Message from Vicar

Vicar’s Message

Beloved in Christ Jesus,

Origin of St. Thomas Christian in India.

Syrian church is one of the most ancient churches in the Christendom. Kerala tradition says that at the dispersal of the apostles after Pentecost St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ came by sea and landed at Muziris in 52 AD and preached the gospel to the Jews and converted many high castes into Christianity. The family names of those converts are Pakalomattom, Sankarapari, Kali, Kalikav, Koykkam, Medeipur, Muttodal, Nedumpally, Panakkamattom and Kottakali etc. He converted around 7000 from 75 Brahmins families as teachers and over 3000 from Kshatriyas, 3700 Vaisyal and 4250 Sudras and they were called as St. Thomas Christians. He founded seven and a half churches at Maliankara, Palayar Paravoor (Parur), Gokkamangalam, Niranam, Chayal and Quilon. He ordained priests from four Brahmins families (Kali, Kalikavu, Sankarapuri and Pakalomattom). He crossed over to the East coast travelled to Malacca and China. On return to the Coromandel Coast, he was speared to death by hostile Brahmins and was buried at Mylapore (in Madras) 18th Dec. 72 AD and in the 3rd century his holy remains were moved to Edessa.

The most relevant question one can ask is whether someone from Jerusalem did travel to India during the apostolic age. There is a great deal of evidence available to demonstrate the strength of commercial links between India and the West Asian world during the apostolic time. Gold and pepper were the central articles of trade Egyptian and Roman were engaged with India during the first century AD. All the trade related travels were dependant on the monsoon winds which blow south-west from April to October and North-East from October to April. The knowledge that if the vessels are moved according to the trends of the winds a traveller from the Gulf of Aden can reach the Western coast of India or Kerala in 40 days.

We must take into consideration the conquest of Alexander the Great in India, in 326 B.C. and in the battle King Poros of India was defeated. The great contribution was that he made contact with India and Greece. There were communication and trade between India and the Western world before the birth of Christ and Greek writers were aware of North and South India even from the first century onwards. Driven by monsoon winds ships would move through the Arabian Sea and would reach any part of the Indian Peninsula. Romans also might have made use of the same route in the middle of the first century. So, it is possible that St. Thomas also came through this route. This argument is confirmed by the archaeological evidence of a thousand coins of Tiberius and 450 of Augustus which were found in Coimbatore district, and forty-six silver coins of Augustus, fourteen coins of Tiberius of Claudius and Nero and one of Trajan which were found at Eyyal not far from Cranganore where St. Thomas was believed to have arrived according to the tradition Muziris (Kodungallor) and Nelkanda (new Kollam) in South India are mentioned as flourishing ports in the writing of Pliny (23-79 AD). He has given the accurate description of the route to India. He has referred the flourishing trade in spices, pearls, diamonds and silks between Rome and Southern India in the early Christian era. A Greek navigator Hippatos in 47 AD discovered a sea route from Oxalis, the Southern tip of Arabia to Muziris. This had given added impetus to traders to visit India frequently and expand their trade. And, the existence of a flourishing colony of Jews in Muziris might have attracted St. Thomas to India.

The traditional belief of St. Thomas Christians about their apostolic succession is an inseparable part of the religious and cultural aspects of their life. The tradition of the early Indian Christian community is known as the ‘St. Thomas tradition’. It has been orally headed down from generation to generation and modified in our time. At least from the 16th century onwards we have many of them in written form like Rambanpattu, Veeradianpattu, Margamkalipattu, Mappilapattu, Villadichanpattu, Pallipattu etc. All these folklores are different forms of cultural presentation of St. Thomas Christians which speaks about the strong apostolic tradition of the Syrian church.

The earliest records about the Apostolate of St. Thomas are the Apocryphal work known as the Acts of Judas Thomas written in Syriac during the third century AD by Bardesan of Edessa (154-222). The Acts speak about King, Habban, a merchant sent by king Gundaphorus to get an architect to build a palace. Habban took Thomas also with him, who was sold to him by Christ. In 1834 coins had been found in Punjab and Afghanistan bearing the name of king Gundaphorus in Greek on one side and Pali on the other. It dated the first half of the 1st century. A stone inscription of his name and date interpreted as 46 AD is now in Lahore Museum, Pakistan. The king was probably a Parthian. The Indo-Parthian dynasty was conquered and annexed by the Kushan dynasty in 52 AD and all the family members of king Gundaphorus were killed. This may be the reason why Christianity did not flourish there further.

According to Malabar tradition, St. Thomas the apostle coming from Arabia landed in Maliankara, Kerala, in the year 50 AD. Then he went to Mylapore and China and again returned to Malabar. In 51 AD, he founded seven Churches and baptized kings, pagans and Jews. In 69 AD, he departed from Malabar to the Coromandel coast, which is now called Madras. In 72 AD., July 3rd, he was killed by a Brahmin with a glance at Mylapore. It is believed that St. Thomas was buried at Mylapore. His mortal remains, and the sacred relics of the apostle were transferred first to Edessa by a Syrian merchant called Khabin and then Ortona in central Italy. Gregory of Tours wrote that Thomas martyred in India and his remains were transferred to Edessa. However, even before the arrival of the Portuguese, Christians and Muslims were making pilgrimages to Mylapore and were praying at the tomb of St. Thomas. Marco Polo witnessed in 1293, that the pilgrims took the red earth of his burial place to cure the sick. St. Thomas the Apostle preached the Gospel in South India.

The origin of Indian Christian is to be attributed to St. Thomas one of the 12 apostles of Christ, which is supported by the tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore. No other place in the world claims to have the tomb of St. Thomas and an active Christian community tracing their apostolic origin to St. Thomas the Apostle of Christ. It stands as an opinion which can neither be proved nor disproved. However, given the fact of the early shreds of evidence cited above, one must conclude that the possibility of it being true is greater than that of it being false.

On behalf of the parish, I would like to invite one and all to be a part of the evening Holy Liturgy and intercessory prayer schedules of the church and be blessed. The details can be followed through the notice of the church, posted in the ‘web site’ or the ‘facebook page’ of St. Mary’s JSO church Frankston.

Wishing you a time of spiritual rejuvenation…