St. Thomas

Dukhrana of St. Thomas the Apostle, July 3

INTRODUCTION

St. Thomas was born as a Jew, probably a builder like St. Joseph, in Galilee and was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus. His date of birth is unknown and his date of death is December 21, 72. His feast, formerly observed on December 21st, is now celebrated on July 3rd known as Dhukrana which means remembrance. St. John the Evangelist gives three interactions of Thomas with Jesus which are all communicative of the commitment of Thomas to Jesus and his ministry. Thomas was the only apostle who went outside Roman Empire to preach the gospel. Along with other countries, he also preached in India and was martyred there. Though he was buried in Mylapore, major parts of his remains were moved to Edessa and Italy.

 Name

The original name of St. Thomas, according to tradition, is Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. The literal meaning of Thomas is twin originated from Te’oma in Aramaic and Didymos in Greek. (John 11:16). Probably St. Thomas had a twin brother or sister. According to the Syriac tradition, St. Thomas is also known as Mar Thoma Sleeha which means Lord Thomas the Apostle.

 In the Gospels

The name of Thomas is listed along with the other apostles in the Synoptic gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). However, the personality of St. Thomas is demonstrated at three occasions in the fourth gospel.

THE COMMITTED APOSTLE: News came to Jesus that Lazarus, one of his great friends, who hosted him several times during his journey to Jerusalem, was sick. Later Jesus revealed to the disciples that Lazarus had died and Jesus expressed his wish to visit his family. The apostles were afraid to go to Jerusalem because the Jews had previously attempted to stone Jesus to death (John 11:8). While they discouraged Jesus from going ahead, Thomas came forward boldly and said to the other apostles, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (John 11:16). Thus, Thomas was so committed to Jesus during his public ministry that he was even willing to die with Jesus. And he empowered the others also to do so even before they received courage from the Holy Spirit.

THE CURIOUS LEARNER: A enquiring student would facilitate the teacher to clarify the unknown mysteries. St. Thomas was such a curious learner. During the last discourse to his disciples at the last supper, Jesus said to them: “Where I am going you know the way.” (John 14:4). In fact, the apostles did not know what Jesus meant. While others were reluctant to ask for clarification because of fear of how the master would react, Thomas showed the boldness to ask Jesus representing all the disciples, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). That gave the opportunity for Jesus and privilege for all to hear from Jesus a great mystery of Jesus in his words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Thus, Thomas began to teach about Jesus, as the way to the Father. So, the Christians who inherited faith from Apostle Thomas were called “Margam koodiyavar” (Those who joined the way).

A CONVINCED BELIEVER: A negative title attributed to St. Thomas is “Doubting Apostle.” The Risen Lord appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of the first day of his resurrection. All the apostles, except Thomas and Judas Iscariot, were present. The reason for the absence of Thomas is unknown. Maybe he wanted to express his grief in solitude, or he went outside, out of his boldness, to study the situation outside. Anyway, Thomas missed that exciting experience of seeing the Risen Lord, the privilege to receive Holy Spirit from Jesus through his breathing over the apostles and the commissioning of the apostles to continue his mission: “he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20: 20-23).

When the apostles shared their experience of seeing the Risen Lord with excitement, it was heartbreaking for Thomas because of his loss of a precious opportunity. Thomas knew that the disciples were telling the truth. But, out of his downheartedness, he demanded the same experience for him to believe in Jesus. Thomas realized his mistake of not continuing the companionship of the disciples in prayer. Though he expressed his anguish, he did not give up the communion of the apostles. When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the next Sunday, Thomas was with them and could get personal attention from Jesus who invited him to touch his marks of wounds. The contribution of Thomas was an additional proof to the world on the resurrection of the Lord. He also gave a great theological expression, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas expressed and taught to the world the divinity of Jesus: The Lord Jesus is also the Almighty God. Thomas was not a blind believer but a convinced faithful. After receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Thomas boldly and convincingly presented Jesus to the people outside the Roman Empire.

 Missionary Expeditions of Thomas

Jesus had selected and trained apostles and other disciples of Jesus as a succession plan for the continuation of his mission. The missionary expeditions of some of them, especially of St. Paul and St. Peter, are described in the Acts of the Apostles. However, we don’t have much written records on the missionary journey of St. Thomas, except in some non-canonical books. According to Eusebius, Thomas had preached in Parthia (North-Eastern Iran) and India. Some Eastern Churches in China and Japan claim that St. Thomas personally brought Christianity to China in 64 and Japan in 70 A.D.

There are some writings and traditions on the missionary work of St. Thomas in India. He reached Muziris (Kodungalloor in the present Kerala State) in 52 A.D.  There was a Jewish community there during that time. St. Thomas established seven and a half churches in the present Kerala. They are at Kodungallur, Palayoor (Chattukulangara), Kottakkavu (Paravoor), Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kollam and Thiruvithamcode (Travancore), the half church. Thomas baptized several families including Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli, Kaliyankal, Nedumpilly, Panakkamattom, Kunnappilly, Vazhappilly, Payyappilly, Maliakkal, Pattamukku and Thaiyil. Some other families also claim to have their Christin origin during this time.

A third century Syriac writing known as the Acts of Thomas presents a story on the arrival of Thomas in India and his missionary work there. According to the legend, the apostles drew lots to divide the world for their missionary work. Thomas got India by lot and he was reluctant to go there. However, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and reassured him of his support. Meanwhile, Abbanes, a merchant and representative of the Indo-Parthian king Gundaphorus came to Jerusalem searching for a carpenter to build a palace for the king in India. Jesus appeared to Abbanes and “sold” Thomas as a carpenter. Thomas, realizing the wish of Jesus, went to India with Abbanes. The King Gundaphorus was the ruler of present Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Sind from the year 20 to 46 A.D.

Gundaphorus entrusted plenty of money to Thomas to build a magnificent palace for him. Thomas preached the gospel of Jesus and helped the poor with the money he received from the king. Realizing that Thomas was “misusing” him money and not building the palace, the king summoned Thomas and questioned him. The reply of Thomas was that he was building the palace in heaven with the money and the king would get it after his death. The king, who was not convinced with the justification of Thomas, imprisoned him.

While Thomas was in prison, the kings brother Gad died. Realizing that Thomas was a miracle worker, king brought Thomas from prison to pray at the body of his brother. Gad came back to life and explained that while dead, he saw a beautiful palace that Thomas built in heaven for the king. King Gundaphorus prostrated in front of Thomas and apologized for his mistake. This incident led to the conversion of the king and many people in the kingdom.

  Writings attributed to Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are the books attributed to St. Thomas. They are not approved as originated from Thomas or accepted as canonical books. Gospel of Thomas is considered as of gnostic origin and heretical.

It is believed that Apostle Thomas sent letters from Taxila and Malabar in India to the Church in Edessa. They were read during the church services in Edessa and were preserved for later use. Though St. Thomas did not preach in Edessa, the church in Edessa believed that the apostle sent his disciple Mar Addai to Edessa for evangelization. The reading of the letters from St. Thomas during Sunday services made the bond of St. Thomas and the church in Edessa closer and they considered St. Thomas as their apostle. Since the Christians in Edessa felt close to St. Thomas, they transported the bones of St. Thomas from Mylapore to Edessa on July 3, 232.

The letters of St. Thomas in Aramaic language to the Church of Edessa were not spread to other churches or did not enter into the New Testament because they were more a newsletter than a letter of spiritual instruction. They were valuable to the church in Edessa because it was from their favorite apostle and it was addressed to them. So, they preserved them along with other precious manuscripts of gospels and epistles in their church. Unfortunately, these documents were lost when that church was destroyed by a flood from River Daisan in 201.

  Thomas, as Witness of the Assumption of B.V. Mary

Traditional belief is that Thomas witnessed the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. A text attributed to Joseph of Arimathea called “The Passing of Mary” gives a legend that was pronounced heretical by Pope Gelasius I in 494. According to this document, when the Blessed Virgin Mary was nearing death, angels appeared to all the apostles asking them to visit the Blessed Mother before her death. All of them, except Thomas, witnessed her death and burial. Since Thomas was in India, he could reach only later. Thomas visited the tomb of Mary where he found the empty tomb of Mary and witnessed her bodily assumption into heaven and Mary dropped her girdle to Thomas. The other apostles, hearing the story, came back and saw the empty tomb of Mary and the girdle that Thomas received. Thomas receiving the girdle is depicted in the pre-Tridentine and medieval art.

    Martyrdom

Like the other apostles, Thomas could perform many miracles by the grace of God to help and convince the people to embrace Christianity. According to legends, Thomas performed many such signs in Syria, Persia, and India. One among the converts was the wife of the King of Mylapore in Madras. The King summoned Thomas in 72 A.D., and asked him to offer sacrifice to an idol. When the reluctant Thomas was forced to approach the idol, it was miraculously shattered into pieces. The furious king ordered the high priest to kill Thomas.

After condemned to death, four soldiers pierced Thomas with spears at hillock now known as St. Thomas Mount. San Thom Cathedral was constructed at his burial place.

 Transportation of Relics

According to some writings and traditions, the bones of St. Thomas were transported by a merchant Khabin from Mylapore to Edessa on July 3, 232 when Vasudeva I was the Kushan emperor in India. The relics worked many miracles in India and Edessa. It is believed that Acts of Thomas was written in Syriac during this time. The relics of St. Thomas was moved from Edessa to various other places later. In 1258, some of the relics were taken to Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle at Abruzzo in Ortona, Italy by a sailor Leone Acciaiuoli. There is another tradition that the skull of the saint is in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the Greek Island of Patmos.

 Feast days of St. Thomas

The feast of St. Thomas was celebrated on December 21st according to the Roman calendar of the 9th century believing that he died on that date. In 1969, this feast was transferred to July 3rd because that was the date mentioned by St. Jerome in his Martyr-ology. The remains of St. Thomas were transferred from Mylapore to Edessa on July 3, 232. So, the remembrance of St. Thomas was also associated with that date. Transferring the feast from December 21st to July 3rd was advantageous for better observance of advent. Traditionalist Roman Catholics and many protestant churches still celebrate the feast of St. Thomas on December 21st. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches celebrate feast of St. Thomas on October 6th. The Sunday after Easter is also celebrated as the feast of St. Thomas in remembrance of St. Thomas proclaiming his faith in the Risen Lord by stating, “My Lord and my God.” The Malankara Orthodox church celebrates three feasts of St. Thomas: on July 3rd remembering the transfer of relics to Edessa, on December 18th the day St. Thomas was lanced and on December 21st when he died.

PATRON SAINT: St. Thomas is patron of people struggling with doubt, blind people, architects, builders, carpenters, construction workers, geometricians, stone masons, surveyors, theologians; and places such as Certaldo, Italy, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

IN ART: Saint Thomas is commonly depicted as a young man holding a scroll, or as a young adult touching the resurrected Christ's wounds.

 Message

1. While Jesus expressed his wish to visit the house of Lazarus at his death, Thomas encouraged other apostles to go with Jesus even if that would lead to their martyrdom. Though Thomas failed in this at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, he boldly took up the martyrdom for Jesus. Let us also find the courage to continue the evangelization of Jesus even at the risk of losing our life.

2. Apostle Thomas was instrumental in the revelation of Jesus that he is the way to the Father. Thomas also taught this way to people of many nations. Let us also accept the way of Jesus as the only way to the Father and never get deviated from it.

3. Though St. Thomas missed the opportunity to witness the Risen Lord on the first day of Resurrection along with other apostles, He did not give up his faith. He remained praying with the group patiently. That gave him another opportunity to experience the Risen Lord. Thomas compensated his lack of faith through his expression of “My Lord and My God.” We also might have ups and downs in our spiritual journey. However, we should never give up our faith and hope in the Lord.

4. According to the Acts of Thomas, the apostle taught the Indo-Parthian king Gundaphorus the need for storing treasures in heaven with the available resources of this world. Thomas risked his life to teach that lesson. Let us also follow that teaching of Jesus promoted by Thomas in our life.

5. Though all the apostles witnessed the ascension of Jesus to heaven, only Thomas had the privilege to witness the assumption of the Blessed Mother. Like the post-resurrection experience, God compensated the missed opportunity of Thomas seeing the Blessed Mother at deathbed, by allowing him to witness the assumption of the mother of Jesus. So like Thomas added a proof for the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas became instrumental in the promotion of the belief in the assumption of the Blessed Mother. Let us also honor the Blessed Mother and seek her intercession in keeping up our faith.