Assyrian Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
Emblem of the Assyrian Church of the East
|Founder||Traces origins to Saints Thomas, Bartholomew, Thaddeus (Addai) and Mari.|
|Recognition||First Council of Ephesus|
|Primate||Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV Khanania|
|Headquarters||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
|Territory||Iraq, Iran, India, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, UAE, Israel, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Georgia, Oceania.|
|Adherents||400,000 - 500,000|
The Assyrian Church of the East, officially the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East Classical Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܩܕܝܫܬܐ ܘܫܠܝܚܝܬܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܝ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ ܕܐܬܘܪܝܐ ʻIttā Qaddishtā w-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Āturāyē), is a Syriac Church historically centered in Assyria/Assuristan, northern Mesopotamia. It is one of the churches that claim continuity with the historical Patriarchate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon – the Church of the East. Unlike most other churches that trace their origins to antiquity, the modern Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other churches, either Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Catholic.
The church is headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, who currently presides from Chicago, Illinois, United States. Below the Catholicos-Patriarch are a number of metropolitan bishops, diocesan bishops, priests, and deacons who serve dioceses and parishes throughout the Middle East, India, North America, Oceania, and Europe (including the Caucasus and Russia). Theologically, the church is associated with the doctrine of Nestorianism, leading to the church also being known as the "Nestorian Church", though church leadership has at times rejected the Nestorian label. The church employs the Syriac dialect of the Aramaic language in its liturgy, the East Syrian Rite, which includes three anaphoras, attributed to Saints Addai and Mari, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius.
The Church of the East developed from the early Assyrian Christian communities in the Assuristan province of the Parthian Empire, and at its height had spread from its Mesopotamian heartland to as far as China and India. A dispute over patriarchal succession led to the Schism of 1552, resulting in there being two rival Patriarchs. One of the factions that eventually emerged from this split became the modern Assyrian Church of the East, while another became the church now known as the Chaldean Catholic Church, which entered into communion with the Catholic Church.
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Early years of the Church of the East
The Church of the East originally developed during the 1st century in the Aramaic speaking regions of Assyria, Babylonia, and northwestern Persia (today's Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and western Iran), to the east of the Roman-Byzantine empire. It is an Apostolic church, established by the apostles St Thomas (Mar Toma), St Thaddeus (Mar Addai), and St Bartholomew (Mar Bar Tulmay). St Peter (Mar Shimun Keapa), the chief of the apostles added his blessing to the Church of the East at the time of his visit to the see at Babylon, in the earliest days of the church when stating, "The elect church which is in Babylon, salutes you; and Mark, my son (1 Peter 5:13).
Official recognition was first granted to the Christian faith in the 4th century with the accession of Yazdegerd I to the throne of the Sassanid Empire. In 410, the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, held at the Sassanid capital, allowed the Church's leading bishops to elect a formal Catholicos, or leader. The Catholicos, Mar Isaac, was required both to lead the Christian community, and to answer on its behalf to the Sassanid Emperor.
Under pressure from the Sassanid Emperor, the Church of the East sought increasingly to distance itself from the western (Roman Empire) Catholic Church. In 424, the bishops of the Sassanid Empire met in council under the leadership of Catholicos Mar Dadisho I (421-456) and determined that they would not, henceforth, refer disciplinary or theological problems to any external power, and especially not to any bishop or Church Council in the Roman Empire.
As such, the Mesopotamian and Persian Churches were not represented at the various Church Councils attended by representatives of the Western Church. Accordingly, the leaders of the Persian Church did not feel bound by any decisions of what came to be regarded as Roman Imperial Councils. Despite this, the Creed and Canons of the first Council of Nicea (325); affirming the full divinity of Christ; were formally accepted at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The Church's understanding of the term 'hypostasis' differs from the definition of the term offered at the Council of Chalcedon. For this reason, the Assyrian Church has never approved the Chalcedonian definition.
The theological controversy that followed the First Council of Ephesus, in 431, proved a turning point in the Church's history. The Council condemned as heretical the Christology of Nestorius, whose reluctance to accord the Virgin Mary the title 'Theotokos' ('God-bearer' or 'Mother of God') was taken as evidence that he believed two separate persons (as opposed to two united natures) to be present within Christ. (For the theological issues at stake, see Assyrian Church of the East and Nestorianism.)
The Sassanid Emperor, hostile to the Roman Empire, saw the opportunity to ensure the loyalty of his Christian subjects and lent support to the Nestorian schism. The Sassanid Emperor took steps to cement the primacy of the Nestorian party within the Persian church, granting its members his protection, and executing the pro-Roman Catholicos Babowai, replacing him with the Nestorian Bishop of Nisibis, Barsauma. The Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Babai I (497–503) confirmed the association of the Persian Church with Nestorianism.
During the medieval period the geographical horizons of the Church of the East extended well beyond its heartland in present-day Iraq. Nestorian communities sprang up throughout Central Asia, and missionaries took the Christian faith as far as China and the Malabar Coast of India.
Yohannan Sulaqa and the Chaldean Catholic Church
The massacres of Tamerlane (1336–1405) destroyed many bishoprics. The Church of the East, which had previously extended as far as China, was reduced to a remnant living in the triangular area between Amid, Salmas and Mosul. The See was moved to Alqosh, in the Mosul region, and Mar Shimun IV Basidi (1437–1493) appointed Patriarch, establishing a new, hereditary, line of succession.
Growing dissent in the church's hierarchy over hereditary succession came to a head in 1552, when a group of bishops from the Northern regions of Amid and Salmas elected Mar Yohannan Sulaqa as a rival Patriarch. Seeking consecration as Patriarch by a Bishop of Metropolitan rank, Sulaqa traveled to Rome in 1553, and entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. On being appointed Patriarch, Sulaqa took the name Mar Shimun VIII and was granted the title of "Patriarch of Mosul and Athur (Assyria)". Later this title became "Patriarch of the Chaldeans".
Mar Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa returned to the Near East the same year, establishing his seat in Amid. Before being put to death by partisans of the Patriarch of Alqosh , he ordained five metropolitan bishops, thus establishing a new ecclesiastical hierarchy, a line of patriarchal descent known as the Shimun line.
Sees in Qochanis, Amid, and Alqosh
Relations with Rome weakened under Shimun VIII's successors, all of whom took the name Shimun. The last of this line of Patriarchs to be formally recognized by the Pope died in the early 17th century. Hereditary accession to the office of Patriarch was reintroduced, and by 1660 the Church of the East had become divided into two Patriarchates; the Eliya line, based in Alqosh (comprising that portion of the faithful which had not entered into Communion with Rome), and the Shimun line. In 1672 the Patriarch of the Shimun line, Mar Shimun XIII Denha, moved his seat to the village of Qochanis in the mountains of Hakkari. In 1692, the Patriarch formally broke communion with Rome and allegedly resumed relations with the line at Alqosh, though retaining the independent structure and jurisdiction of his line of succession.
The Chaldean Patriarchate was revived in 1672 when Mar Joseph I, then metropolitan of Amid, entered into communion with Rome, thus separating from the Patriarchal See of Alqosh. In 1681, the Holy See granted Mar Joseph the title of "Patriarch of the Chaldeans deprived of its Patriarch", thus forming the third Patriarchate of the Church of the East. It was this third Patriarchate that was to become known as the Chaldean Catholic Church.
Josephite line of Amid
Each of Joseph I's successors took the name Joseph. The life of this Patriarchate was difficult; stricken early on with internal dissent, the Patriarchiate later struggled with financial difficulties due to the tax burden imposed by Turkish authorities. Despite these difficulties, the influence of the Patriarchate expanded from its original base of Amid and Mardin towards the area of Mosul, where ultimately the See was relocated.
Mar Yohannan VIII Hormizd, the last of the Eliya hereditary line in Alqosh, made a Catholic profession of faith in 1780. Though entering full communion with the Roman See in 1804, he was not recognized as Patriarch by the Pope until 1830. This move merged the majority of the Patriarcate of Alqosh with the Josephite line of Amid, thus forming the modern Chaldean Catholic Church.
The Shimun line of Patriarchs, based in Qochanis, remained independent of the Chaldean Church. The Patriarchate of the present-day Assyrian Church of the East, with its see in Chicago, forms the continuation of this line.
In 1915 the Assyrian Church see at Qochanis see was completely destroyed by the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the context of the Assyrian Genocide and Armenian Genocide. Survivors of the massacres escaped by marching over the mountains into Iran. In 1918, after the murder of Mar Shimun XXI Benyamin and 150 of his followers, and fearing further massacres at the hands of the Kurds, the survivors fled from Iran into what was to become Iraq, seeking protection under the British mandate there, and joining ancient existing Assyrian communities in the north of that country. The British administration employed Assyrian troops (Assyrian Levies) to put down Arab and Kurdish rebellions in the aftermath of World War I. In consequence, Assyrians endured persecution under the Hashemite monarchy, leading many to flee to the West, in particular to the United States, where Chicago became the center of the diaspora community. During this period the British-educated Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, born into the line of Patriarchs at Qochanis, agitated for an independent Assyrian state. Following the end of the British mandate in 1933 and a massacre of civilians at Simele by the Iraqi Army, the Patriarch was forced to take refuge in Cyprus. There, Shimun petitioned the League of Nations regarding his peoples' fate, but to little avail, and he was consequently barred from entering Syria and Iraq. He traveled through Europe before moving to Chicago in 1940 to join the growing Assyrian diaspora community there.
The Church and the Assyrian community in general faced considerable fragmentation and upheaval as a result of the conflicts of the 20th century, and Patriarch Shimun was forced to reorganize the church's structure in the United States. He transferred his residence to San Francisco, California in 1954, and was able to travel to Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, and India, where he worked to strengthen the church. In 1964 he decreed a number of changes to the church, including liturgical reform, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and the shortening of Lent. These changes, combined with Shimun's long absence from Iraq, caused a rift in the community which led to another schism. In 1968 traditionalists within the church elected Mar Thoma Darmo as a rival patriarch to Shimun, creating the Ancient Church of the East.
In 1972, Shimun decided to step down as Patriarch, and the following year, he married, in contravention to longstanding church custom. This led to a synod in 1973 in which further reforms were introduced, most significantly including the permanent abolition of hereditary succession a practice introduced in the middle of the fifteenth century by the patriarch Shemʿon IV Basidi who had died in 1497); however, it was decided that Shimun should be reinstated. This matter was to be settled at additional synods in 1975, however Shimun was assassinated by an estranged relative before this could take place.
In 1976, the current Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, was elected as Shimun's successor. The 33-year old Dinkha had previously been Metropolitan of Tehran, and operated his see there until the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988. Thereafter, Mar Dinkha IV went into exile in the United States, and transferred the patriarchal see to Chicago. Much of his patriarchate has been concerned with tending to the Assyrian diaspora community in the wake of Saddam Hussein's attacks on the Kurds during and after the Iran–Iraq War and with ecumenical efforts to strengthen relations with other churches.
Assyrian Church of the East and Nestorianism
The Nestorian nature of Assyrian Christianity remains a matter of contention. Elements of the Nestorian doctrine were explicitly repudiated by Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV on the occasion of his accession in 1976.
The Christology of the Church of the East has its roots in the Antiochene theological tradition of the early Church. The founders of Assyrian theology are Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, both of whom taught at Antioch. 'Antiochene' is a modern designation given to the style of theology associated with the early Church at Antioch, as contrasted with the theology of the church of Alexandria.
Antiochene theology emphasised Christ's humanity and the reality of the moral choices he faced. In order to preserve the impassibility of Christ's Divine Nature, the unity of His person was defined in a looser fashion than in the Alexandrian tradition. The normative Christology of the Assyrian church was written by Babai the Great (551–628) during the controversy that followed the First Council of Ephesus (431). Babai held that within Christ there exist two qnome (essences, or hypostases), unmingled, but everlastingly united in the one parsopa (personality).
The precise Christological teachings of Nestorius are shrouded in obscurity. Wary of monophysitism, Nestorius rejected Cyril's theory of a hypostatic union, proposing instead a union of will. Nestorianism has come to mean dyaphysitism, in which Christ's dual natures are eternally separate, though it is doubtful whether Nestorius ever taught such a doctrine. Nestorius' rejection of the term Theotokos ('God-bearer', or 'Mother of God') has traditionally been held as evidence that he asserted the existence of two persons – not merely two natures – in Jesus Christ, but there exists no evidence that Nestorius denied Christ's oneness. In the controversy that followed the Council of Ephesus, the term 'Nestorian' was applied to all upholding a strictly Antiochene Christology. In consequence the Church of the East was labelled 'Nestorian', though its theology is not dyophysite.
The Church is governed by an episcopal polity, which is the same as other Catholic churches. The church maintains a system of geographical parishes organized into dioceses and archdioceses. The Catholicos-Patriarch, currently Mar Dinkha IV is head of the church. The Synod comprises Bishops who oversee individual dioceses, and Metropolitans who oversee episcopal dioceses in there territorial jurisdiction. The current hierarchy and dioceses as of June 2011 are as follows:
Patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East
At the turn of the century, the Patriarchate of the Church of the East was located in Qudshanis in the Hakkari mountains. After the exodus in 1915 the Patriarchs temporarily resided in Urmia and Salmas, until the mandate in Iraq was finalised and the Patriarch began to reside in Mosul. After the Simele massacre of 1933, the then Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun was exiled to Cyprus. In 1940 he was welcomed to the United States where he set up his residence in Chicago, Illinois and administrated United States and Canada as his Patriarchal province. In 1954, he moved the Patriarchate to San Francisco, California due to health concerns. After the assassination of the Patriarch and the consecration of Mar Dinkha IV, the see was located in Tehran, Iran. In October 1984, the Patriarchate was moved to Morton Grove, Illinois where it currently remains. The territory of Eastern United States was a Patriarchal Diocese from 1994 until 2012.
Archdiocese of India
Although some Persians representing Assyrian church came to Kerala, the converts were from lower, untouchable castes, for in a caste-ridden Malabar society, only lower castes were available for conversion. Persians of Assyrian church were merely sojourners and they did not bring their families nor married local untouchable converts. That is how the Chaldean church was born in Kerala. During times of distrubances in Persia and the Middle East, Persian inflow into Kerala ceased and local converts without much theological knowledge took charge of the churches. That is Malabar churches retained Nestorianism and other heresies. Malabar church became rudderless and lost contact with Persian church for a long period till the arrival of the Portuguese.
India is very important as it is the remaining communion from the exterior provinces of the Church to still be in communion. It is the largest diocese with in the church with close to 30 active churches, primary and secondary schools, hospitals etc. The bishops of the dicoese are: Mar Aprem, Metropolitan, Mar Yohannan Yoseph, Auxiliary Bishop, Mar Awgin Kuriakose, Auxiliary Bishop.
Archdiocese of Iraq and Russia
The diocese of Iraq is one of the few remaining dicoeses in Middle East and covers the indigenous territory of the church. The archdiocese's territory includes the cities and surroundings of Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, and Mosul. The bishop of this diocese is Mar Gewargis Sliwa, Metropolitan.
Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon
The Diocese of Australia was established in October 1984 with the consecration of Joseph Zaia as Bishop Mar Meelis. The current leader of this diocese is Mar Meelis Zaia AM, Metropolitan. In December 1990, a large cathedral was dedicated and opened to serve the community. The diocese was elevated to an archdicoese in December 2008 after Mar Meelis was consecrated Metropolitan.
In 2002, the Diocese opened the first Assyrian primary school in the diaspora, St Hurmizd Assyrian Primary School, in the western suburbs of Sydney. The first secondary school in the diaspora followed with Mar Narsai Assyrian College nearby. Current plans include building a nursing home.
Diocese of Nohadra and Russia
Established in 1999 with the ordination of Mar Isaac Yousif, who remained incumbent as of 2012[update]. The diocese's territorial jurisdiction include the indigenous communities of Dohuk and Arbil, along with Russia and ex-Soviet states such as Armenia and Georgia.
Diocese of Western USA
Mar Aprim Khamis, Bishop and incumbent, has held numerous posts in the United States since his arrival in September, 1973. As of 2012[update] he oversaw the parishes in Arizona and southern California.
Diocese of Canada
Diocese of Europe
Mar Odisho Oraham, Bishop and incumbent since 1994 is the bishop of this diocese. Most of the territory lies in western Europe and includes close to 10 sovereign states: Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Norway and Greece.
Diocese of Syria
Mar Aprem Athneil, Bishop and incumbent since 1999 is the bishop of this diocese. His jurisdiction lies throughout all Syria, particularly in the Al-Hasakah governorate, where most of the community reside in Al-Hasakah, Qamishli and the 35 villages along the Khabur river. There are also small communities in Damascus and Aleppo.
Diocese of California
Diocese of Iran
Diocese of Eastern USA
Formerly the Patriarchal Archdiocese from 1994 until 2012 when Mar Paulus Benjamin, Bishop and incumbent was consecrated. His territory includes the large Illinois community, along with smaller parishes in Michigan, New England and New York.
- Head: Mar Dinkha IV, Khanania (born 1935, elected 1976)
- Title: Catholicos-Patriarch of the East
- Residence: Morton Grove, Illinois (USA)
- Mar Gewargis Sliwa: Metropolitan of Iraq
- Mar Aprem Mooken: Metropolitan of India
- Mar Meelis Zaia: Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon
- Mar Yosip Sargis: Bishop Emeritus of Baghdad
- Mar Iskhaq Yosip: Bishop of Dohuk-Erbil and Russia
- Mar Aprem Nathniel: Bishop of Syria
- Mar Narsai Benjamin: Bishop of Iran
- Mar Aprim Khamis: Bishop of Western United States
- Mar Emmanuel Yosip: Bishop of Canada
- Mar Odisho Oraham: Bishop of Europe
- Mar Awa Royel: Bishop of California
- Mar Paulus Benjamin: Bishop of Eastern United States
- Mar Yohannan Joseph: Auxiliary Bishop of India
- Mar Awgin Kuriakose: Auxiliary Bishop of India
Pope John XXIII invited many other Christian denominations, including the Assyrian Church of the East, to send "observers" to the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). These observers, graciously received and seated as honored guests right in front of the podium on the floor of the council chamber, did not formally take part in the Council's debate, but they mingled freely with the Catholic bishops and theologians who constituted the council, and with the other observers as well, in the break area during the council sessions. There, cordial conversations began a rapproachment that has blossomed into expanding relations among the Catholic Church, the Churches of the Orthodox Communion led by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and the ancient churches of the East.
On November 11, 1994, a historic meeting between Mar Dinkha IV and John Paul II took place in Rome. The two patriarchs signed a document titled "Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East". One side effect of this meeting was that the Assyrian Church's relationship to the Chaldean Catholic Church began to improve.
In 1996, Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV signed an agreement of cooperation with the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Raphael I Bidawid, in Southfield, Michigan. In 1997, he entered into negotiations with the Syriac Orthodox Church and the two churches ceased anathematizing each other.
The lack of a coherent institution narrative in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, which dates to apostolic times, has caused many Western Christians, and especially Roman Catholics, to doubt the validity of this anaphora, used extensively by the Assyrian Church of the East, as a prayer of consecration of the eucharistic elements. In 2001, after a study of this issue, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith promulgated a declaration approved by Pope John Paul II stating that this is a valid anaphora. This declaration opened the door to a joint synodal decree officially implementing the present Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East which the synods of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church signed and promulgated on 20 July 2001. This joint synodal decree provides that (1) Assyrian faithful may participate and receive Holy Communion in a Chaldean celebration of the Holy Eucharist, (2) Chaldean faithful may participate and receive Holy Communion in an Assyrian celebration of the Holy Eucharist, even if celebrated using the Anaphora of Addai and Mari in its original form, and (3) Assyrian clergy are invited (but not obliged) to insert the institution narrative into the Anaphora of Addai and Mari when Chaldean faithful are present. Far from expressing a relationship of full communion between these churches, however, the joint synodal decree actually identifies several issues that require resolution to permit a relationship of full communion.
From a Catholic canonical point of view, provisions of the joint synodal decree are fully consistent with the provisions of canon 671 of the 1991 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which states: "If necessity requires it or genuine spiritual advantage suggests it and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is permitted for Catholic Christian faithful, for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers, in whose Churches these sacraments are valid. 3. Likewise Catholic ministers licitly administer the Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick to Christian faithful of Eastern Churches, who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask for them on their own and are properly disposed." Canons 843 and 844 of the Code of Canon Law make similar provisions for the Latin Church. The Assyrian Church of the East follows an Open Communion approach allowing any baptized Christian to receive its Eucharist, so there is also no alteration of Assyrian practice. Nonetheless, from an ecumenical perspective, the joint synodal decree marks a major step toward full mutual collaboration of both churches in the pastoral care of their members.
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