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.