“In the Steps of St Thomas” book launch

On 5 October at St. Luke’s Church, Chelsea, Abba Seraphim, accompanied by Father James and Deacon Athanasius, attended a launch of Serena Fass’ latest book, “In the footsteps of St Thomas: the Apostle of the East”, where all those present were warmly welcomed to St. Luke’s by the Rector, Prebendary Brian Leathard. Abba Seraphim gave a short introductory speech, noting that in the Book of Ecclesiastes we are warned that “of the making of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh”. This was Serena’s third book in the current series, with a fourth already well on its way, but the preacher’s admonition in this case was not appropriate, principally because, far from being wearisome, Serena’s books are a delight both to the eye and to the intellect.

He suggested that although they are paper-backs, they don’t quite qualify as coffee-table books, but left out on display they will certainly entertain guests and inspire conversation. The high quality of illustrations, which have been most carefully chosen, owe much to Serena’s discerning eye and, indeed, a large proportion were taken by Serena herself. Although the text is divided into blocks, rather than long prose, it is both informative and scholarly, as he knew that Serena’s preparatory reading and research had been thorough and extensive. Her previous books on “The Cross” and “The Three Magi” set a splendidly high standard, which “St. Thomas” matches. Abba Seraphim confessed that in our British Orthodox Church library these are not stored on the bookshelves with other tomes, but sit on the tables by the side, so that they can be easily browsed and enjoyed by those not engaged on detailed research; but who are delighted and edified nonetheless.

He often wonders why the apostle Thomas is recalled to history as “Doubting Thomas”, because his doubts were confronted and removed by his encounter with our Lord and he became one of the first to proclaim belief in the resurrection. For us, he is surely “Believing Thomas” ! Of the twelve apostles of the Lord, only a few stand out as a continuing inspiration to the modern Christian community. It is surely significant that Thomas’s mission to the East is still so vividly recalled that the ancient Christian communities of the entire subcontinent designate themselves as “Thomas Christians”.

Abba Seraphim went on to say that Serena’s books, and this one in particular, remind us of the universality of Christendom and her travels along the mission route of Saint Thomas are not only a mini-Baedeker guide, but also a spiritual pilgrimage in the apostle’s footsteps which we can trace even from the comfort of our homes. Following his own visit to Kerala in 2010, Abba Seraphim wrote a brief memoir, but he felt that it pales into insignificant when compared with Serena’s splendid book, which encapsulates all the local colour and delight of following in St. Thomas’s path. The connection between people and places is one which we readily make, especially nowadays when there are few parts of the globe that can be described as unexplored. Sometimes buildings, shrines and other structures associated with those who lived long ago, act as historical markers on our pilgrimage, but the continuity of a two-thousand year old living community, who owe their present faith to the outreach of Saint Thomas, is undoubtedly the most remarkable and enduring legacy.

The fact that Serena also publishes her books with the clear intention of benefitting Christian communities under threat, through donating a generous share of the receipts from their sales to “Aid to the Church in Need” should not be overlooked. Although the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq – areas which closely benefitted from the Apostle’s ministry – are currently a priority, the outreach of this admirable charity is both geographically universal (supporting Christians in 148 countries worldwide) and eirenic. The Christian Lenten observance – and likewise the Muslim Ramadam – encourage not merely personal spiritual discipline, but also a commitment to offer pragmatic support to our brethren in need. The delight in distributing presents to friends and family at Christmas not only makes “In the Footsteps of St. Thomas” an ideal seasonal gift, but also offers practical help to those who are suffering because of their Christian faith. Even in this indirect way the Apostle continues to shower us with his blessings. May his prayers be with us all. Amen.

There followed a further appreciative address about Serena’s books from Neville Kyrke-Smith, the UK National Director of Aid to the Church in Need before Serena thanked all those attending and offered two interesting anecdotes about how she had done some of her first-hand research.

The book also contains a foreword by His Holiness Moran Baselios Mar Thoma Paulos II, the Catholicos of the East, and an excellent introduction by Michael Wood. It comprises 332 pages, with over 250 illustration and sells for £25, of which £5 goes to ACN.  Its ISBN: is: 978-1-78545-1850 and books are available from the Brompton Oratory shop and from Joss Graham’s shop: 10 Eccleston St. London SW1W 9LT

There will be second promotion of the book on Thursday ,12 October at St Wilfrid’s Hall, the Brompton Oratory, London SW7 2RP on behalf of the St John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem (6.30-8.30). Tickets are available for £30 for the champagne reception & lecture from denisemagauran@aol.com