Such joy we have known! “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25). Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life. Darkness and death and every sorrow have been extinguished by Christ our light and our life and our joy. Rising up from his tomb, Christ recreates us who were not created for death but for life.
We have come to today, the eighth day of Pascha. Historically, those who were baptized on Pascha would wear their white baptismal robes for eight days, until today. For this reason, today was also once called White Sunday.[i] So this day has a deep connection to baptism and can serve to remind all of us of our own baptisms into Christ.
We have come here through Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week. Our liturgical remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us also of our own death and resurrection, already accomplished by grace in our baptism. It is by baptism that we die with Christ so that we might rise with Christ. Christ himself is our true, brilliant, radiant, and pure baptismal garment. It is with him that we are clothed. Clothed with the risen Christ, we live again and live forever with him and in him.
In Christ, we know true freedom and mercy and forgiveness. He returns us to our first natural innocence. On Pascha, the holy doors – the gates of paradise – are flung open and they remain open all of Bright Week. During this time, we see the Lord more clearly and more familiarly. There is no locked door between us. It is as if he walks with us again in the garden. It is as if the Lord Jesus has come and stands among us as he did among his disciples even though the doors were locked. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20) and we are filled with joy throughout Bright Week. Perhaps our excitement has been somewhat subdued this year. A child of my acquaintance once said on Bright Wednesday, “All the excitement was on the first day, and the excitement is wearing off now.” Well, that’s one experience.
Today, the holy doors – the gates of heaven – are closed again. What once closed the gates of paradise was sin. What opens them again is mercy and forgiveness. When Jesus stood among his disciples after his resurrection, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). So Jesus Christ has given from his Father to his disciples – to his Church – the life of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins that comes with that. So now, even though sins still shut the doors to paradise, forgiveness, especially through the holy mysteries of the church, opens them again.
The holy mystery of baptism washes away our sins (Acts 22:16). Whether we received this as babies or later in life, on that day, we became illuminated children of God baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3-4) – into the life of Christ – and by chrismation we have been sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – to live the life of the Spirit. The doors to heaven are wide open to us now.
This establishes in us an indissoluble relationship with our Lord. No matter what trying circumstances in or out of our control beset us during this life on earth, our Lord is giving us his own life to live. In these days, we are not coming together to pray in the church. I miss praying with you in the church terribly, but I know we are praying together in the spirit given to us when we were baptized and chrismated. Nothing can prevent that.
The devil, however, will try to take this as an opportunity to drive a wedge between you and the church, if that were possible, given that you are the church by the grace of God. But know this: even if you have fallen into sin: judgmentalism, despair, resentment, gluttony, sloth, or lust due to the intense temptations brought on during this experience of physical separation from the church, there is still the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord for you.
When we sin again after baptism, there is for us the necessary second baptism of holy repentance, confession, and forgiveness of sins. Today Jesus gives his authority to forgive sins to his apostles. I am still available for confession during this time, and thanks be to God, I have seen an increase in confession. If you are prudently unable to go to confession at this time, confess and express your sorrow for your sins to the Lord and prayerfully resolve to go to confession as soon as it becomes prudent. We are forgiven the moment we repent, and a sincere repentance necessary includes the intention to confess. As soon as you are able to, go frequently to confession. The need for this should be even more apparent to us now than ever. We never know what disruption is coming, and confession is a necessary part of life for us sinners. It is a way to begin to see God in our lives.
We also receive the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, “for the remission of our sins and for life everlasting.” When you are once again able, come often to holy communion; it is a way to begin to see God in your life.
There is also the mystery of holy anointing, which we will celebrate communally whenever we are able to come together again, since we didn’t get to on Holy Wednesday. This is for the healing of all the sicknesses of our souls and bodies and is also for the forgiveness of sins. St. James asks us, “Is any among you sick?” The answer is, none of us is totally free of physical or spiritual illness in this life. Therefore, “Let [us] call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over [us], anointing [us] with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save [us], and the Lord will raise [us] up; and if [we have] committed sins, [we] will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).
Notice that all of these holy mysteries are for the forgiveness of our sins and unite us again to God. They open the holy doors and offer us a glimpse of God.
Now again we will close and open the holy doors as we did before – occasionally offering fleeting glimpses of the paradise from which we were once shut out. These glimpses present us with what really matters — an image of God in his heavens, into which he beckons us. To see God is to be with God. Θεωρία leads to θέωσις – the vision of God to union with God.
Thomas wanted to see God, but doubted that he would. When the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he said, “Unless I see…, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Eight days later, he does see and does believe. And, seeing the Lord, says, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Other men, seeing Jesus, failed to see God. But Thomas, seeing Jesus risen from the dead, sees God. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” says Jesus (John 20:29). What shall their blessing be? It will be to see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
[i] S.V. Bulgakov, Handbook for Church Servers, 2nd ed., 1274 pp. (Kharkov, 1900), pp. 0586-0589. Translated by Archpriest Eugene D. Tarris © March 8, 2007,