On October 19, churches that follow the Julian calendar honor the memory of St. Thomas the Apostle. The memory of the Apostle is the only church-wide celebration in the calendar of saints, established by statute on this day. According to the criteria of the Ancient Church, this speaks of its exceptional importance.
The name “Thomas” itself is translated from Aramaic as twin, which in the Greek language of the Gospel texts is denoted by the word “Didymus”. Some interpreters saw in this name a hint of some character traits of the Apostle, but most likely this is not the case.
Thomas is mentioned several times in the New Testament Scriptures. Thus, in the list of the twelve apostles in the Gospel of Matthew (10.3), Thomas is listed as the seventh, and in the Gospels of Mark (3.18) and Luke (6.15) he is mentioned as the eighth, and finally, in the Book of Acts (1.13) he is in seventh place. Memorizing the apostolic list by name, as well as being aware of the differences between the New Testament texts, is an important exercise in piety.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Thomas is mentioned only in the list of the twelve apostles. There are no other mentions in the first three Gospels. In contrast, the Gospel of John, which does not contain a complete apostolic list, speaks of Thomas several times, namely, four separate episodes with his participation.
The four episodes involving Thomas in the Gospel of John are:
In chapter 11, Jesus announces to the disciples the illness and then death of Lazarus and expresses His decisive intention to go to him. In response to these words, Thomas says: “Come and we will die with Him” (John 11:16).
In chapter 14, Jesus speaks about the path of suffering on the cross ahead of Him and about the many mansions of the Heavenly Father. Then Thomas turns to the Lord: “Lord! We don't know where you're going; and how can we know the way? (John 15:6). In response, Jesus says the words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (7).
In chapter 20, when the news of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead reaches the apostolic circle, and then the Lord Himself appears to the disciples, “Thomas was not with them” (20:14). “Unless I see in His hands the marks of the nails and put my finger into the marks of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (25).
Finally, the most famous of these four episodes is called in theological language “The Assurance of Thomas.” In John 20, eight days after His Resurrection, “Jesus came while the doors were locked.”
He pointed to Thomas’s hands and ribs: “Put your finger here and look at My hands; give me your hand and place it in my side; and do not be an unbeliever, but a believer” (26–27). “My Lord and my God! - Thomas said in response.
A rich tradition has been preserved about the preaching of the Apostle Thomas after the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Many Ancient Churches, in particular the Church of India, consider the Apostle to be their immediate founder.
In popular piety the Apostle is often called “Doubting Thomas.” However, the episodes with his participation in the text of the Gospel rather indicate that this is not entirely true, or not at all true. Indeed, each of the words and appeals of the Apostle can be interpreted as an expression of doubt. But one can see in them confession, determination, and a desire for greater authentication.
It is noteworthy that it was in honor of Thomas that two great theologians were named: the ancient teacher of the Alexandrian Church Didymus the Blind (313–398) and the Western thinker and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274).
Moreover, the possibility of completely different understandings of the words of the Apostle cited by John is important evidence that Scripture can and should be examined and interpreted. The Word of God is inexhaustible, and “the world itself cannot contain its meaning,” testifies the Evangelist John (cf. John 21:25). It was he who wrote the most about Thomas. In fact, the polysemy of Thomas’s words in the fourth Gospel is confirmation that the Church is a communion of interpreters.
“My Lord and my God” (John 20:27). These last words of the Apostle, addressed to the Lord Jesus, became the clearest and most unconditional evidence of the confession of the Divinity of the Lord Jesus in the entire Gospel text. It is important to remember and realize that they have become part of our Creed. “I believe in one Lord Jesus, Christ, the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father.” The Church repeats them daily during divine services, so that, after the Eucharistic prayer, like Thomas, we can partake of the life-giving corporeality of God in the Eucharist.