The Assurance of Thomas | Believing not Doubting

From the altar of the Church of St John the Baptist, Chesmenskaya

From the altar of the Church of St John the Baptist, Chesmenskaya

The first Sunday after Easter commemorates the Apostle Thomas’ doubting, then assurance, of Christ’s Resurrection.

Ivory Diptych (Detail): Doubting Thomas

c. 500 A.D., Italy

Daphni monastery, 11th c

c. 1100, Greece

Described in John 20:19-31, the Icon of the feast describes the moment eight days after the Resurrection when Christ appeared amidst His disciples. It was His second appearance to the Apostles, yet the young Tomas had not been present first time round and had said to the others: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Here, now, Christ appears miraculously within the disciples’ hiding place, the door firmly shut; and yet He is real, and invites Thomas: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing”.

Cathedral Protata, Athos, 13th Century

Cathedral Protata, Athos, 13th Century

The composition of the icon: Christ’s arm raised, His right side revealed, Thomas bending down to poke it, has been established since at least the 5th century, as evidenced by a first millennium ivory diptych showing the Resurrection; this is unsurprising, as the icon takes its cue from the written description in John’s Gospel.

15th Century, Russia

c. 1100 A.D, Spain

Where the Icon does, in part, give a deeper interpretation of the account is in the inscriptions found on images of Thomas touching Christ’s wounds. The term “doubting Thomas” is a familiar one, referring to the Apostle and used to describe someone who unreasonably doubts someone’s word. Even in Russian there is a term for such a person: Фома неверующий (Foma neveruyushchii).

However, the inscriptions of Orthodox Icons do not bear this description of Thomas. In Greek, the inscription reads Η ψηλάφηση του Θωμά, that is, the “Touching of Thomas”, making no reference to Thomas’ doubt. In Slavonic the meaning is even clearer as the inscriptions read Уверение Фомы, i.e. the “Assurance of Thomas”. Usually, English icons translate the Slavonic and inscribe their icons “The Belief of Thomas”.

16th Century, School of Dionysii, Russia

16th Century, School of Dionysii, Russia

The icon does not show “Doubting Thomas”, but the reassured Thomas. The Thomas who, bending before Christ to touch His wounds exclaims: “My Lord and my God!”. The Church Fathers recognized that whilst Thomas doubted, his doubt was not unreasonable, and as such Christ responded, spurring Thomas to a confession of Jesus’ Divinity more explicit than anywhere else in the Gospels.

Looking out from the scene, Christ’s response to Thomas is also for us: “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen Me yet have believed.”

English icon of the Assurance of Thomas

While the tomb was sealed, You, O Life, did shine forth from the grave, O Christ God; and while the doors were shut, You did come unto Your disciples, O Resurrection of all, renewing through them an upright Spirit in us according to Your great mercy.


With his searching right hand, Thomas did probe Your life-bestowing side, O Christ God; for when You did enter while the doors were shut, he cried out unto You with the rest of the Apostles: You are my Lord and my God.

(from the Hymns of the Feast)

About the Feast

More frescoes of the cathedral Protata in Kars, Athos (includes the “Touching of Thomas” fresco used above)

About the Daphni Monastery (from where the 12th century Greek mosaic is found)

This entry was posted in Icons of Christ, Icons of the Incarnation, Resurrection Icons, The Saints and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Assurance of Thomas | Believing not Doubting

  1. P says:

    Why is the person blessed that doesn’t see Jesus? Because i would think the person is more blessed that does see Jesus because he’s right there in front of them and they don’t have to um and ar. So they have more and the person who doesn’t see Jesus has less. So why are they more blessed?

    • iconreader says:

      Dear P:

      Jesus is not saying that all those who don’t physically see Jesus are blessed, but those who don’t physically see Jesus yet still believe. Jesus is talking to Thomas, but clearly He is speaking to us, now, who are reading His words hundreds of years after He walked the earth. He is comforting anyone Who believes in Him, and believes the account of the Gospel, yet is perhaps a little “jealous” of the Apostles who met Him in the flesh and conversed with Him. Jesus is telling that person “No, do not be sad, because you, for believing in Me without touching my wounds like Thomas, are more blessed."

      For those who truly do um and ar about Jesus' claims, without being cynical about it, and who really "want" to believe, then what the account shows is that for these people Jesus will respond. To Thomas, Jesus appeared through the closed doors of the upper room like a ghost, yet was still physically present, and showed the wounds of the Crucifixion – so He was showing His divinity and humanity at the same time. He also told Thomas to touch His wounds without Thomas having to ask. This shows that when Thomas told the other disciples: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” Jesus was there invisibly listening. He must have been, otherwise how could He have invited Thomas to do exactly what he said he wanted to do: see and touch the wounds of Christ?

      Pray you are well.

      • P says:

        Yeah im good ta. Same to you as well.
        Jesus was listening invisibly. So Jesus/God/Holy Spirit is not interchangable even though they are all God. At first i thought well he would hear because he is God….but then i realised that Jesus is Jesus, God is God and the Spirit is the Spirit for a reason and even though they are all God you can’t mix up there names as you like. That might seem obvious to Christians but its rli hard to get yr head round.
        Some things i understand at the time and then i forget it when i go on to other stuff, that’s why i go over the same stuff so much lolOl it is rli importent to understand it properly though so i dont mind.

        I like the Chesmenskaya icon best.

      • iconreader says:

        Rather than saying Jesus/God/Holy Spirit are not interchangeable I would say Jesus/the Father/Holy Spirit are not interchangeable: they are distinct people. But “God” is sometimes used to refer to the Father, with Jesus as His (God’s) Word and the Holy Spirit as His (God’s) Breath which confuses things.

        Christianity is centered upon Jesus Christ (obvious, I know, but it’s worth repeating), and so things begin with Him. The best question to ask is the same question Jesus asks His disciples in the Gospels: “Who do you say I am?”

        From answering this question, other questions about the Trinity, God, Salvation etc.. all resolve themselves. It doesn’t necessarily sort itself out all in one go, and so returning to this particular question is a necessary part of going over the same stuff again.

        Thomas gives one answer to this question, of course, and just as important as calling Jesus “God” and “Lord” is that Thomas called Jesus “my God” and “my Lord”. Having such a personal relationship is the key to eventually answering these questions too.

  2. P says:

    Ok so can He be God and Lord and yet not my God and not my Lord?? I think He either is or He isent. Don’t you think thas just semantics?? About Christianity being about Christ, but Jesus always pointed the way to God The Father and only did and said what He wanted Him to. So its all about God and Jesus is the mediater and the way to God. Im not meaning to be arguing or trying to debate im just throwing up stuff i read and saying yeah but….how can it be about Christ when i read this in the bible as well?. You dont have to answer….i will think about it a bit…..because without the resserection and lamb and sacrifice then there wouldent be nothing. So in that way its all about Him maybe. Cheers.

  3. P says:

    Ok i get the Father thing.
    Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit….God is the interchangable title like HRH and the others are persons and there not interchangable.

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  7. eebelz says:

    When I put myself in St. Thomas’ shoes, I feel like he must’ve felt left out and hurt by the fact that Jesus appeared to the disciples when only he was not present. I think his so-called “doubt” might really have been more of a desire for inclusion, wanting to see Jesus for himself like all his fellow disciples got to do. He might also have had some skepticism; human feelings and motives are complex. But I think the tenderness with which Christ granted his request is a good meditation for those of us who also want to “see” Him for ourselves.

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  10. Will Clark says:

    I found a black and white icon of Thomas touching the wounds with a candle in one window and a small man sitting on a ledge holding a scroll. What do these symbols mean?

  11. Ann Chapin says:

    Question: Why do some icons of Christ show wounds in his hands and feet, and others don’t, such as Christ Enthroned and Pantocrator? Is it because the tradition only shows them on events that correspond to when he walked the earth?

    • iconreader says:

      Hello Ann:
      Yes, you are basically correct. Although you will find exceptions to this rule, generally Christ’s wounds are only shown in images that show His crucifixion, burial or other event after His resurrection but before His ascension.

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