Monday, December 22, 2008

St. Thomas


December 22, 2008 (transferred)
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo

John 20.24-29


I am fascinated by the stories of the Apostles. What I enjoy probably more are the stories of what happened to them after the Gospels. Some of these stories are so magical, so legendary, I just shake my head at times.

St. Thomas’ story is similar. Of course, we all know the story of Thomas, how he doubted the resurrected Jesus until he was able to place his fingers in the wounds of Jesus. But I really enjoy the stories of what happened to Thomas after the Resurrection.

The story goes that in those days when the apostles spread across the world—Sts. Peter and Paul went off to Greece and Rome, St. John went to Asia Minor and eventually to Cyprus, St. Mark went to Egypt—St. Thomas went even farther east, it is believed. He went to India. There’s a wonderful story in a text attributed to Joseph of Arimathea that when the Virgin Mary was dying, all the apostles expect Thomas were miraculous transported to Jerusalem to be with her in her last moments on this earth. Thomas, however, was granted the greatest gift of all. He transported from India to her tomb and was the only apostle to witness her assumption to heaven. There’s is a beautiful icon of this event, with the Virgin ascending to heaven supported by an angel, and Thomas beneath. They are joined by what appears to be a red ribbon. This ribbon was thee Virgin’s girdle. In a strange reversal of the Gospel story, the other apostles refuse to believe Thomas’ story of the Virgin’s assumption until they saw her girdle.

One of the modern results of Thomas’ time in India is, of course, the Mar Thoma Church. The Mar Thomas Church claims to have been founded by Thomas. It defines it self in this way: it is "Apostolic in origin Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character.”

Coming out of the Jacobite Church of Malabar (Malankara Church), the Mar Thoma Church was reformed from several theological disputes in the 18th and 19th century by reforms from the Anglican Church. As a result, the Anglican Church has been in full communion with the Mar Thomas Church since 1929. And the Episcopal Church has been in full communion with the Mar Thomas Church since 1979.

The Mar Thomas Church is unique among churches because of its blending of Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Reformed or Protestant) traditions. A recent article from the Office of Ecumenical Relations in the Episcopal church states: “The Mar Thoma Church refers to the Apostle Thomas as its founder and has been historically situated mainly on the southwestern coast of India in what today is the State of Kerala. Presently, the Mar Thoma Church has about one million members, and the number of its members and parishes in North America has been growing. The church combines ancient tradition and the Eastern Syriac language of worship with renewal, as witnessed in the Reformation or Purification movement of the mid-19th century.”

So, the spirit and the fruits of St. Thomas continue to grow and flourish in the Church. And this is the message for us on this feast of St. Thomas. In fact the message of all the apostles to us is a great one. The message of apostles like doubting Thomas is that, like them, we are human too. We will fail and stumble and fall on our Christian journey, just as they did. Like Thomas, we will doubt. Like him, we will be obstinate. We will demand proof at times and without proof, we will question and we will doubt. But, like them, we will also succeed, despite the set-backs. Because, as they no doubt realized, it was not about them at all. It was about what Christ was doing through them that mattered. Christ managed to work through and to succeed through them despite their human failings.

And the same is true of us as well. Despite our human failings, despite our obstinate natures and our doubting ways, Christ still managed to use us. Despite us, the Light of Christ still manages to shine through us. So, as it showed through St. Thomas, let the Light of Christ also show through you. Do not let your doubts, your failings, your trip-ups along the way be shades to that Light. Rather let that Light burn away your failings. And allow yourself to disappear into and become one with that Light.

1 comment:

Ipe George (Prasad), B.Sc, B.D. said...

One of the modern results of Thomas’ time in India is, of course, the Mar Thoma Church. The Mar Thomas Church claims to have been founded by Thomas. It defines it self in this way: it is "Apostolic in origin Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character.”

I think there is a need to relook into the history of the Mar Thoma Church, objectively. If it is true that the Mar Thoma took its root from St. Thomas, why did the church go to Syria to get its bishops ordained. So is it really Apostolic?

Is it Biblical in faith? If so, there is no instance in biblical history or reformation history that God uses a family to further his kingdom on earth and yet the family from which the founder of the Mar Thoma Church has come has five bishops from it and another three have some connection to this family. Also the other bishops are from renouned families in Kerala. So is it biblical or is there more a social and political nature to the story?

Please let me know your thoughts.

Ipe George
B.Sc, B.D.
ipe_george@yahoo.co.in