Monday, December 21, 2009

St.Thomas the Apostle

St. Thomas the Apostle of Jesus the Saviour is also known as Judas Thomas or Didymus. He is also known as the ‘Doubting Thomas’ as it is believed that he demanded to feel Jesus' wounds before being convinced that the Saviour has truly risen. St. Thomas was also the first person to proclaim the divinity and humanity of Jesus by declaring ‘My Lord and my God’ and hence he is also called “Thomas the Believer”. The position of St.Thomas in the Holy Bible is clear from St.John 20:24 where it is mentioned - Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came, and also from St.John 11:16 where it has been mentioned that – “Then Thomas, who is called Didymos, said to his fellow disciples: ‘Let us go, that we may die with him’ ”.

The detail about the saint’s family life and profession is very limited. He is believed to be an architect by profession. Thomas preached the gospel in the eastern countries, including India. ‘According to The Passing of Mary’, a writing attributed to Joseph of Arimathaea, Thomas was the only witness at the assumption of Mary into heaven. The other apostles were miraculously transported to Jerusalem to witness her death. Thomas was left in India at the time of the death of Mary. However, after her burial, he was transported to her tomb, and he witnessed her bodily assumption into heaven, during which she dropped her girdle (sunoro). In an inversion of the story of Thomas's doubts, the other apostles are sceptical of Thomas's story until they see the empty tomb and the girdle. It is the tradition that St. Thomas the Apostle also preached in Syria.

St. Thomas is known as the Apostle of India. He had been to Kerala, India to spread Christianity where he established a small Christian community, the St.Thomas Christians. He erected several churches.. These churches are at Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal Chayal, Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal Paravoor, Palayoor Chattukulangara and Thiruvithamcode. The St. Thomas Christians are now divided into various denominations like the Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants. The division among St.Thomas Christians was the result of European colonial occupation of Kerala. .

It is also said that there remained a small Christian Community baptized by St. Thomas on the isolated island of Socotra south of Yemen in the Arabian Sea. But this Christian community came to an end as the Mahra sultans from the Horn of Africa conquered Socotra in fifteen eleven. Various Eastern Churches in China and Japan claim that St. Thomas personally brought Christianity to China and Japan in AD 64 and 70 respectively. Some traditions also associate St.Thomas with Latin America where he preached Gospel to the Mesoamerican civilization.

It is believed that the saint has also written the ‘Acts of Thomas’. Besides the Acts of Thomas there was a widely circulated ‘Infancy Gospel of Thomas’ probably written in the later 2nd century, and probably also in Syria, which relates the miraculous events and prodigies of Jesus' boyhood. The best known in modern times of these documents is the "sayings" document which is known as the Gospel of St.Thomas. It is a noncanonical work which, some scholars believe, may actually predate the writing of the Biblical gospels themselves. The opening line claims it is the work of "Didymos Judas Thomas" who has been identified with Thomas the Apostle. This work was discovered in a Coptic translation in 1945 at the Egyptian village of Nag Hammadi, near the site of the monastery of Chenoboskion. Once the Coptic text was published, the scholars recognized that an earlier Greek translation had been published from fragments of papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus in the 1890s.

There is a tradition in India that St. Thomas received martyrdom in A.D. 72 . A part of the relics of St Thomas is preserved at the Catholicate Chapel in Kottayam, Kerala, India which is the official residence of the Catholicos of the East, A part of his relics is also preserved at St.Mary’s Orthodox Church, Niranam, one of the original churches founded by the Apostle. The feast of St. Thomas is celebrated on the twenty first of December.

-George Alexander @ TVOO


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