Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Charitine, whose account is found in Volume 4 of the series.)
It is a grave injustice to the Apostle Thomas that he is best remembered by most Christians as the one who doubted Christ had reappeared after having been crucified, an event in this holy man’s life that has lent his name to a phrase denoting an incredulous person – “doubting Thomas.” When Jesus appeared before Thomas to display His wounds, He appeared before the entire world in a gesture so dramatic that for all time any Christian who finds himself hesitant can identify with no less than apostle Thomas himself. This event overshadowed the tremendous missionary accomplishments of a man who had no doubts about pledging his life to the Savior, and who had no misgivings about traveling to distant India to carry the message of Jesus Christ.
As hardy and as courageous as any of the twelve chosen by the Lord, Thomas accepted without hesitation the challenge of converting a darkly suspicious host of people who lived on the edge of civilization in that area of India known as Malabar, making his way across southern India to Mylapur in Madras. In this forbidding expanse he had outdistanced his fellow apostles and, even with no semblance of a line of communication with the rest of the world, did a remarkable job in firmly establishing Christianity in one of the least spiritually fertile lands of earth. To this day there stands a shrine in his memory built in ancient times in Mylapur, and it is not surprising that the most common name in the Christian community there happens to be Thomas. The mountain on which the Portuguese installed a beautiful cross in tribute to his work there is appropriately named Mt. St. Thomas.
The history of the near-miraculous feats of Thomas are preserved in his writings, the Acts of Thomas, treasured as one of the finest chronicles of Christianity, noted for its emotional intensity, particularly in the fervent hymn chanted by Thomas when he was imprisoned and which is one of the jewels of Christian expression now known as the “Hymn of the Soul.”
The missionary work of Thomas revealed him to be not only an enthusiastic messenger of the Messiah, but an administrator of excellence, insisting on fundamentals and the observance of extreme asceticism. He required that his fellow workers and those who remained to conduct the services of the new faith observe austerity to the extreme, divesting themselves of all worldly goods, eschewing the sensual world and giving themselves totally to Jesus Christ. This brand of strict adherence to moral behavior was to result in a Christian community strong enough in the coming years to withstand the withering oppression of the Muslims. To this day there is no stronger spiritual community in any corner of the earth than there is in southern India, where famine, pestilence, and deprivation are not strangers. The wealth of the legacy of love from Thomas is beyond measure there.
The ancient historian, Eusebios, has referred to Thomas as the evangelist of Parthia, in all probability because he was considered a Parthian, whose home was Edessa, the town honored to be the site of the final resting-place of the bones of Thomas, which had been brought back from India. Such was the extent of the journey for Christ, however, that Thomas was somewhat of a cosmopolitan, at home wherever he could summon an audience to hear him speak. Many of his speeches, eucharistic prayers and homilies are contained in the Acts of Thomas, which also give an account of the many journeys to spiritually unexplored regions by this formidable apostle, during which he spoke to one and all, ranging from the humblest all the way to the king of India himself, a man called Gondophares by the Greeks, but known in other languages as Gundaphar.
The eff ctiveness of the work of Thomas for Christianity was such that it spread eventually to the north to Bombay, and even to Ceylon, the pearl of the Orient. It was inevitable that he would incur the murderous wrath of one of the lesser tribal kings. It was within sight of the mountain that bears his name that a local chieftain, named Misdai, cast him in prison and had him executed.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.