St. Thomas – The Apostle

The existence of a Christian community in south India in the name of St. Thomas Christians is an unquestionable proof of the Apostolate of St.Thomas in South India. The Eparchy of Kalyan is blessed to have the heavenly assistance through the intercession of St. Thomas the Apostle, its patron.


LIFE AND APOSTLESHIP OF ST. THOMAS

Thomas, Masculine gender, Te’oma (in Aramaic)also called Didymus (in Greek)mean “Twin”. Early church traditions state that he had a twin sister Lydia, but in Syriac tradition he is called Judas Thomas as the twin brother of Jesus. He is called Judas Thomas (i.e., Judas the Twin) by the Syrians. Thomas probably was born in Galilee, city of Pansada.

Scripture suggests that he was a fisherman, not a full-fledged owner but a helper. The Acts of Thomas suggests that Thomas was a carpenter and a member of Jesus’ immediate family. Legend places that Thomas was an architect.

He was the first one of the Twelve to enter the Gospels practically unnoticed. The first seven apostles had been mentioned before their calling, but Thomas’ name appears for the first time in the lists of the apostles. St. John recorded a few very significant words about Thomas in three passages; these words reveal the whole nature of Thomas. First, when Jesus announced His intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, “Thomas” who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). Second, the discourse before the Last Supper raised an objection: Thomas said to him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And Jesus answered Thomas: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:5). Third, Thomas makes that historical confession as, “My Lord and my God!”(Jn20:27-28).His sudden realization of truthmade Thomas the first person to explicitly acknowledge Jesus’ divinity.

Unfortunately Thomas is known with the nickname “Doubting Thomas”. He strengthened all of us who believe, whether we see or not, Thomas was called to be an apostle-he who believed only because he had seen. It was the Divine Providence, not mere chance, that this one apostle was not present with the others on that first Easter evening. He persisted in his unhappy doubt so that we might be happy in our grace of belief. If at all a fair nickname was to be given to Thomas, it should have been “Courageous Thomas” for his “Let us go with him, so that we may die with him” statement.


WORKS RELATED TO ST. THOMAS

The Acts of Judas Thomas, an apocryphal literature, has a value as the first and the earliest of the written document about the apostolate and martyrdom of St. Thomas in India. It was written in Syriac probably in Edessa between 180- 230 AD hence it is not written by Apostle Thomas. Gospel of Thomas has been discovered from two different places, two languages, two versions, and two different times: a Coptic translation and a Greek translation. A number of early Christian writings, written during centuries immediately following the first Ecumenical Council of 325, mention Thomas’ mission such as a Syrian ecclesiastical calendar, the Didascalia (end of 3rd century), Bar-Daisan (154–223),

Vincent A. Smith, Hippolytus, Eusebius, St John Chrysostom, Mar Aprem, Marco Polo, etc. In AD 522, Cosmas Indicopleustes visited the Malabar Coast. In his book Christian Topography, he mentions that in the town of “Kalliana”, there is a bishop consecrated in Persia. In AD 822, two Nestorian Persian Bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Peroz came to Malabar, to occupy their seats in Kollam and Kodungallur, to look after the local Syrian Christians.

Some of the Popes have written categorically about the apostolic mission of St. Thomas such as in the Roman Martyrology revised in 1584 by order of Pope Gregory XIII; in 1952, on the occasion of the 1900 years after the coming of St Thomas to India, Pope Pius XII; In 1972, 1900 years after the commonly accepted date of the death of St Thomas, Pope Paul VI; on 27 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI.


JOURNEYS AND MISSIONS OF ST. THOMAS

The apostle Thomas, after our Lord’s ascension, continued to preach the gospel in various parts of Judaea; till at length, being interrupted by the dispersion of the Christian church in Jerusalem, he repaired into Parthia. Leaving Persia, he traveled into Ethiopia, preaching the glad tidings of the gospel, healing the sick, and working other miracles, to prove he had his commission from on high. According to the Acts of Judas Thomas, the Apostle Thomas first came from Jerusalem with Habban, the merchant of King Gundaphor to Alexandria, Aden and Sokotra and from there to Barygaza (Bharukaccha), Gujarat, India in 44 – 48 AD. As there were Christians in Thane, Nallasopara, Kalyana it is possible St. Thomas had connections with Maharashtra too.

After the Jerusalem council (AD 50) Thomas decided to come back to India for continuing his missionary works. But in 51 AD the Parthian King Gundaphoras died; and the Kushans attacked his Kingdom. So St. Thomas took the sea route through Alexandria, Aden, Sokotra to Muziris (Kodungallur) and in the year 52 AD St. Thomas arrived in Muziris (Kodungalloor) which was then called Maliankara.

Thomas has preached the gospel throughout India especially the Malabar coast, though the various churches he founded were located mainly on the Periyar River and its tributaries and along the coast, where there were Jewish colonies. He reputedly preached to all classes of people and had about seventeen thousand converts, including members of the four principal castes.

From Kodungalloor Thomas then went to Palayoor (near present-day Guruvayoor), which was a Hindu priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for the southern part of what is now Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or “Seven and Half Churches”. These churches are at Kodungallur (Crangganore, Maliankara), Quilon (Kollam), Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkavu (Paravoor, Parur) and Palayoor(Palur). According to the tradition Malayattoor and Thiruvithancode are the other pilgrim places of St. Thomas.


MARTYRDOM OF ST. THOMAS

A Christian martyr is regarded as one who is put to death for his Christian faith or convictions. Saint Thomas became a martyr in 72 AD. There are different traditions regarding his death, right from a king ordering a high priest to stab him, to the Brahmins stabbing Thomas for converting multitude to Christian faith. The traditions of Malabar, Coromandel and the Persian Church held that Thomas the Apostle died near the ancient town of Mylapore. St.Thomas became a martyr in A.D.72 and was buried in Mylapore. After he was killed at Little Mount (Chinnamala) his body was brought to Mylapore and buried inside the church he had built there. A pot containing earth, probably moistured by his blood and the lance with which he was pierced were both buried in his tomb. Today, the Shrine preserves a small bone of the Saint and the head of the lance with which the Saint was pierced. It seems that Mylapore became famous only after the Portuguese came to colonize India.


RELIC OF ST. THOMAS

In A.D. 232 the greater part of relics of the Apostle Thomas were taken from Mylaoreto Edessa, Mesopotamia. Thereafter in 1141, the relics were taken to Chios, a Greek island, and on1258, the relics were transported to the West by crusaders, and now rest in Ortona, Italy. In the year 2002 AD Bishop Mar Thomas Elavanal was privileged to receive a particle of the bones of St. Thomas for the Diocese of Kalyan which was solemnly installed at the Cathedral Church in Kalyan West by the then Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil. In the context of the Silver Jubilee celebration and the Year of St. Thomas, the relic was taken for veneration to all the parishes and mission centers of the diocese and solemnly re-installed at the St. Thomas Cathedral Church at Kalyan West on 1st May 2013 by Mar Thomas Elavanal.


FEAST DAY AND PATRONAGE

Now, feast day of St. Thomas in Roman and Syrian Catholic churches is on 3rd July. In addition the next Sunday of the Easter (Pascha) is celebrated as Sunday of Thomas, in commemoration of Thomas’ question to Jesus which led him to proclaim, ‘My Lord and My God’ and the day in Kerala is known as Puthunjayar. Thomas is also commemorated in common with all of the other apostles on June 30, in a feast called the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. Thomas is considered to be the patron saint of architects, builders, carpenters, construction workers, geometricians, masons, stone masons, stone cutters, surveyors, theologians, people who have doubts in faith and blind.

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