Old Cross

From the King James Bible, Chapter 20, verse 28 of the Gospel of John:  And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

Regular readers here may be aware that I have recently been on a pilgrimage to India, titled:  In the footsteps of St. Thomas.

Twenty-eight of us had a wonderful time, participating, just a little bit, in the life of Christians in India, and it has been difficult to find the right words to explain the sheer senses of the experience. India has been said by some to be a land of contradictions, and certainly there has been some of that experienced on our trip: joy and suffering, wonderment and disbelief, kindness and cruelty, order and chaos, tenderness and tension.

With Jess’ permission I would like to comment on a few aspects of our trip in more detail in a couple more posts, but first let me share some photographs. Not so much as to brag “look where I’ve been”, but rather in the hope that they will convey feeling in addition to the words which seem to me to be inadequate to convey the experience of being there.   Perhaps people who have already been to India will have a head start to understand what I mean.

You may care to play some music whilst watching the photogallery below (which itself has no sound).  I suggest that you open this link and ‘play all’ for some wonderful hymns to help get the right atmosphere.

However, before starting the photogallery, maybe – now that you have music – you could also try to think of yourself being somewhere warm and of a pleasant humidity – rather like an Indian Summer in England, for this is what passed for the climate, roughly speaking, in Kerala in winter.

Here’s the video photogallery. I suggest you play it in full screen mode for the best effect. When in full screen mode, there is a link at the top of the screen – if you hover your mouse a bit – to improve the picture quality if it seems poor to you.

You might wish to look up Wikipedia for background information on the St. Thomas’ Cross, and on the St. Thomas Christians in general and their history.

I will write more in later posts on the churches that we went to which, so it is said, were founded by St. Thomas, and in more detail too on our meetings with the two church leaders, as well as our time at the ‘Old Seminary’ in Kottayam of the Indian Orthodox Church, including comments on the prevailing liturgies.

For those who might be scratching their heads a little at the history of the St. Thomas Christians, let me just provide a potted version, which inevitably will leave out a vast amount of information, but will nevertheless provide a framework for your own research online:

AD 52, St. Thomas arrives in Kerala, with his Gospel (about which we do not really know, but it was before any of the ‘Gospels’ that we have were written).  Most of the converts were Brahmins (upper caste Hindus)

St. Thomas went to the area of Chennai (which was countryside, well before the East India Company built Fort St. George around which Madras grew up), and was hunted by Hindus for trying to convert people. He hid in a cave, was captured, and then was martyred there.

The Portuguese came, accompanied by Latin Christianity.  The people rebelled against cack-handed Portuguese efforts to make them Latin Christians, after which there were lots of splits.

Before the Portuguese came, the St. Thomas Christians had become a part of the Church of the East, and so were dyosophytes in their Christology.  After the rebellion, they became miasyphites (except for those who went on to become Eastern Roman Catholics, who became Chalceldoneon).

The Anglican Church Missionary Society came with the British to India and provided a ‘mission of help’ to the non-Roman Catholic St. Thomas Christians, helping them to found the ‘Old Seminary’ at Kottayam, to start an intellectual base to their faith, their history having been largely destroyed by the Portuguese.  However, after a time, some of the CMS missionaries, in evangelical zeal, tried to make them into evangelicals, instead of helping them deepen their Oriental Orthodoxy, and the CMS link came to an end, except with that part that split to become what is now known as the Mar Thoma Church, in communion with Canterbury, yet with a Syraic liturgy

After Indian independence, the Presbytarian, Anglican, Methodist and Congregational churches founded by western missionaries amalgamated to become what is known as the United Churches of the Church of South India, and later on the Church of North India.  St. Georges Cathedral in Chennai is where the CSI was proclaimed. Think low church Anglicanism, but not really fire and brimstone, but quite keen on liberation for the people, because most of the Christians in India who are not in ‘Syrian churches’ and with liturgies relating to Latin Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism are from Dalit backgrounds, with all the healing of their centuries of hurts that that has brought with it.

Finally, a word about the music. Remember that what might pass for a splendid church organ in England is very difficult to upkeep in the heat and humidity, especially when you don’t have much money.  The singing and music was full of joy and was wonderful wherever we went. Even at the Little St. Thomas church in Chennai when we discovered a Latin Roman Catholic mass going on in a charasmatic style in Tamil.

There is a distinct difference between north and south India I have been told. In the south, much more English is used, as Hindi is a ‘north Indian language’ and so is resisted as the unifying Indian language.  The south tends to be cleaner and more educated than the north too, as well as safer – and we did have conversations about womens safety in India as well.

Do let me know in the comments if there’s anything particular you’d like to know, but I intend to post twice more. Firstly about the churches that St. Thomas founded, and then about the meetings with the church leaders and our time at the seminary and on the liturgies.

We gave donations to all of the churches and groups that we visited, and in the spirit of charity we received so much kindness and charity in return.  India is a religious country – not only are there no atheists in foxholes!  And in India, it is charity that is seen on display over and over again.  In particular the charitable efforts of the United Christians of Kerala that we met are worth commenting on, and I will do so later – it’s an ecumenical group of Anglicans, Orthodox and RCs, plus some of the other groups, of which there are a smattering, such as baptists and pentecostals.

I hope that this is of some interest.