are also blessed, despite what we may at times think.