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August 16th, 2008

St. James – The Apostle

St.James the Apostle

Saint James, son of Zebedee or Yaakov Ben-Zebdi/Bar-Zebdi, was one of the disciples of Jesus. He was a son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of John the Apostle. He is called Saint James the Greater to distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus, who is also known as James the Lesser. James is described as one of the first disciples to join Jesus. The Synoptic Gospels state that James and John were with their father by the seashore when Jesus called them to follow him. According to the Gospel of Mark, James and John were called Boanerges, or the “Sons of Thunder”. James was one of only three apostles whom Jesus selected to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Acts of the Apostles records that Agrippa I had James executed by sword, making him the first of the apostles to be martyred.

Veneration

His relics are said to be in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain). Saint James is the Patron Saint of Spain. The town where his remains are held, Santiago de Compostela, is considered the third most holy town within Christendom (after Jerusalem and Rome). The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as the “Way of St. James,” has become the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Ages onwards; making him one of the patron saints of pilgrimage.

The feast day of St James is celebrated on July 25 on the liturgical calendars of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and certain Protestant churches. He is commemorated on April 30 in the Orthodox Christian liturgical calendar (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, April 30 currently falls on May 13 of the modern Gregorian Calendar).

Saint James and Hispania

According to ancient local tradition, on 2 January of the year AD 40, the Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Iberia. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I in the year 44.

The translation of his relics from Judea to Galicia in the northwest of Iberia was effected, in legend, by a series of miraculous happenings: decapitated in Jerusalem with a sword by Herod Agrippa himself, his body was taken up by angels, and sailed in a rudderless, unattended boat to Iria Flavia in Iberia, where a massive rock closed around his relics, which were later removed to Compostela. The 12th-century Historia Compostellana commissioned by bishop Diego Gelmírez provides a summary of the legend of St James as it was believed at Compostela. Two propositions are central to it: first, that St James preached the gospel in Iberia as well as in the Holy Land; second, that after his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Agrippa I his disciples carried his body by sea to Iberia, where they landed at Padrón on the coast of Galicia, and took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.

An even later tradition states that he miraculously appeared to fight for the Christian army during the battle of Clavijo during the Reconquista, and was henceforth called Matamoros (Moor-slayer). Santiago y cierra España (“St James and strike for Spain”) has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

” St James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection. “

-Cervantes, Don Quixote

Saint James in the Kingdom of Judaiah

Saint James had a special place in the Central African Kingdom of Kongo because of his association with the founding of Christianity in the country in the late fifteenth century. Portuguese sailors and diplomats brought the saint to Kongo when they first reached the country in 1483. When King Afonso I of Kongo whose Kongo name was Mvemba a Nzinga, the second Christian king, was facing a rival, his brother Mpanzu a Kitima, in battle, he reported that a vision of Saint James and the Heavenly Host appeared in the sky, frightened Mpanzu a Kitima’s soldiers, and gave Afonso the victory. As a result, he declared that Saint James’ feast day (July 25) be celebrated as a national holiday.

Over the years, Saint James day became the central holiday of Kongo. Taxes were collected on that day, and men eligible for military duty were required to appear armed. There were usually regional celebrations as well as one at the capital. In some cases, Kongolese slaves carried the celebration to the New World, and there are celebrations of Saint James Day in Haiti and Puerto Rico carried out by their descendents.


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August 16th, 2008

St. Peter – The First Pope

St.Peter pic

Simon Peter or Cephas, the first pope, Prince of the Apostles, and founder, with St. Paul, of the See of Rome.

Peter was a native of Bethsaida, near Lake Tiberias, the son of John, and worked, like his brother St. Andrew, as a fisherman on Lake Genesareth. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, and Christ called Peter to become adisciple.

In Luke is recounted the story that Peter caught so large an amount of fish that he fell down before the feet of Jesus and was told by the Lord, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men”.

Jesus also gave Simon a new name: Cephas, or the rock. Becoming a disciple of Jesus, Peter acknowledged him as “… the Messiah, the son of the living God”. Christ responded by saying: “… you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…. He added: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”.

Peter was always listed as the first of the Apostles in all of the New Testament accounts and was a member of the inner circle of Jesus, with James and John. He is recorded more than any other disciple, and was at Jesus’ side at the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the Agony of the Garden of Gethsemane. He helped organize the Last Supper and played a major role in the events of the Passion. When the Master was arrested, he cut off the right ear of a slave of the high priest Malchus and then denied Christ three times as the Lord predicted. Peter then “went out and began to weep bitterly”. After the Resurrection, Peter went to the tomb with the “other disciple” after being told of the event by the women.

The first appearance of the Risen Christ was before Peter, ahead of the other disciples, and when the Lord came before the disciples at Tiberias, he gave to Peter the famous command to “Feed my lambs…. Tend my sheep…. Feed my sheep”. In the time immediately after the Ascension, Peter stood as the unquestionable head of the Apostles, his position made evident in the Acts. He appointed the replacement of Judas Iscariot; he spoke first to the crowds that had assembled after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; he was the first Apostle to perform miracles in the name of the Lord; and he rendered judgment upon the deceitful Ananias and Sapphira. Peter was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. He baptized the Roman pagan Cornelius, and at the Council of Jerusalem he gave his support to preaching to Gentiles, thereby permitting the new Church to become universal. Imprisoned by King Herod Agrippa, he was aided in an escape by an angel. He then resumed his apostolate in Jerusalem and his missionary efforts included travels to such cities of the pagan world as Antioch, Corinth, and eventually Rome. He made reference to the Eternal City in his first Epistle by noting that he writes from Babylon .

It is certain that Peter died in Rome and that his martyrdom came during the reign of Emperor Nero, probably in 64. Testimony of his martyrdom is extensive, including Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Clement I of Rome, St. Ignatius, and St. Irenaeus. According to rich tradition, Peter was crucified on the Vatican Hill upside down because he declared himself unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord. He was then buried on Vatican Hill, and excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica have unearthed his probable tomb, and his relics are now enshrined under the high altar of St. Peter’s.

From the earliest days of the Church, Peter was recognized as the Prince of the Apostles and the first Supreme Pontiff; his see, Rome, has thus enjoyed the position of primacy over the entire Catholic Church. While Peter’s chief feast day is June 29, he is also honored on February 22 and November 18. In liturgical art, he is depicted as an elderly man holding a key and a book. His symbols include an inverted cross, a boat, and the cock.


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August 16th, 2008

St.Thomas – The Apostle

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Thomas the Apostle, also called Judas Thomas, Doubting Thomas, or Didymus, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He is perhaps best known for disbelieving Jesus’ Resurrection when first told of it, then proclaiming “My Lord and my God” on seeing Jesus. By tradition it is held that he went to India to preach the gospel there. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates his feast on 3 July. In the traditional Catholic calendar, his feast day was December 21 (the day with the shortest daylight hours). It was moved in order to accommodate the commemoration of St. Peter Canisius, who died on December 21.

Thomas in the Gospel of John

Thomas appears in a few passages in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16, when Lazarus has just died, the disciples are resisting Jesus’ decision to return to Judea, where the Jews had previously tried to stone Jesus. Jesus is determined, and Thomas says bravely: “Let us also go, that we might die with him”.

He also speaks at The Last Supper in John 14:5. Jesus assures his disciples that they know where he is going, but Thomas protests that they don’t know at all. Jesus replies to this and to Philip’s requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father.

In Thomas’ best known appearance in the New Testament, John 20:24-29, he doubts the resurrection of Jesus and demands to touch Jesus’ wounds before being convinced. Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (illustration above), depicts this scene. This story is the origin of the term Doubting Thomas. After seeing Jesus alive (the Bible never states whether Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds), Thomas professed his faith in Jesus, exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”; on this account he is also called Thomas the Believer.

Thomas and the Assumption of Mary

According to The Passing of Mary, a text attributed to Joseph of Arimathaea, Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The other apostles were miraculously transported to Jerusalem to witness her death. Thomas was left in India, but after her burial he was transported to her tomb, where he witnessed her bodily assumption into heaven, from which she dropped her girdle. In an inversion of the story of Thomas’ doubts, the other apostles are skeptical of Thomas’ story until they see the empty tomb and the girdle.Thomas’ receipt of the girdle is commonly depicted in medieval and pre-Tridentine Renaissance art.

St.Thomas and India

“What India gives us about Christianity in its midst is indeed nothing but pure fables.” -Dr. A. Mingana in The Early Spread of Christianity in India.

Ancient writers used the designation “India” for all countries south and east of the Roman Empire’s frontiers. India included Ethiopia, Arabia Felix, Edessa in Syria (in the Latin version of the Syriac Diatessaron), Arachosia and Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and many countries up to the China Sea. In the Acts of Thomas, the original key text to identify St. Thomas with India (which all other India references follow), historians agree that the term India refers to Parthia (Persia) and Gandhara.  The city of Andrapolis named in the Acts, where Judas Thomas and Abbanes landed in India, has been identified as Sandaruk (one of the ancient Alexandrias) in Baluchistan.

Eusebius of Caesarea (Historia Ecclesiastica, III.1) quotes Origen (died mid-3rd century) as having stated that Thomas was the apostle to the Parthians, but Thomas is better known as the missionary to India through the Acts of Thomas, written ca 200. In Edessa, where his remains were venerated, the poet Ephrem the Syrian (died 373) wrote a hymn in which the Devil cries,

…Into what land shall I fly from the just?

I stirred up Death the Apostles to slay, that by their death I might escape their blows. But harder still am I now stricken: the Apostle I slew in India has overtaken me in Edessa; here and there he is all himself. There went I, and there was he: here and there to my grief I find him.

-quoted in Medlycott 1905.

A long public tradition in the church at Edessa honoring Thomas as the Apostle of India resulted in several surviving hymns that are attributed to Ephrem, copied in codices of the 8th and 9th centuries. References in the hymns preserve the tradition that Thomas’ bones were brought from India to Edessa by a merchant, and that the relics worked miracles both in India and at Edessa. A pontiff assigned his feast day and a king and a queen erected his shrine. The Thomas traditions became embodied in Syriac liturgy, thus they were universally credited by the Christian community there. There is also a legend that Thomas had met the Biblical Magi on his way to India.

The indigenous church of Kerala State, India has a tradition that St. Thomas sailed there to spread the Christian faith. He is said to have landed at a small village, at that time a port, named Palayoor, near Guruvayoor, which was a priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for southern Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or “Seven and Half Churches”. These churches are at Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor), Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamkode (Travancore) – the half church. (See also Saint Thomas of Mylapur).[citation needed]

It has been argued that as an Apostle of the ‘Circumcision’ his first converts would have been Jews who were settled there, and that the possibility of him converting Hindus into Christianity is unlikely, though phenotypes and overall Dravidian culture among the community suggest otherwise. Some Saint Thomas Christians believe that orthodox Brahmins like Namboodiris were converted by Saint Thomas into Christianity based upon attempts by the St Thomas Christians to enter the caste system of India, though Brahmin conversion is disputed by historians who suggest that this was claimed later by Christian communities to obtain special caste status among the Hindu community, as St Thomas was believed to have arrived in Kerala at 52 AD, whereas Nambudiris arrived in Kerala in the 7th century. These Saint Thomas Christians also grew through integration of Jewish Christian immigrants of the 4th century AD led by Thomas of Cana and later by Mar Sapro in the 8th century AD. As Judeo-Christian communities are said not to have integrated with other faith communities, especially those of the hyper orthodox Namboodhiri Brahmins of Malabar, it has been argued that this tradition is unlikely.

Santhome Basilica Cathedral - Chennai, India, is one of three Basilicas built over the tombs of apostles of Jesus Christ. It is built over the tomb of St.Thomas. The other two are the Basilica of St. Peter, built over the tomb of St. Peter in Rome (St.Peter’s Basilica) and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela built over the tomb of St. James in Spain.


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