Thomas had a heart that had taken one too many beatings. Despite his often being stigmatized by later generations as “Doubting Thomas” there is nothing in his past record to indicate such a defect of character. In John’s account of Christ’s raising of Lazarus, when the Lord said that Lazarus had died and that He was going to enter the cauldron of dangerous Judea to “go to him” (John 11:15), the disciples assumed that He meant following Lazarus by dying too in His attempt to visit the grieving family. They were properly horrified, and reluctant to follow Him on such a doomed mission. It was Thomas who spurred them on and said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (v. 16). In other words, Thomas could not bear the thought of letting his Lord die alone, but was prepared to accompany Him even if it meant his death as well. This is not the utterance of a doubter, or of someone who is of two minds. Thomas had wrapped his whole life around Jesus, and that life would have no meaning without Him.
The most dangerous temptations are usually the most subtle ones because we think we are doing something good even as we are not. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines of Lent, we must be especially on guard against the temptation to make the season simply about ourselves. If our focus is simply on the quality of our prayers, our fasting, our almsgiving, and our repentance, we will miss the point of this season without even noticing it. For Lent is not about achieving a new “personal best” in our religious observance, but about preparing to follow Christ to His Passion. As the Lord told His disciples at the conclusion of today’s gospel reading: “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and after He is killed, He will rise on the third day.”
A reference point in the typiko of Great Lent is the communion of the Presanctified Precious Gifts. The discordance between the festal and joyful nature of the celebration of the Divine Eucharist and the compunction of Great Lent makes it inappropriate to celebrate the bloodless sacrifice on fast days. And yet, the importance of Holy Communion for the spiritual struggle of the faithful has established participation in the Presanctified Gifts even on such days.
The difference between the Presanctified Liturgy and the more common types of the Eucharist is that the Precious Gifts have already been sanctified as Body and Blood earlier, at the Divine Liturgy on the previous Saturday or Sunday. At the proskomidi, the celebrant takes out a second lamb [central portion of the loaf], which he places with the first on the paten. He sanctifies and elevates this as normal, and, after pouring the warm water into the chalice, immerses the second lamb in the precious blood and places it carefully in a special artoforio or tabernacle [a vessel kept on the holy alter where the reserved gifts are kept] until the day when the Presanctified is to take place.