The Syrian Christians both Catholic and Protestants in South India proudly call themselves St. Thomas Christians. They strongly believe, and centuries old traditions hold that Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ came to India in 52 A.D. Pope Paul VI confirmed this belief and tradition by declaring St. Thomas as the Apostle of India in 1972.
St Thomas name is mentioned in the Bible in all the lists of 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ given by Mathew, Mark, Luke and The Acts. But we know a little more than Thomas name from the Gospel according to St. John. In fact, St John mentions four different occasions in his Gospel where Thomas is present.
The first occasion is Jesus decision to go back to Judea when he got the news that his friend Lazarus was sick at Bethany. The disciples of Jesus protested saying,Teacher, just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you; and are you planning to go back? (Jn 11, 8)
When the disciples objected further Jesus told them plainly,Lazarus is dead, but for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe. Let us go to him (Jn 11, 14-15)
It was then Thomas like Peter showed his impetus courage saying to all the disciples,Let us all go with the Teacher, so that we may die with him! (Jn 11, 16) When Thomas knew, something is to be done; he showed his readiness to do it. He would not run away from what he perceived as his responsibility.
The second occasion we meet Thomas at that Last Supper. Jesus with his pep talk is preparing his disciples for his imminent departure.And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. You know the way that leads to the place where I am going (Jn 14, 3-4)
Thomas does not understand where Jesus is going. His ignorance did not prevent him form interrupting Jesus and asking him with his willingness to follow him.Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there? (Jn 14, 5)
We should not complain about Thomas imputus nature or about his ignorance. Thanks to him we got a beautiful answer from Jesus to Thomas question:Jesus, answered him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one goes to the Father except by me. Now that you have known me. He said to them, you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know him and you have seen him (Jn 14, 6-7).
The third occasion we meet Thomas in the same room of the Last Supper but after the resurrection of Jesus. When on the Easter night Jesus appeared to the disciples there, Thomas was not there. They told Thomas when he joined them later. But Thomas refused to believe them. Here is Johns story,One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord!
Thomas said to them, Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe (Jn 20, 24-25).
Thomas reply is typical of him. He doubted the testimony of his fellow disciples and so for the past two millennium Thomas has been labeled as the doubting Thomas!
But if Thomas doubted he also believe deeply. Jesus must have recognized Thomas as a practical man. So when he appeared to the disciples a week later in the same upper room he specially called Thomas and told him to touch him and experience his presence among them as real.Then he said the Thomas, Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then stretch out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe! (Jn 20, 27)
Experiencing the resurrected presence of Jesus, Thomas spontaneously responded with a unique expression of faith,My Lord and My God!
Jesus said to him, Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me! (Jn 20, 28-29)
With Thomas confession of faith in his Lord and Master, we have Jesus wonderful words that we too are blessed because we have believed in Jesus without seeing him in body and spirit as Thomas and other disciples did.
In the fourth and last reference to Thomas in St. Johns Gospel, we see Peter, Thomas and five other disciples of Jesus fishing at the Sea of Galilee. In the list of 7 disciples including the evangelist John, the evangelist, lists Thomas name just after Peter showing Thomas importance in the Apostolic College of Jesus twelve disciples.
Jesus not only calls themFriends but he also invites them for breakfast.Jesus said to them, Come and eat. None of the disciples dared ask him, Who are you? because they knew it was the Lord (Jn 21, 12).
The devotion to St. Thomas is wide spread in the South Indian State of Kerala. Thomas is a common name Christian Parents give to their male child. Thomas is also credited to have built 7 churches in Kerala where he is venerated to this day.
According to long standing tradition Thomas is believed to have suffered martyrdom in Chennai at Mylapure (present San Thome). In the San Thome Cathedral Christians and other devotees venerate a miraculous cross of St. Thomas.
Today Thomas is also venerated as the patron of architects and builders. For, according to a legend Thomas was a carpenter and an Indian King gave him a large sum of money to build a magnificent palace. But he distributed the fund among the poor and needy. He also convinced his Patron the king the advantage of building a beautiful mansion in heaven than on earth.
Thomas is also credited to be the author of an apocryphal Gospel which dates from the second century. The apocryphal Gospel is called Acts of St. Thomas.
There is a story about St. Thomas in the Acts of St. Thomas. After the death of Jesus the Apostles took lots to decide who goes where in the whole known world to preach the Gospel. When they took lot, Thomas got India for his mission of preaching the Gospel.
But Thomas protested.
That night Jesus appends to Thomas and said,Dont be afraid. I am with you. My grace in enough for you. Go and preach the Gospel in India
My Lord, send me anywhere else but not to India Thomas continued his protest.
At that time a merchant Abbhanas from the King Gundafaras of India came to Jerusalem looking for a carpenter to build a big palace for the king in India.
In the market place Jesus asked Abbhanas:Are you looking for a carpenter?
Abbhanas,Yes, I am looking for a carpenter. I need urgently one for the king. Gundafaras of India
I have a slave who is very good at carpentry
They made a contract, a karar.
The contract said,this is the proof that I, Jesus, the son of carpenter Joseph sold my slave, a carpenter Thomas to the merchant Abbhanas of the king Gundafaras of India
Then Jesus brought Thomas to the merchant.
Is that your master? asked the merchant to Thomas pointing to Jesus.
Yes, Thomas replied.
Then, I have bought you from him. You come with me to India tomorrow, the merchant said.
The next day Thomas got up and got ready to go to India with a prayer.
My Lord Jesus, I am ready to go where you will me to go. Let your will be done