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Comunidad San Dimas
San Dimas (San Dimas) short History

The idea to name our ministry "San Dimas" came from a youth in San Francisco Juvenile Hall, the original ministry name was St. Peter's Outreach program. Later Comunidad was added.

The Penitent thief, also known as the Thief on the Cross or the Good Thief, is an unnamed character mentioned in the Gospel of Luke who was crucified alongside Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, unlike his companion the Impenitent thief.

Gosple of Luke - Luke 23: 39-43

Narrative.  Two men were crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on his right hand and one on his left (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27-28, Luke 23:33, John 19:18), which Mark interprets as fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12. According to Matthew, both of the "thieves" mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44); Luke however, mentions that

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” St. Luke 23:39-43 (NASB)

In different Christian traditions different names have been given to the thief:

  • In the Arabic First Infancy Gospel he is called Titus, and the impenitent thief Dumachus.
  • In the Gospel of Nicodemus and Catholic tradition the name Dismas is given to the thief. He was never canonized by the Catholic Church but is venerated as a saint by local traditions as Saint Dismas (sometimes spelled "Dysmas" or in Spanish "Dimas"). The name Dismas for this thief may date back to the 4th century.
  • In Coptic Orthodox tradition he is named Demas.
  • In Codex Colbertinus he is named Zoatham.
  • In Russian Orthodox tradition he is named Rach.
Unnamed.  Augustine of Hippo does not name the thief, but wonders if he might not have been baptized at some point.

According to tradition, the Good Thief was crucified to Jesus' right hand and the other thief was crucified to his left. For this reason, depictions of the crucifixion often show Jesus' head inclined to his right, showing his acceptance of the Good Thief. In the Russian Orthodox Church, both crucifixes and crosses are usually made with three bars: the top one, representing the titulus (the inscription that Pontius Pilate wrote and was nailed above Jesus' head); the longer crossbar on which Jesus' hands were nailed; and a slanted bar at the bottom representing the footrest to which Jesus' feet were nailed. The footrest is slanted, pointing up towards the Good Thief, and pointing down towards the other.

"Christ and the Thief" by Nikolai Ge.  According to St. John Chrysostom, the thief dwelt in the desert and robbed or murdered anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. According to Pope Saint Gregory the Great he "was guilty of blood, even his brother's blood; (fratricide)".

The thief's conversion is sometimes given as an example of the necessary steps one must take to arrive at salvation through Christ: awareness of personal sin, repentance of sin, acceptance of Christ and salvation's promise of eternal life. Further, the argument is presented that baptism is not necessary for salvation since the thief had no opportunity for it.

The name Dismas.  Only the Gospel of Luke describes one of the thieves as penitent, and even that gospel doesn't name him. Luke's unnamed penitent thief was later assigned the name Dismas in the Gospel of Nicodemus, portions of which may be dated to the 4th century. The name "Dismas" was adapted from a Greek word meaning "sunset" or "death." The other thief's name is given as Gestas. In Jean Joseph Gaume's Life of the Good Thief (Histoire Du Bon Larron French 1868, English 1882), Saint Augustine said; the thief said to Jesus, the child: " O most blessed of children, if ever a time should come when I shall crave Thy Mercy, remember me and forget not what has passed this day."Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the Holy Family "exhausted and helpless"; according to St. Augustine and St. Peter Damian, the Holy Family met Dismas, in these circumstances.

The apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel calls the two thieves Titus and Dumachus, and adds a tale about how Titus (the good one) prevented the other thieves in his company from robbing Mary and Joseph during their Flight into Egypt.

Canonization.  The Catholic Church never formally canonized Saint Dismas, though he is regarded as a saint by virtue of Jesus saying he would be in Paradise, and by local church traditions. The feast of St. Dismas is on the 25th of March, shared with the feast of The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A number of towns, including San Dimas, California, are named after him. There also exist parish churches named after him, such as the Church of the Good Thief in Kingston, Ontario, Canada -- built by convicts at Kingston Penitentiary, Saint Dismas Church in Waukegan, Illinois and the Church of St. Dismas, the Good Thief a Roman Catholic church at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.

St. Dimas at St. Quentin

This image of St. Dimas "The Good Thief" was painted by Fernando Caro in 1986 for the Catholic Chapel at San Quentin State Prison, CA.

Russian Orthodox icon of The Good Thief in Paradise (Moscow School, c. 1560).

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