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Thomas the Apostle

Thomas the Apostle, sometimes informally called Doubting Thomas or Didymus which means "TheThomas the Apostle Twin", was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament. He is best known from the account in the Gospel of Saint John, where he questioned Jesus' resurrection when first told of it, followed by his confession of faith as both "My Lord and my God" on seeing Jesus' wounded body.

Traditionally, he is said to have traveled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling as far as India. According to tradition, the Apostle reached Muziris, India in 52 AD and baptized several people who are today known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. After his death, the reputed relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle were enshrined as far as Mesopotamia in the 3rd century, and later moved to various places. In 1258, some of the relics were brought to Abruzzo in Ortona, Italy, where they have been held in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle. He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of India, and the name Thomas remains quite popular among Saint Thomas Christians of India.

Gospel Account's On Thomas:

Thomas first speaks in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16, when Lazarus has just died, the apostles do not wish to go back to Judea, where Jews had attempted to stone Jesus. Thomas says: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (NIV).

He speaks again in John 14:5. There, Jesus has just explained that he is going away to prepare a heavenly home for his followers, and that one day they will join him there. Thomas reacts by saying, "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (NIV)

John 20:24-29 tells how Thomas was skeptical at first when he heard that Jesus had appeared to the other apostles, saying "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (NIV, v.25) But when Jesus appeared later and offered to let Thomas see and touch his wounds, Thomas showed his belief by proclaiming, "My Lord and my God!" (NIV, v.28)

Names and etymologies:

Other names:

he Nag Hammadi copy of the Gospel of Thomas begins: "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded." Early Syrian traditions also relate the apostle's full name as Judas Thomas. Some have seen in the Acts of Thomas (written in east Syria in the early 3rd century, or perhaps as early as the first half of the 2nd century) an identification of Saint Thomas with the apostle Judas, brother of James, better known in English as Jude. However, the first sentence of the Acts follows the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles in distinguishing the apostle Thomas and the apostle Judas son of James. Few texts identify Thomas' twin. In the Book of Thomas the Contender, part of the Nag Hammadi, it is said to be Jesus himself: "Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself…"

Feast days:

When the feast of Saint Thomas was inserted in the Roman calendar in the 9th century, it was assigned to 21 December. The Martyrology of St. Jerome mentioned the apostle on 3 July, the date to which the Roman celebration was transferred in 1969, so that it would no longer interfere with the major ferial days of Advent. 3 July was the day on which his relics were translated from Mylapore, a place along the coast of the Marina Beach, Chennai (Madras) in India, to the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia. Traditionalist Roman Catholics (who follow the General Roman Calendar of 1960 or earlier) and many Anglicans (including members of the Episcopal Church as well as members of the Church of England and the Lutheran Church, who worship according to the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer), still celebrate his feast day on 21 December.

The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches celebrate his feast day on 6 October (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 6 October currently falls on 19 October of the modernGregorian Calendar). In addition, the next Sunday of the Easter (Pascha) is celebrated as the Sunday of Thomas, in commemoration of Thomas' question to Jesus, which led him to proclaim, according to Orthodox teaching, two natures of Jesus, both human and divine. Thomas is commemorated in common with all of the other apostles on 30 June (13 July), in a feast called the Synaxis of the Holy Apostles. He is also associated with the "Arabian" (or "Arapet") icon of the Theotokos (Mother of God), which is commemorated on 6 September (19 September). The Malankara Orthodox church celebrates his feast on three days, 3 July (in memory of the relic translation to Edessa), 18 December (the Day he was lanced)  and 21 December (when he passed away)

Mission in India:

An early 3rd-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas connects the tradition of the apostle Thomas' Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. The year of his arrival is widely disputed due to lack of credible records. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission but the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king,Gondophares. The apostle's ministry reputedly resulted in many conversions throughout this northern kingdom, including the king and his brother. The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadwa, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India. According to the tradition of the Mar Thomaor “Church of Thomas,” Thomas evangelized along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India, 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. According to legend,  St.Thomas attained martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount in Chennai and is buried on the site of San Thome Cathedral.

So in keeping with the concept that this Jewish sect was not preaching to gentiles but fellow Jews it was certainly keeping the tradition of a Jewish Rabbi and his works when he came to India in what is reckoned to be 52 C.E. The movement also took on the name of Syriac because as a dialect of Aramaic it is what the Jews there would have spoken. Why did it catch on and why did St. Thomas end up founding seven churches in India and then up into China? Because the concept that God’s Son came down to earth, was executed and then rose again from the dead had an appeal to the people there. When Europeans finally rounded the cape and began to explore northward they were amazed to find that the Christian Religion here had Indian trappings and traditions. Actually many books and writings were destroyed by priests who viewed them as works of the Devil. They were also appalled that the Pope was not regarded as the head of the church here though there was an Eastern Orthodox presence. Perhaps this history gives a much different picture of Doubting Thomas and he should be recognized as one who truly did go out into the entire world to preach the Gospel.

In addition also cited: St. Thomas traveled from Kottakavu or Crangannur, now called Kodungallur (Mussiris) and landed at Palayur by boat through the backwaters. At that time, Palayur was a stronghold of the Brahmins and also of Jews. He came to visit the Jewish merchants at Palayur at "Judankunnu" (meaning the hill of Jews) and to preach the Christian gospel. The place has since become a dry land but its historicity as a boat jetty called locally as 'Bottukulam' has been preserved as a monument to St. Thomas (see picture).

Of the seven churches originally established by St. Thomas, only three namely, Palayoor in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Thrissur, Parur in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam, and Niranam under the Orthodox Syrian Church (Devalokam Aramana) could claim continuity, while the remaining four churches have undergone several cnanges in their locations.

It is stated that a Hindu temple that was abandoned by the Brahmins was converted into the present church. Further, as a proof of Jewish settlements existing when St Thomas arrived here in 52 AD, ruins of a synagogue could be seen near a Hindu temple, close to the church. Temple remnants in the form of broken idols, sculptures and relics of the old temple can also be seen near the precincts of the church, in addition to two large tanks near the west and east gates of the church.

Death:

According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed in 72 AD. Nasrani Churches from Kerala in South India state that St. Thomas died at Mylapore near Chennai in India and his body was interred there. The accounts of Marco Polo from the 13th century state that the Apostle had an accidental death outside his hermitage in Chennai by a badly aimed arrow of a fowler who not seeing the saint shot at peacocks there. Later in the 16th century, the Portuguese in India created a myth that St. Thomas was killed in Chennai by stoning and lance thrust by local priests, based on the wrong interpretation of inscriptions found on the Pehlvi Cross discovered atSt. Thomas Mount in 1547. Later decipherments of the inscriptions by experts proved this myth to be false.[ Since at least the 16th century, the St. Thomas Mount has been a common site revered by Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The records of Barbosa from early 16th century inform that the tomb was then maintained by a Muslim who kept a lamp burning there. The San Thome Basilica presently located at the tomb was first built in the 16th century and rebuilt in the 19th.

The Patristic literature states that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia, by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers. Some authorities state that St. Thomas died a natural death and that he died in Edessa

It is also stated that the conversion of Brahmins has resulted in such an aversion among the Nambudri Brahmins that they do not even accept cold water or tender coconut water anywhere in the vicinity of the Church. It is recorded that St. Thomas stayed in India for 17 years;4 years in Sindh (now in Pakistan), about 6 years in Malabar and 7 years at Mylapuram or Mailapore in Tamil Nadu. The Indian Postal Service of the Government of India brought out two commemorative stamps, in 1964 and 1973, in honor of the historic arrival of St. Thomas in India in 52 AD.

St. Thomas was proclaimed 'The Apostle of India' by the Holy See. His skeleton remains were brought to India in 1953 by Cardinal Tisserant. Furthermore, a document called ‘Grandavariola’ kept by a local Brahmin family (who had moved out from Palayur during the preaching) testifies to the date of the gospel work of St. Thomas as the Indian equivilant of 52 A.D.

Relics:

Mylapore:

Few relics are still kept in the church at Mylapore, Tamil Nadu, India. Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller and author of Description of the World, popularly known as Il Milione, is reputed to have visited Southern India in 1288 and 1292. The first date has been rejected as he was in China at the time, but the second date is accepted by many historians. He is believed to have stopped in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where he documented the tomb of Adam. He also stopped at Quilon (Kollam) on the western Malabar coast of India, where he met Syrian Christians and recorded their tradition of St. Thomas and his tomb on the eastern Coromandel coast of the country. Il Milione, the book he dictated on his return to Europe, was on its publication condemned by the Church as a collection of impious and improbable traveller's tales. It became very popular reading in medieval Europe and inspired Spanish and Portuguese sailors to seek out the fabulous (and possibly Christian) India described in it.

Saint Thomas Cross:

In the 16th-century work Jornada, Antonio Gouvea writes of ornate crosses known as Saint Thomas Crosses. It is also known as Nasrani Menorah or Mar Thoma Sliba. These crosses date from the 6th century and are found in a number of churches in Kerala, Mylapore and Goa. Jornada is the oldest known written document to refer to this type of cross as a St. Thomas Cross. Gouvea also writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore, referring to the cross as "Cross of Christians". It is widely perceived as the symbol of Saint Thomas Christians.

There are several interpretations of the Nasrani symbol. The interpretation based on Christian Jewish tradition assumes that its design was based on Jewish menorah, an ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of seven branched lamp stand (candelabra). The interpretation based on local culture states that the Cross without the figure of Jesus and with flowery arms symbolizing "joyfulness" points to the resurrection theology of St. Paul; the Holy Spirit on the top represents the role of Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The lotus symbolizing Buddhism and the Cross over it shows that Christianity was established in the land of Buddha. The 3 steps indicate Calvary and the rivulets, channels of grace flowing from the Cross.

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