St. Thomas, the Disciple
(? – A. D. 72)
Dr. K. Mani Rajan Cor-episcopo
St. Thomas, one among the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, was a Jew.
He was probably from Galeele (Aphrem, 1964; White 1991). Thomas in
Armaic Syriac is known as Teoma and in
Greek Didymus (John: 11:16; 20:24). The meaning of these words is twin
(The encyclopedia Americana, 1988). The name “twin” was called because
of his twin brother Adai who later was the Episcopo of Edessa (Aphrem
Aboodi, 1966; Curien, 1982). Thomas was most probably a carpenter
(Britannica, 1988). The Bible has only a few references to Thomas, the
disciple. Jesus went to Bethany after the death of Lazarus. Thomas along
with other disciples went with Jesus. Thomas said to his fellow
disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). The
willingness of Thomas to follow Jesus unto death was fulfilled in his
On another occasion Jesus said, “And where I go you know,
and the way you know” (John 14:4). Thomas said unto Him, “Lord, we do
not know where you are going and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
Jesus said to him “I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .” (John
14:6). Thomas puts questions like a child for he wants to know and
believe. After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, He appeared to the
disciples and Thomas was not with them (John 20:24). The other disciples
said to him, “We have seen the Lord” so he said to them, “unless I see
in His hands, the print of the nails, and put my fingers into the print
of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John
20:25). Doubt is the first step to belief. Jesus Christ cleared his
earnest doubt. “ . . . Jesus came and said to Thomas, reach your finger
here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my
side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. And Thomas answered and
said to Him, “My Lord and My God !” (John 20:26-28). This confession of
faith is repeated in the Holy mass when the second coming of Jesus is
commemorated. This proclamation is the sum total of the salvific act of
Jesus Christ on earth.
Apart from the New Testament references,
Mor Aphrem, the Syrian (306-373); Gregory of Nazianzen (330-395), John
Chrysostom (347-407), and Jacob of Sarug (451-521) have described the
work of Thomas in India (Panicker, 1989; Koodapuzha, 1984; Kolangadan,
1995-96). These accounts are based on the ‘Acts of St. Thomas’. Some
stone writings, coins and Tamil writings have been triangulated to
suggest the work of St. Thomas in India (D’Souza, 1952; Paul, 1997).
Moreover, the prayers of Syrian Church fathers written in the 4th and
5th centuries are relied on to establish that St. Thomas preached Gospel
In the memre’ of Jacob of Sarug, it is said that
the lot fell on Thomas to go to India. Thomas was hesitant to go to the
black Indians (Panicker, 1989). Then, Thomas was sold as a slave to
Haban (Aban), a merchant. It is also mentioned in prayers that he was
sold as a mason for the construction of a building for a king (Abraham,
1981, p. 212). This 1st century king’s name is given as Gondaphorus
(Kolangadan, 1995- 96). The king is also referred as Gudnapher
(Menachery, 1973). Some coins of Gondophares and Gad (brother of the
king) were discovered in North India in the 19th century. It must be
said, however, that it by no means certain that Gordophares of the coins
is the same person as Gudnapher of the Acts of St. Thomas (Menachery,
1973, p. 3).
St. Thomas was ordered to build a palace for the King.
He was entrusted with twenty pieces of silver. However, when the King
was absent, he used the silver for charitable purposes. When the King
returned, he imprisoned St. Thomas, intending to flay him alive (White,
1991, p. 360). At that juncture, the King’s brother died, and when the
brother was shown the place in heaven that Thomas’s good work had
prepared for the King, he was allowed to return to earth and offer to
buy the spot from the King for himself. The King refused, released
Thomas, and was converted by him. The incident is alluded to in the
evening prayer (Bovuso) of the first Sunday after Easter.
are other accounts regarding the life of St. Thomas in India referred
to by other writers. It is said that the King’s brother (Gad) was called
to life by St. Thomas after his death (Menachery, 1973). It is also
mentioned that St. Thomas attended the marriage of the King’s daughter.
He was beaten up at the banquet. That person’s hand was torn off by a
dog, which St. Thomas healed (Panicker, 1989, p. 61). The miracle done
at the wedding feast is referred to in the morning prayer of the first
Sunday after Easter (Abraham, 1981, p. 213).
of St. Thomas was primarily in the Kingdom of Gudnapher and then in
places under King Mazdai (Menachery, 1973, p. 3). It is believed that
St. Thomas landed at Kodungaloor in A. D. 52. He preached gospel to
Jews and then to Gentiles. He established houses of worship at
Maliankara, Kollam, Niranam, Chayal (Nilakkal), Gokkamangalam, Paravur
(Kottakkavu), and Palayoor (D’Souza, 1952; Aphrem, 1964). He appointed
as priests elders from four Brahmin families, namely; Shankarapuri,
Pakalomattom, Kalli and Kaliyankal and then went to Malakka.
A. D. 72 he was pierced with a lance on December 18 and entered the
heavenly abode on December 21 at Mylapore near Chennai, India. St.
Thomas was buried at Mylapore, Chennai. On 3rd July A. D. 394 the holy
remains were transferred to Urhoy (Edessa) and interred there on August
22 (Aphrem, 1964). The relocation of the relic of St. Thomas to Urhoy is
described in the Hoothomo of the feast day. Later the holy relics were
transferred to the St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Mosul, Iraq. A
portion of the relics was discovered by His Grace Mor Severios Zakka
(later Patriarch) in the altar of the St. Thomas church, Mosul, Iraq,
during renovation work in 1964.
St. Thomas is considered to be the
patron of builders by the Western Church. Three dates are observed as
the feast days of St. Thomas. They are: New Sunday (a movable feast),
July 3 – transportation of the relic to Urhoy, and December 21 –
Aphrem Paulose Ramban (1964). Sheemakkaraya Pithakkanmar (Fr. T. J. Abraham, Trans.) Manjanikkara: Mor Ignatius Dayara.
Aprem Aboodi Ramban (1966). Stuthi chowayakkapetta suriyani sabha.
(Madappattu Yacoub Ramban, Trans). Pathanamthitta: Ajantha Press.
Curien Corepiscopa Kaniyamparambil (1982). Suriyani Sabha Thiruvalla: Chev. K. T. Alexander Kaniyanthra.
D’souza, H. (1952). In the steps of St.Thomas. Madras: The Diocese of Mylapore.
Kolangadan, J. (1995-96). The historicity of Apostle Thomas evangelisation in Kerala. The Harp, VIII & IX, 305-327.
Koodpuzha, S. (Ed.) (1984). Thirusabha charithram (2nd ed.). Kottayam: Oriental Institue of Religious Studies.
Menachery, G. (Ed.) (1973). The St.Thomas Chistian encyclopaedia of India ((Vol. II). Trichur.
The new encyclopaedia Britannica. (1988). Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.
White, K. E. (1991). A guide to the saints. New York: Ivy Books.