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St. George Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church

Cheppaud, Kerala, India

                         

Mor Toma

 

St. Thomas thrusting his fingers into the wounds of the Risen Christ, depicted in a Gospel Lectionary copied in Salah in 1227 for the church of Mor Sobo in Hah.

 

One of the Twelve Apostles, St. Thomas is prominent in the Syriac tradition. He is mentioned in all four Gospels. In St. John, he appears in three episodes, namely offering to die with Jesus on His way to Bethany (Jn 11:16), interrupting the last discourse with his question, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way" (Jn 14:5) and, lastly, doubting the Ressurection unless he were to touch the wounds of the Risen Lord (Jn 20:25-8). After Christ's appearance he confesses his faith in the words, 'My Lord and my God' and is thus the first to confess His Divinity explicitly. According to an early tradition mentioned by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica 3.I) and others, the Apostle evangelized the Parthians. According to the Gnostic Acts of Thomas in Syriac, where he is called Judas Thomas, he brought the Gospels to India where he was martyred and then buried at Mylapore, near Chennai (Madras). It is believed that the Apostle arrived in India in AD 52 and was martyred in AD 72. The Syriac Christians of Malabar, the Southwest coast of India, call themselves 'Christians of St. Thomas'. It is believed that his body was transferred to Edessa in the 4th century; St. Ephrem's works note that the bones of St. Thomas were venerated there in his time. The great hymnodist alludes to the transferral of the bones in his Carmina Nisibena (42:1.1-2.2, Kathleen McVey, Ephrem the Syrian, Paulist Press, 1989, p. 25):

The evil one wails, "Where then
can I flee from the righteous?
I incited Death to kill the apostles
as if to escape from their scourges
by their death. More than ever now
I am scourged harshly. The apostle I killed in India
[has come] to Edessa before me. Here is he and also there.
I went there, there he is.
Here and there I found him, and I am gloomy.
Did that merchant carry the bones?
Or perhaps, indeed, they carried him!

His relics were moved from Edessa later and rediscovered in this century at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mosul by His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I while he was the Archbishop of Mosul.

There are a number of apocryphal writings under his name, most notably the Acts of St. Thomas which is of Syriac origin. This work dates back to the middle of the 3rd century. Translations in Greek, and portions in Latin, Ethiopic and Armenian exist.

 

The Church commemorates the memory of St. Thomas on July 3rd. The date marks the transfer of the remains of the Apostle to Edessa. The Church in India also commemorates the Apostle on the New Sunday after Easter, on December 18th when the Apostle is believed to have been speared, and on December 21st when he attained martyrdom.

 

Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Zakka I in an encyclical dated October 20, 1987, added the name of "Apostle Thomas, the preacher of the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in India" to the the fourth diptych (Syr. tubden) in the Malankara Church.
 

Source:

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (1997).

Kathleen McVey, Ephrem the Syrian Hymns (Paulist Press, 1989

Syriac Orthodox Resource

 

 

 

 

A Syriac icon of St. Thomas with Jesus Christ sitting on his throne surrounded by four fingers: a man, a lion, an eagle and a bull, the symbols of the four Gospels of St. John, St. Luke, St. Mark and St. Matthew; combined these figures form the Assyrian winged bull which in Assyrian art were on both sides of the winged disk of Ashur.

 

 

 

By the Apostolic Bull No. E265/87 dated October 20, 1987

his name included in the fourth diptych (Syr. tubden) of the Holy Eucharist Service

 

 

St. Thomas

 

Rev. Fr. K. K. John
(Former Vicar of St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Church, Washington DC.)

 

 

Apostle Thomas In The Gospel

 

Jesus Christ chose twelve disciples and called them apostles. Thomas of Galilee also called Didimus or ‘twin’ was one of them, and always mentioned in the list of apostles, Mat 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15 and AA 1:13. Adai was his twin brother, it is believed. He spoke Aramaic (present Syriac). Thomas possessed unique traits such as firmness, boldness and candor. Jesus wanted to go to Judea in order to wake Lazarus up. Disciples discouraged Him because of the impending Jewish threat. Thomas urged others to go with Jesus and die with Him. None of the disciples fully comprehended at that juncture what was all about. Yet, what Thomas told was true zeal of Christian discipleship and how he would through martyrdom glorify Him. When Jesus told He would depart Thomas was honest to say that they knew neither where Jesus was going to nor the way, John 14:5. Thomas went with Peter for fishing after resurrection of Jesus, Jn 21:2-3

 

Thomas is often incorrectly branded as ‘doubting Thomas,’ on the basis of John 20: 24-29. I dare not to ascribe ‘doubting or disbelieving’ title to Thomas. Thomas was frank enough to express his ardent feeling. There was certain amount of disbelief in all disciples because of human frailty and inability to discern the mystery of redemption. Jesus brought back the dead Lazarus and daughter of Jairus to life. Jesus had foretold His resurrection from the dead but the extreme fear and perplexity desensitized and blinded their faculty. Mary Magdalene was first to see resurrected Jesus but she failed to recognize Him rather, she mistook Him for gardener, John 20:14-18. She got convinced only when Jesus called her name. None of the disciples believed her account. “The words seemed to them like idle tales and they did not believe,” Lk 24:11, Mk 16:11. Cleopas and the other man could not recognize Jesus until He blessed bread and gave them, Lk 24:13-32. Apostles did not recognize Him despite greeting them with peace. Jesus then rebuked them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He showed His hands and feet and said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Handle me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Still they did not believe. Then He asked them food and they gave Him food and He ate in their presence. Lk 24:36-43. So evidently not only Thomas but also all other apostles greatly struggled and believed only after they saw heard and felt Him. Thus there is nothing abnormal if Thomas persisted for the same experience other apostles had namely, seeing, hearing and touching Jesus. Jesus’ words, “Thomas, because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed,” did not convey a more stringent or different meaning than what He said to other apostles because all gospels record that all apostles were in same psychical trance. Gospel is silent whether or not Thomas put his hands on Jesus’ side and I think he did not. His instant proclamation, “My Lord and My God,” is sufficient proof that Thomas believed upon seeing and hearing Jesus. It is far from truth to consider that Thomas disbelieved and was rebuked for disbelieving while others were exonerated. No one can dispute the fact that, at least relying on the gospel accounts, Thomas was the first apostle to confess Jesus as “Lord and God”. This is the most intense, intimate, personal, and without a parallel statement in the entire Bible.  So let no one unfairly indict him or doubt his integrity

 

Apostle Thomas In India.

 

Thomas seriously took up his master’s command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you,” Mat 28:20. The legend has that King Gondaphorus desired to build a magnificent palace. King engaged Haban, an overseas trader, to find a talented builder using his trade connections. While progressing with his search in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him in disguise and introduced Apostle Thomas as a good builder. Haban took Thomas to the king. The king was pleased with plan and gave money for the work. Thomas spent the money for gospel works instead of building palace. The king learnt the delinquency and out of rage convicted Thomas and Haban to prison, to be executed. While Thomas was in prison the king’s brother died. Angels escorted the soul to a magnificent palace and said that Thomas built the palace for the king. The brother could not contain his astonishment and implored the angels to send him back to earth immediately lest delay would cost Thomas’ life. It was almost cremation time. The request was granted and the corpse resurrected and told the king what he saw in heaven. He became all the more puzzled, pleased, penitent, released and allowed Thomas to preach. The king got converted. Whether or not the story is credible, fact is that he arrived at Muziris or Cranganore in AD 52. Cranganore was a famous seaport in South India (now Kerala) and had trade connections with Middle East and Egypt long before even the time of King David. He landed first in Maliankara, a village adjacent to the port. ‘Malankara’ is derived from Maliankara. He brought Gospel of Mathew (in Syriac). He was Syrian. Apostle Thomas preached the risen Christ, converted many, ordained priests from at least four famous Brahmin families namely, Kalli, Kaliankal, Sankarapuri, and Pakalomattom. CV Cheriyan in, ‘History of Christians in Kerala’ page 1 adds, Madapur, Vyrupilil, Mutiedal, Kollara and Panakamattom and Fr. Xavier Koodapuzha in, ‘Thiru Sabha Charithram’ page 12, adds, Pattamuk, Thayil, Manki and Madathilan families to the list. He established seven churches at, Cranganore, Kottakavil or Paravur, Gokamangalom, Palur, Kurakeni-Kollom, Chayal or Nilakal and Niranom. Apostle Thomas then went to Coromandal, Malaka and China, preached gospel, converted people and established churches. We do not have full account of his deeds at China or elsewhere. Christianity flourished in Kalyan, Bombay from early century and they trace their origin to Apostle Thomas. On his way back in AD 72 he was speared to martyrdom at Mylapore, Madras. The legend has that spear was inflicted on his side. He did not die instantly but crawled while bleeding through a tunnel and reached Chinnamalai and died on the mount, present ‘St. Thomas Mount or Santhom’ which is approximately 21 miles away from Mylapore. His disciples buried his mortal remains in Mylapore. Now there is a shrine at Santhom. Chinnamalai is in between Mylapore and Santhom. These places are tourist attractions. Portuguese invaders captured Mylapore, Chinnamalai and Santhom and now they are under custody of Roman Catholics. Chinnamalai was then known as Kalamina as mentioned in certain ancient records. Holy relic of apostle Thomas was transferred to Edessa in the third century buried there and built a church in his honor. Thus we have now three dates to commemorate his blessed memory, on December 18 the day he was speared, on December 21 the date of death and on July 3 the date of transfer of his holy remains to Edessa. In my opinion the date of death is more appropriate. We have no reason to discredit this tradition which is handed down unbroken to us by our forefathers right from the first century. Until late 19th century no one disputed it. Unfortunately so-called modern scholars like, Lakrose, Hugh, G M Rae, claimed that St. Thomas never came to South India, chiefly relying upon “Acts of Thoma.” It is clever amalgamation of fiction and history written around 200 AD. It vividly describes how St. Thomas evangelized India. The Church considers it unauthentic because its author BarDaisan was heretic. They argued lack of evidence to prove the 1900 year-old tradition and that India mentioned in certain records and traditions might be a place west of Indus River in North India or Afghanistan. ‘India’ itself is an apple of discord among historians. At least five different areas are identified as India by different authors. Certain spurious tradition about his cadaver also prevails.  As said above, Apostle’s relic was taken to Edessa. Mylapore natives showed two sepultures to Portuguese invaders claiming that both were of St. Thomas. They excavated both places in 1522 and 1523 and took out 2 dead-bodies. Though amazed, multiplicity of corpse did not deter them to place one in Mylapore cathedral and the other in a church at Goa. They still venerate both! They claim that a body was taken from Edessa and placed in ‘Orthona Church’ in Italy, which still they have (addendum 18 to The Indian Church of St Thomas, by E. M Philip)

 

Such claims are ridiculous nonsense aimed at discrediting antiquity of St. Thomas Christians in India. Illustrious historian E. M Philip excellently proved such claims as false, misdirected, untenable and repugnant to truth. ‘India within and places around received gospel from Judas Thomas,’ says “The Doctrine of Apostles” written around AD 250. Eusebius the 4th century historian says, ‘Thomas evangelized Parthia’. This might have been before his sojourn to India. St. Aphrem (AD 370) mentioned in his lyric ‘the great deeds of Thomas in India’. 13th century historian Bar Hebrews, Mor Michael Rabo, etc documents the fact of Thomas’ works in India. Solomon, 13th century Nestorian bishop says, ‘Thomas evangelized Parthya, Media and India’ in The book of the bee. Suffice it to say our tradition is trustworthy. I defer to go into details except saying that Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant authors namely, Dr. Ker, Dr Buchanon, Marco Polo, etc have documented beyond doubt authenticity of our tradition.  Church records and prayer books declare Thomas as ‘apostle of India’

 

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