October 6, 2015

Holy Apostle Thomas, Enlightener of India

St. Thomas the Apostle (Feast Day - October 6)


Thomas sought to place his hand in Your side,
Then had his own side pierced for You, O Word.
On the sixth Thomas was stabbed with spears in a far land.

The holy Apostle Thomas, also called Didymus (which means "twin"), was born in the Galilean city of Paneada from poor parents who passed on to him the love for the Law of Moses. He was a fisherman by trade, who was called by Jesus the Messiah to follow Him, so he left everything and followed Him, becoming one of His Twelve Disciples.

When Jesus foretold His impending death in Jerusalem and was on the road towards His saving Passion, it was Thomas who, as a good and faithful servant of his Master, said to the other disciples: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (Jn. 11:11).

When the Savior of the world overcame death by rising from the tomb after three days, He appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room, where the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, yet Thomas, by God's Providence, was absent at the time and later was unwilling to believe them. A week later the Lord appeared again to His disciples, and asked Thomas to certify that He was indeed risen from the dead by placing his finger into the holes in His hands left by the nails and into His side pierced by the spear. Doing so, he exclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:19-29). This confirms for everyone the truth of the Resurrection of Christ in a most graphic manner, showing that He was not a phantom, nor in another body, but in the same one in which He suffered for our salvation.

After witnessing with the other Apostles the Ascension of Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit ten days later on Pentecost in the form of a tongue of fire on his head, it fell to Thomas to bring the Gospel to the distant lands of the Medes and Parthians (Iran), the Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians and as far as India. Though Thomas was at first dismayed to be sent to such savage peoples, the Lord appeared to him in a vision, strengthening him and commanding him to be valiant and not be afraid, promising also to abide with him.

At that time, there was in Jerusalem a man called Ambanes, sent by the Indian king Gundaphar to find an architect with skill enough to build him a palace that would surpass in beauty and adornment any constructed by previous master-builders. The Lord made known to Thomas that this was the providential means for him to fulfill his mission, so he made out to Ambanes that he was a slave who was an expert in the art of building. They boarded a ship therefore for India, and arrived at the court of King Gundaphar.

Thomas presented a plan for a magnificent palace to the King, who was enraptured by the plan, and gave Thomas a large sum of money for building it before he departed for a three year journey to tour some distant provinces. In charge of these riches, Thomas did not delay in distributing them to the countless poor, homeless and starving whom the King took no care for. Meanwhile, Thomas also worked many miracles and preached the Gospel, drawing in many pagans to the Good News of Christ. When the King sent a message to Thomas to be updated on the status of his building two years later, Thomas requested for more gold on the pretext of finishing the roof. Delighted, the King sent to Thomas all that he needed.

When the King returned from his journey, he sought to behold the magnificent palace built by Thomas. When Thomas explained to the King that he would not be able to see his palace in this life but in the next, the King realized he had been tricked and grew exceedingly angry. Offended by this deceit of Thomas, he had him and Ambanes thrown in prison to languish in anticipation of execution; for the King intended to have them flayed alive and burned.

But that night, the brother of the King, who was grievously sick, had a vision of an Angel who carried him away and showed him a magnificent palace in the everlasting Kingdom of the saints. The Angel said to him: "Behold, the palace prepared for your brother, built for him by the Apostle Thomas!" When he came to himself, he described all he had seen to the King, and how much more beautiful than any earthly dwelling was the palace Thomas built for him in Heaven. Completely overwhelmed, the King repented, released the Apostle and asked for Baptism with his brother. His brother also built for himself a palace in Heaven by his great almsgiving.

While Thomas was enlightening the lands of India with the preaching of the Gospel, the time came for the dormition of the Theotokos, and all the Apostles were caught up from various lands on the clouds of heaven, and were transported to Gethsemene, to the bier of the Mother of God. Yet once again by divine Providence, Thomas arrived after the Theotokos was buried. This was permitted by the will of God that the faithful may be assured of her bodily translation into Heaven. Arriving three days after her burial, while on the cloud in the air above the tomb of the Theotokos, he beheld her physically be translated to Heaven, and she gave him her belt, which today is kept in Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos and works numerous miracles. Not long after, Thomas returned to India, where he preached to many peoples and worked many miracles, converting many to the knowledge of the truth.

When Thomas came to another kingdom where barbarity and godlessness held sway with yet more violence, in the power of the Holy Spirit he succeeded in converting Tertia, the King's wife, her son Azanes and her two daughters, Migdonia and Marca. He baptized them and taught them how to follow the way of perfection through asceticism, self-control and maintaining a pure body, mind and heart. This seemed to be a peculiar and senseless way of life to the lustful and debaucherous King, and it threw him into a rage. He had Thomas seized and ordered five soldiers to spear him through on a mountain outside the city. In this manner the Holy Apostle departed to rejoice forever with the Lord, having glorified the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, and is venerated as the founder of the Church in India. His sacred skull, kept in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos, continues to work many miracles today.

Apolytikion in the Second Tone
Thou wast a disciple of Christ and one of the Twelve, and by thy unbelief didst proclaim Christ's Resurrection. By touch thou wast assured of His holy Passion, O glorious Apostle Thomas. Pray to Him to grant us peace and mercy.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The grace-filled Apostle and true servant of Christ cried out in repentance: Thou art my Lord and my God.

Doubting, thou didst come forth to touch His side; yet the Resurrection was confirmed by thine unbelief. Henceforth, all have been taught by thee to serve Christ, O Thomas, who didst end thy course well by holy martyrdom.