Made film about Thomas – The Apostle of the East
Did the apostle Thomas, best known for his doubt – found a church in India in the first century?
This question intrigued both director Thea Haavet and Jostein Ørum, a priest and one of Norway’s best-selling Christian authors.
They decided to travel together to India to find out if an old well-preserved tradition could be true – and at the same time make a documentary about it.
Jostein Ørum says that the most important thing about the film “Tracking St. Thomas – The Apostle of the East” is to show people in the West that the world Church is bigger than we have thought and that we are not the center of the world.
– By watching the film you get to know a two-thousand-year-old, continuous, unbroken tradition that is still very much alive!
Haavet believes viewers can look forward to getting to know a strong and unique, living tradition shared by nine million Thomas-christians:
– And not the least to join an exciting journey in a beautiful and fascinating part of India!
In the film we follow Jostein Ørum in his search for traces of the apostle Thomas in India. There he meets some of the millions of Christians who believe that Thomas traveled to India after Jesus’ resurrection, baptized their ancestors and established several churches with a unique spirituality. Ørum discovers a strong Christian community that is quite different from his own.
Who was the most interesting person to talk to?
– Definitely the last one, on the mountain at the end of the journey, the mountain where Thomas is said to have been killed. Under a tree there was a family on a Sunday-picnic with whom I got talking. With them I found out that the old stories about Christianity in India are very much alive, says the author.
Later on, Ørum wrote a book about what happened to the twelve apostles after the events recorded in the Bible, with several chapters based on the trip to India.
– I have always been fascinated by Jesus’ twelve disciples. Who were they and where did they go? Of these, the Thomas-tradition is the most alive and exciting.
Abounds in stories
The shooting of the film was done in 2019 in two states of India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to tradition, Thomas arrived in Kerala already in the year 52. Local stories abound about the apostle’s missionary journeys and the establishment of Christian communities in seven places, where churches were later built. Ørum visits several of these in the film.
But the filmmakers also had to travel to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tradition says that the apostle Thomas traveled to the east coast towards the end of his life. Two places became important here, the cave where he hid and Mount Thomas, where he is said to have been martyred after twenty years as a missionary in India.
– Stories that had mostly been rumors about what the disciple Thomas had done, now became real stories from real people. There were stories with a surprising power and coherence, Ørum explains.
Could the story be true?
Cameraman and editor Gunnar Grønlund says that the number of Christian churches and symbols in India was overwhelming. Religiosity was much more visible than in Norway and the Christians they met seemed very dedicated to their faith.
– It was really exciting. The best thing about almost every film project is the people and environments we meet. People open up and there is a lot to reflect on. Also in the film editing afterwards, the story gives thought and meaning, says Grønlund.
He says that the documentary has a journalistic approach. By talking to a number of different people, the film tries to find the answer to this: Is it really possible that Thomas founded several churches in India and how could this happen?
Thus, we return to the question the director and writer had, which prompted them to embark on the journey to India to possibly follow in the footsteps of the apostle himself. Did they ever get their question answered?
– I think anyone who sees the film will have to make up their own mind based on what is presented in the film. What is at least certain is that the Thomas tradition is very strong in the hearts and minds of the local Christians, and they themselves have no doubts that he was there. Both dances and songs, liturgies and local traditions tell about what Thomas did and said in various places in Kerala and they still believe that the apostle Thomas protects the church he planted there in the first century, says Thea Haavet.
– Yes, I found what I hoped for, although there is a lot more to glean from and I think this story may actually be true. In any case, it is important for the people in this tradition, says Jostein Ørum.
You can now rent the documentary with Vimeo on demand: