Saint Thomas Church. Thomas Christian Church, Catholic Church of the East. Cochin, Kerala, South India, November 1994
In Cochin, I went to a St Thomas Church service and talked with one of the Thomas’ Christians. St Thomas the Apostle came to India in the year 52 AD. He converted a number of Indians of this area to Christianity and some of their descendants remained in this Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the East. The service I went to was in Aramaic, the actual language of Jesus Christ. These Christians place great importance on the second commandment and thus, the church has no figurative art, i.e. no pictures or statues of Jesus or the saints, (an issue that the Portuguese Roman Catholics took extreme exception to). On a small detail, they used quite a lot of incense in the Mass. They never became anti-semitic. In fact, they may be nearer to their Jewish origins than the Christians of the West.
I was informed that up to the 3rd century, the Catholic Church had five geographic sections, none being senior to the others. The split, partly started because of some jealousies, and over a difference of opinion about the question of Mary being the mother of God or Mary being the mother of Jesus. They also rejected the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD, the Persian Church not being represented, so it was not ecumenical.
However, the greatest surprise to me was that St Thomas Christianity is not more different to Western Christianity, when you consider the long separation. I was also surprised that they were not more Indian in character, when you think how long it has been established in India. Their service was reminiscent of a Latin Service. Unfortunately, the Portuguese Roman Catholics burnt almost all their holy and historical books so one has mostly traditions to go on.
Location: Cochin, Kerala, South India
Photographer: Richard Keith Wolff