October 6 – Apostle Thomas; Francis Trung Van Tran

Thomas the Apostle (d. 72) was one of the Twelve Apostles, and (in)famous for not believing the other apostles’ testimony of having seen the Risen Christ. “Gotta see the holes,” he insisted, referring to the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, respectively. (Note I did not say “respectFULLy.” Poking someone with a spear is not very respectful.) This incident (recorded in John 20:19–25) is the gospel reading for the Agape Vespers of Pascha, the one service where (in some parishes) any baptized Orthie can read the gospel, providing they do it in an interesting language. Some parishes allow as many languages as there are people in the church who can read them.

After our Lord’s ascension, the Apostles drew straws to see who would found churches where. Thomas got the straw for India, which was a long way from Palestine in those days. “Not gonna do it,” he said. That night Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said, “Don’t worry, fear not, get going” (or something similar). Thomas dug his heels in, so Jesus, disguised as someone who wasn’t God Incarnate, appeared to Abban, a servant of the Indian king Gundafar, and sold Thomas as a slave, touting the apostle’s great skills in carpentry. Carpenters were hard to find in India in those days, so Abban was shopping far from home.

Once in India, Gundafar gave Thomas a great deal of coin to buy building supplies for a magnificent palace. Thomas gave all the money to the poor and preached the Gospel, sending back glowing reports of his progress. This went on for some time, but eventually Gundafar came to see the new palace for himself. “Where is it?” he said with some dismay. “You’ll see it in the next life,” Thomas helpfully explained. “Sorry, can’t see it,” said Gundafar, throwing Thomas (and Abban) into prison. That night the king’s brother died, and an angel carried his soul to heaven for the 20 rupee tour. “Whose beautiful mansion is that?” the prince asked. “It’s your brother’s,” said the angel, relating the whole story. “Let me go back to earth and see if he’ll give it to me.” “Fine, but hurry back,” said the angel.

Gundafar rejoiced when his brother came back to life. “I’m your favorite brother, right?” said the prince. “Of course!” said the king. “Will you give me anything I ask for?” asked the prince. “Of course!” said the king. “Great. Give me the mansion you have in heaven, the one Thomas built for you.” In short order Thomas was set free, and the king had him build another mansion so both brothers could have one.

Thomas was martyred in India (by five spears), but his relics were brought to Edessa in the fourth century. The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India claims Thomas as its founder.

Francis Trung Van Tran (1825–1858) was an army corporal in Vietnam who was, rightly or wrongly, accused of cheating on a test, and thrown in prison (and you thought your teachers were tough disciplinarians!). Sometime later, the emperor (Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm, aka Tự Đức, aka Tu Duc) issued a general amnesty for prisoners, but with a catch—you had to renounce Christianity (by trampling on a cross) to go free. Francis refused to do so. “I will not desert my religion,” he said. He was beaten, and put on the docket for execution. Two mandarins who begged the emperor to pardon Francis were punished for speaking up for him. This was not the sort of emperor you want to meet on a dark gallows.

As he was led to his death, Frank asked for some limestone paste, and used it to draw a cross across the back of his neck. He was beheaded by sword. He was canonized as one of the Martyrs of Vietnam by Pope John Paul II in 1988. The Vatican estimates between 100,000 and 300,000 Christians were martyred in Vietnam; the names of 117 are recorded.