Faith and Resurrection
Fr. Dmitri Dudko
(Father Dmitri Dudko was a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in the late twentieth century. During the 1970's he initiated a unique style of question and answer sermons, concerning Christianity. These popular "talks" influenced thousands, and attracted the attention and anger of the Soviet government as well. Indeed the sufferings mentioned herein by Fr. Dmitri may be understood as those experienced by Christians at the hands of atheist authorities. They may refer as well to suffering in general for the love of Christ and neighbor, in light of the Resurrection. Fr. Dmitri fell asleep in the Lord on June 28, 2004 in Moscow. The following are excerpts from one of his remarkable sermons as found in the book, "Our Hope," published by St. Vladimir Seminary Press.)
The first week of Pascha has passed: Bright Week. Tradition tells us of how St. Mary Magdalene brought the emperor a decorated egg, saying, "Christ is Risen!" With this she began her preaching of the risen Christ. During the first years of the Soviet regime they still allowed debates on religious themes. One resourceful Metropolitan, instead of answering the claim that "today nobody believes in the resurrection of Christ," turned to those in the hall and proclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The hall, which was overflowing with no one but "atheists," answered with a roar: "Indeed He is Risen!" We in the Russian Orthodox Church have a remarkable Saint, Seraphim of Sarov, who was canonized just before the Revolution. He lived in the nineteenth century. No matter what time of year it was, he greeted all who came to him with the words: "Christ is Risen, my joy!" And the warmth of Christ's resurrection filled the soul of each individual.......
Today is Thomas Sunday, the so-called "Sunday of AntiPascha." ("Anti" in this case does not have its usual meaning of "against." It means "instead of" or "in place of" Pascha.) "Doubting Thomas." This has become the usual term for someone who does not believe. But in the Gospel, Thomas is the Apostle of the Resurrection. This is what the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solov'ev wrote on this subject in his Resurrectional Letters:
"In times of predominant unbelief it is important that we clarify with which type of unbelief we are dealing. If it is a flagrant lack of faith -- material, beastly, incapable of rising to a real understanding of the truth -- discussion is pointless. If it is an evil unbelief -- a conscious misuse of various half-truths through hostile fear of the full truth -- one must pursue such a serpent without anger or fear, disclosing its devices and its wiliness. Finally, if we are dealing with an honest, purely human unbelief, which but hungers for a full and complete certification of the full truth -- the type of unbelief which the Apostle Thomas had -- it enjoys a full right to our moral recognition. And if, unlike Christ, we are unable to give such people the certification of truth which they demand, then under no circumstances ought we to judge or reject them. Without a doubt these seemingly unbelieving people will precede the vast majority of all believers unto the Kingdom of God. If Thomas' unbelief had resulted from a profound materialism which reduces all truth to sensory evidence, then having been tangibly convinced of the fact of the resurrection, he might have invented some materialistic explanation for it. He would hardly have exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" From the point of view of sensory evidence, the wounds from the nails and the pierced side could in no wise demonstrate Christ's divinity. It is even clearer that Thomas' unbelief was not due to some moral bankruptcy or hostility to the truth. The love of truth drew him to Christ and engendered in him a boundless devotion to the Teacher...Christ did not judge Thomas, but utilized the means which he demanded in order to convince him: that is, He allowed him to put his fingers into the wounds from the nails..."
The Apostle Thomas is a symbol not of doubt but of confirmation. His words, "unless I see in His hand the wounds from the nails, and put my hand in His side, I will not believe," do not suggest unbelief, much less materialism. Christ's wounds are the proof of His resurrection. In other words, you cannot understand the essence of Christ's resurrection through abstract reasoning alone, but only by communing with Christ's wounds, with His sufferings...
The atheists use our fear of suffering to stifle our spirit, our free thoughts and feelings. And they in turn frighten us. We must overcome our fear of suffering. Only then will we become really free, active and invincible. Only then will we overcome the arguments against Christ's resurrection which the atheists use to coerce our minds: the coercion of "proofs" which at first seem to free our minds but which in fact only fetter them. Faith is the overcoming of all coercion of the mind. It is the smashing of all obstacles and impediments set up as "proofs." It is each person's free acceptance of Christ in his heart. To believe in Christ's resurrection means to free your mind of doubts, to cleanse your heart from slavery to sins, to fortify your will against all coercion and weakness. Faith is a breakthrough into eternity . Unbelief is non-freedom in everything: in mind, feelings and will...
But faith is not just given to man in an instant; just like that. The gift of freedom is sent through the Cross, through sufferings. Only then does freedom become real and understandable for man. Thus, sufferings become the only reliable proof. Thus, when Thomas wanted to place his fingers in Christ's wounds, he wanted to accept Christ's resurrection freely. Christ's wounds and sufferings became for the Apostle, the proof of the Savior's resurrection.
But Christ's sufferings were not those of just any person of any era. Christ our God became incarnate, He became a man, He was in man. Christ stands for each man. "I was sick and you did not visit Me, I was in prison and you did not come to Me," said Christ. "Lord, when were you sick or in prison?" they ask Him. "If you did so to this person, you did so to me," He answers. "Depart from Me, workers of iniquity!"
Anyone who has not in some way tasted of sufferings has no right to talk about the resurrection. It is blasphemous towards the resurrection for anyone who is afraid of sufferings or who runs away from them, to talk about Christ's resurrection. Therefore, I repeat, I now simply ignore intellectual proofs. To endure, to experience sufferings -- or at least to do so through compassion for your neighbor -- this is the path of free faith in Christ's resurrection. Let us make use of the Apostle Thomas' proof. Let us thrust our fingers into Christ's wounds. This will be the most reliable proof of the resurrection.
Remember that unfortunate Russian czar, that monster of the human race, Ivan the Terrible. How much human blood he spilled! How many executions! What senseless crimes he committed! He was even guilty of the death of the greatest Russian bishop, Philip the Great Martyr. But this monster, who was also a man of the greatest intelligence, would descend into the dungeon during the days of Pascha to visit the prisoners who were languishing in captivity. Are we not worse than him, when we fail to extend a hand to those who suffer and are persecuted, when we do not cheer them up?
Let us descend. Let us exchange the Paschal kiss and proclaim, "Christ is Risen!" to those whose graves are snow bound in the northern blizzards, whose bones are spread abroad all across our vast land, whose names people were afraid to mention out loud not long ago (i.e. the names of Russian martyrs and confessors for the Faith)...
We must say, "Christ is Risen!" to the students who have been expelled from the institutes because of their religious convictions, to those who have been fired from their jobs, oppressed or persecuted in any way. So what if their faith is not yet real, or even if they still consider themselves unbelievers? Faith will come to them, because Christ is with all those who suffer. Christ's resurrection extends to all people, but those who suffer receive it first of all. If in our love we kiss the clotted wounds of the crucified thief, even while he is still reviling Christ's Name, perhaps we will be helping him to believe in the risen Christ and be showing him the meaning of existence, in the resurrection from the dead.
We must not make Christ's resurrection into anyone's special privilege. Christ suffered for all -- the righteous and the unrighteous -- in order to resurrect all. Anyone who knows the truth of Christ's resurrection but hides it, who does not take it to people, is a criminal, whatever his faith. The light of Christ's resurrection must illuminate all. Just imagine that we possess the key to eternal happiness and all around us there are unhappy people who are perishing. We could make these unhappy people happy if only we would use our key...
Everyone who knows the truth of Christ's resurrection, who returns from His empty tomb...should run like the myrrhbearing women and cry, "Christ is Risen!" People, listen! Christ's resurrection exists! It is eternal joy for all of us...Can there be any joy greater than the Paschal joy?! Let us now sing the Paschal stichera:
"Let God arise; let His enemies be scattered."
"Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us, a new and holy Pascha, a mystical Pascha, a Pascha worthy of veneration, a Pascha which is Christ, the Redeemer. A blameless Pascha, a great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, a Pascha which opens to us the gates of Paradise, a Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful."