Doubting Thomas

Written By: on Dec 11th, 2011 and filed under Articles, Youth And Faith.

This author has often heard many a people, especially in the West, using the pejorative phrase ‘Doubting Thomas’ to address St. Thomas, one of the twelve Disciples of Christ. This sarcasm has often pained me for it refers to my forefather. The case in point is the outcome of the encounter of Christ with his well-beloved disciple St. Thomas after the resurrection. It seems to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the Western church to belittle St. Thomas, the patron saint of the Indian Church and the apostle of Christ to India. Was he a doubting person? Was he a kind of person with all sorts of negativity? Did Jesus Christ disdain or reprimand St. Thomas on his genuine doubt? To me, in fact, he was not so. He was indeed, I must say, a man of courage and quixotic. He can best be qualified for the title ‘Daring Thomas’ rather than ‘Doubting Thomas’.

The doubt of St.Thomas is described in the eastern orthodox tradition as “blessed”, for it was not a doubt of resistance to truth, but one that desperately desired a truthful answer –a “ doubt which gave birth to faith” –when the answer was revealed. In a hymn of the Orthodox Church, Christ says to Thomas, “Your doubt will teach my Passion and Resurrection to all,” and we affirm that his doubt “brought the hearts of believers to knowledge”. The conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’s divinity, addressing Jesus as my Lord and my God. (St. John 20:28). Jesus’ meeting with St .Thomas happened to be a milestone in the history of Christianity. But for this glorious event, the world would not have known completely of the truth revealed to humanity through the incarnate Christ. The statement, “My Lord and My God”, from St. Thomas was so revealing. The Christian understanding of Christ’s divinity finds its fullness in this great proclamation of St. Thomas having looked at the risen Christ and hence it happens to be the tap-root of Christology. This profession of faith by St. Thomas turned out to be the key-phrase for the Nicene Creed formulated in 325 CE. On comparison, we can see that there is a degree of depth on theological understanding of the Person Christ in the proclamation made by St. Thomas (“My Lord and My God”)rather than the proclamation made by St. Peter(“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”) as recorded on Mathew 16:16.

We read from the holy Bible that St. Thomas dared to be outside when all other disciples hid themselves inside a closed room for fear of the Jews following the death of Christ(John 20: 19). He was, in fact, longing to have a deep and direct knowledge of his master by touching the nail prints on the palms of Jesus Christ for the reason that he might have been more kinaesthetic than auditory and visual.( In terms of Neuro- Linguistic Programming[NLP]). We all know that senses are the gateway to knowledge. Each person differs in their sense of perceptions. Some people comprehend something profoundly by way of touching rather than by merely seeing or hearing. The importance of using all senses is clear in the verses of St.John, the evangelist. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and declare to you that eternal life which was with the father and was manifested to us –that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ . And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1: 1-4).

By this very act of touching the wounds of Christ, St. Thomas got the complete healing for his whole being just like the woman who with the issue of blood had been healed( St.Luke 8: 43-48). It was to redeem us from the punishment of our sins that Christ, our Lord and Saviour, came to the world and bore our sins. “Christ himself carried all our sins in his body to the Cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that we have been healed”. (Isaiah 53:5, St.Matt8:17, I Peter 2: 24) But one must be receptive and must accept this Salvation of God. (Romans10:9). St. Thomas, in fact, was receiving that Salvation rendered by God by way of touching the crucified and risen Christ. Thus, he was giving us an example how we too can be healed by touching the body of Christ. And this is possible in the present time by touching in faith the holy things like the Altar, Cross, Oil, Priestly Vestments, Relics of Saints, etc in the Church.

With the analytical mind of a scientist, St.Thomas, after having made the observation and experiment, came to the inference that Christ was both full man and full God. This proves beyond doubt that the Christian faith on the resurrection of Christ is based not just on hearsay but a scientific truth leaving not even an iota of falsehood. But at the same time, it was with the innocence and inquisitiveness of an infant that St. Thomas approached the resurrected Christ. The ‘infant’ in him or his ‘child nature’, in terms of Transactional analysis, was curious of knowing the truth and exploring his surroundings. It was also the fulfilment of his prayer: “Send forth your light and you truth; let them guide me and bring me to your holy mountain and to the place where you dwell. Then I will come to the altar of God, to the God who makes glad my youth; I will give thanks to you with the lyre, O God, my God”(Psalm 43:3-4). Moreover, he might have believed that it was “in Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2: 9) and that it was necessary to go near Him to obtain mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16).

This event was, of course, an enrichment of the spirit of the human (Thomas) when the Spirit of the divine (the resurrected Christ) met him in the upper room at Jerusalem and melted into him. This episode obviously speaks of the nature of sensitivity of St.Thomas and the nature of tangibility or palpability (Tactus) of the resurrected body of Christ. In other words, this meeting was the reflection of a deep devotion of a devotee to the Divine. St. Thomas, as an ardent believer, aspired for a personal nexus with God so as to make their relationship stronger, perfect and lively. It is worth mentioning that the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples for the second time was mainly and exclusively for St. Thomas proving that St.Thomas was so precious in the sight of the Lord Jesus and that He treated everyone equally. What the testimony of the women or the other disciples could not accomplish, the radiant presence of the Risen Christ must certainly have sufficed to do in an instant. St.Thomas was no longer the sceptic, the waverer (Jn14:5), the troubled man (Jn. 11:6). It was an entirely different man who confessed the divinity of Christ, and so wholeheartedly! His cry: “My Lord and my God!” was to be on the lips and hearts of countless future Christians in the presence of the Eucharist, the hidden but living God. St. Thomas’ words were the occasion for Jesus to give reassuring praise to the faith of those who ask for no tangible sign.

If we take these verses from the gospel of St.John chapter 20 for granted, there arises a question whether just he alone was a doubting disciple of Christ or was there someone else? What about St.Peter? How about St.John and the rest of all? (Read Luke 24:11, 38, John20:8). Even the priest Zechariah doubted (Luke1:18-20).

St. Thomas deserves to be respected for his faith. He may seem to be a doubter but his doubt had a purpose –he wanted to know the truth and to affirm his faith. He did not idolise his doubts; but gladly believed when given a reason to do so. He expressed his doubts fully and had them answered completely. Doubting was only his way of responding, not his way of life.

His commitment to his vocation is vivid in his venturing a voyage to the Far East. He came all the way from Jerusalem down to India for disseminating the gospel of Christ, and that too at a time when transportation facilities was not so advanced as that of today. It is worth mentioning that he has covered a vast geographical area as part of his mission work with the sole and noble intention of establishing the holy Church for and on behalf of our Lord Jesus. It is a notable fact that there was no one to accompany him or to assist him except the Spirit of God and that too he was having his herculean and tiresome journey all by himself. It is an astonishing fact that he made his marathon missionary journey covering a vast area starting from Jerusalem to Persia, to North India, then to South India and even to the shore of China. This was more than what St.Paul had done. And finally he became a martyr in South India for the sake of his Lord and God Jesus Christ. It is believed that St. Thomas during his missionary work in Persia happened to see the Magi (the wise men from the east who came to see baby Jesus) and baptised them into Christianity.

It is a pity that there is no one in the Christendom to acknowledge his great service rendered for the extension of the Kingdom of God. He is indeed worthy to be called the ‘Patron Saint of the Diaspora or the Immigrants’.

As an ardent disciple and a true follower of Christ, he paid the cost of discipleship by relinquishing his personal and earthly security like family and homestead. He even sacrificed the honour due to his parents which he was supposed to render to them. Luke 9:57-62, 14: 25ff speak in detail of the cost of discipleship.

History says that he was first brought to North India as an architect by the merchant Habban, precisely to the place called Taxila in 45 AD, where he converted many including the King Gondaphorus by his sincere and dedicated mission work. After that, he is believed to be taken back to Jerusalem in a whirlwind to have a last glimpse of the mother of God, St.Mary, following her demise. Tradition holds that before his arrival in Jerusalem, the holy body of St. Mary was transported to heaven by the angels. Seeing that glorious event, he prayed to St.Mary to bless him. And it is said that the girdle tied around her loin fell into his hands as a shower of blessing. That girdle is still kept as a holy relic of St.Mary with all reverence in a Syrian Orthodox Church in Holms.

Let us glance through the salient features of the person – St.Thomas.

1. St.Thomas, a man of immense courage and great philanthropist:

His courage was so immense that he spent all the resources which he got from the King, Gondaphorus, to get the Royal palace built. He showed the temerity in demanding the Emperor for more and more funds amounting to what he could spend on charity for the poor and the needy as if he was spending the whole sum for the cost of construction of the regal mansion. Prima facie, it seems to anyone as a sheer example of a deceptive deed, but his good intention, his concern for the poor, his prospective approach to his true calling, and his deep faith in God, all made it possible to have a fruitful result. We see in the biography of St. Thomas that God in a mysterious and quite a miraculous way setting and offering a beautiful abode in heaven for the resented king and thus saving St. Thomas from the edge of the king’s sword. This kind of his brave commitment for the cause of Christian mission is a good example for us to emulate for which he deserves great applause. He was an honest man who used his potentials and opportunities in a prudent way to accomplish his mission. If not an exaggeration, he was indeed the greatest Christian missionary whose contribution to the Church was so unique and extraordinary. But, quite unfortunately, this great personality has been shrouded in the clouds of parochial attitude in the history of Christianity.

2. St. Thomas, an obedient man of God who yielded to the values that he upheld:

Although our glimpses of St. Thomas are brief, his character comes through with consistency. He struggled to be faithful to what he knew, despite what he felt. At one point, when it was plain to everyone that Jesus’ life was in danger, only St. Thomas put into words what most were feeling, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John11:16). And it is true that he did not hesitate to follow Jesus. This bold and inspiring statement from the unwavering mind of St. Thomas is an unwitting prophecy of his own future martyrdom. It was indeed a great revolutionary one. He was inspiring and exhorting his fellow disciples to be willing to pay off the cost of discipleship as envisaged by Christ our Lord. (Luke 14: 25-33). His later life story proves beyond doubt that it was not merely his figurative platitude, but, in fact, he lived on those words courageously; which teaches us of a fact that “A true Christian discipleship goes to the extent of martyrdom”. In simple terms, he walked on what he talked proving his identity and integrity. It also illustrates the path that all believers must take –that we die daily to the world for the sake of following Christ. (Luke 9:23-26).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life”. This perpetual word of promise from our Lord Jesus Christ was first revealed to St.Thomas. It is clear from the Bible that Christ, our Lord, had chosen 12 persons to be with Him, to be sent out for undertaking his mission of preaching, healing and exorcising (Mark 3:13) and further, in Mat 28:28, we see Christ sending the twelve out as part of His last commissioning. All of them were given equal authority on earth and in heaven, to bind and to unbind, to absolve the sin and to retain the sin. (Ref. St.John 28:18, St.Mat 20:23). The word ‘Apostle’ is a derivative of the Greek term ‘Apostolos’ which means “one who is sent for a specific purpose for and on behalf of with the same authority as that of the sender”. It was obvious that they were sent out with authority as Jesus himself was sent to this world with authority by his Father in heaven. Thus, we can be sure that St. Thomas too had the very same authority, privilege and right as that of every other apostle. There is no room for any sort of argument on the superiority or the inferiority attributed to any apostle such as the hierarchical supremacy of St. Peter on administrative matters and the intellectual supremacy of St. Paul on theological issues. To some, he may seem to be the last among the apostles, but it is a fact that he was not the least. To me, he is a coal turned into a diamond coruscating in the firmament of Christian history.

With every reverence, may I salute this great man of God who happens to be the founder and patron saint of Indian Orthodox Church! O Mother India! You are blessed for you carry on your soil the indelible foot prints of his holy man.

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8 Responses for “Doubting Thomas”

  1. I just want to say thank you. I reference St. Thomas much … Behold the Hand Behold The Nail . My Lord and My God. St. Thomas wow. Who is worthy of such men, only Jesus the Christ

  2. Grace. P says:

    Dear George Achen,

    Liked your above two postings, can we say, your ‘flash postings’ on our Apostle St. Thomas.

    Ofcourse you main article is very nice and apt for the time of our celebrations of ‘his days of martyrdom on 18, 20 and 21 of December’, as you rightly remind.

    Yet the flash postings adds a flash of thankfulness and adoration to our dear Apostle from the reader because it is indeed there in all St Thomas Christians.

    Our Kollam St.Thomas Cathedral is celebrating the same in a grand way.

    I suggest that you solidify and consolidate the flash posting ideas and more in

    another write up, for the glory of our Lord and the enthronment of St. Thomas in

    hearts of his people, the St. Thomas Christians, whose legacy; we, the

    Malnkara Orthodox / the Indian Orthodox only hold aloft – when every one of the

    others, his own children; unfortunately, including the Reeths, Romans, the

    rebellious etc, I repeat – his misguided children – have disowned, deserted and

    left him.

    Just as our Lord Jesus asked his disciples, ” Do you want to leave too?”.

    We the descendant remnant of the true and ancient converts of this Apostle to

    India is being asked ‘Who will uphold, enliven, commemmorate, pledge our

    love, thankfulness and readiness to convert more to the Lord God”?

    Let us declare in unison “Yes we wili”. For we only are left and the task before

    us is great.

    Grace. P,
    St.Thomas Orthodox Cathedrel, Kollam

  3. Dear All,

    It was St. Thomas who earnestly asked our Lord Jesus of the “Way” for His statement; “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going” (John 14:4). This humble quest of St. Thomas paved the way for the Lord to state of the great truth: “I am the way, the truth and the life”. (V 6). This was indeed an underlining statement of our Lord about his characteristics upon the query of St. Thomas. This statement from our Lord throws a flood of light into the theological insight on the nature of Person and work of Christ Jesus.

    With blessings+
    George Achen, Ireland.

  4. Dear brothers and sisters,

    Let me add this too: It is commonly believed that the present practice of kissing the hands of the priests(Kaimuth) came into vogue in the holy Church from or has been in tandem with this glorious touching of Christ’s hands by St. Thomas. See what a pride of place St. Thomas has in the holy tradition of our Church. Let us emulate the awesome life -style of this great martyr and fond disciple of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
    “Remember your former leaders, who spoke God’s message to you. Think back on how they lived and died, and imitate their faith”(Hebrews 13:7) Therefore,
    let us recall thankfully our holy Father -St. Thomas – in our prayers as we commemorate and celebrate his days of martyrdom on 18, 20 and 21 of December. The blood of Thoma Sleeha is indeed the seed of the Malankara Sabha! May his prayers be a strong fortress to us all !

    In His service,
    George Achen, Ireland.

  5. Dear Oommen G.Panicker,

    The ‘honour due to St. Thomas’, our dear Apostle; we, the St Thomas Christians do not give as deserved and befitting, may be true – as you write. But it is also true that we are incapacitated in our doing so.

    Problems associated with this incapacity of ours are there. If we care to research / search for them we would be surprised. Fr. T. George’s article contains some such surprises.

    Some vague references to some of them, Fr. T. George gives in the above article. For example the ‘St. Peter Supremacy Advocates’, as a result of this very erroneous teaching, tends to side line the other Apostles, which includes St.Thomas. One reason for this lack of due recognition of St.Thomas in Christiandom, (as Fr. T. George writes), may be this. The catholic theologians very much domintes the field.

    In comparison we can never find the Coptic Church theologians ever doing anything of the sort. Why? Because we the Oriental Orthodox family holds the true doctrines.

    The Eastern Orthodox theologians find some delight in calling us the O O as mono or miaphysites, where as the truth is that their Chalcedeon has imposed two natures in Christ, there by dividing Christ in to two persons. Our fathers like St.Cyril of Alexandria and Mar Savarios fought an intense battle against this distortion.

    Any how, as a result of the herculian task by our Fr.V.C Samuel of blessed memory and others, all have realised the truth that E O & OO meant the same thing, but only that the wording were different.

    This I write to highlight the the need and also the demanding task required to earn for our Apostle the deserved and befitting position in Christiandom. Our clergy alone is not sufficient for doing this, but all of us of such disposition; collectively.

    It is rightly said that “the more we know the more we love”. So, dear Oommen G.Panicker, we have to know more regarding our Apostle Thomas to enable us to love him the more and the resulting more veneration of our apostle. Fr. T. George’s article is thus a welcome initiative.

    An example of dishonourring St.Thomas, out of rivalry is, in the past, the Jacobite Church’s attempt to disown St. Thomas as the apostle of India, with the Antiochian Patriarch’s lead.


    Prasad Mathew,
    Abu Dhabi

  6. Rev.Fr.George T, Ireland, deserves all sorts of appreciation for bringing out this article, which throws more light on the life and deeds of St. Thomas, the Apostle of India and patron saint of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

    Of course, we the Orthodox christians do boast ourselves as ‘St. Thomas Christians’ and children of St. Thomas! We do celebrate ‘St. Thomas Day’ at a few churches here and there and also remembers the Apostles name in ‘Thubaden’, during the holy Qurbana. More than this, I am sorry to say that the Malankara Orthodox Church is not giving its due honor to St. Thomas, the founder of christianity in India!

  7. Dear Mr.Prasad Mathew,
    Thank you very much for your response. ‘Doubting Thomas’ has been a humble attempt on my part in sharing some of the scattered thoughts that God gave me. I shall share more on the the subject, if God grants me the grace. The picture seen has been uploaded by the editor, and only he knows its source. As you said, it is ,of course, a rare one. But I don’t think it is an iconograph.
    I wonder why you got disappointed when you came across the term ‘Transactional Analysis’ in my write up. Since the ‘Indian Orthodox Herald’ is an open forum, I thought I should address the secular readers as well. And I don’t think that TA is taboo or alien to Orthodoxy. Religion and Science are not to be compartmentalised. They are not contradictory but are and must be complementary. They are correlative. They are the two sides of the same coin. I believe that the study of the ‘science of sacraments’ are pertinent or imperative in addressing the modern youth.
    May God bless you!
    With love and prayers,
    In Christ,
    George Achen, Ireland.

  8. ‘Doubting Thomas’ by Fr. George T Ireland,

    “But, quite unfortunately, this great personality has been shrouded in the clouds of parochial attitude in the history of Christianity”, as Fr. George T Ireland says in his above article; we all might have felt many a times.

    But to give words to this feeling of, deserving – but ignored; and don’t know how to drive this cloud away- to give facts based, due veneration to our Apostle St. Thomas is a nagging feeling, affecting many a times; all of us, the St. Thomas Christians.

    And Fr. George T Ireland, through this article, has done that well to a great extent.

    But more and much more shining truths, you have to bring out through your future (longed for by many of us) articles on our beloved Apostle St.Thomas, dear Achen.

    Also could you give more information about the Picture with the article, where is it from, the picture’s history etc. because the picture is sort of rare, out of the usual sort? Is it an icon painting or something?

    And as Achen writes, “And this is possible in the present time by touching in faith the holy things like the Altar, Cross, Oil, Priestly Vestments, Relics of Saints, etc in the Churches”‘
    is a true practical lesson, which all we the faitful; can achieve in faith,
    to touch and feel our Lord, Saviour and Master, as our beloved Apostle St. Thomas could.

    ‘With the analytical mind of a scientist’ as Achen writes is quite good.

    But to bring in comparison like “The ‘infant’ in him or his ‘child nature’, in terms of Transactional analysis, was curious of knowing the truth and exploring his surroundings”,is disappointing, I feel.

    Without the support of such walking sticks from the Transactional or Freudian sort, can’t we the Oriental Orthodox Christians, walk the walk of and learn the lessons of Faith, dear Achen?

    To all possible extent we may have to learn all of Freud or Transactional ones, to understand the operation of the world and it’s doomed ways.

    But in our life of Faith, they are our enemies, and so should be kept aloof, especially in an article on the Apostle of Faith, I feel. Could you commend?


    Prasad Mathew,
    Abu Dhabi

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