List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East

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The Patriarch of the Church of the East (Patriarch of Babylon or Patriarch of the East)[1] is the patriarch, or leader and head bishop (sometimes referred to as Catholicos or universal leader) of the Church of the East. The position dates to the early centuries of Christianity in Persia, and the church has been known by a variety of names, including Nestorian Church, the Persian Church, the Sassanid Church, or East Syrian.[2] In the 16th and 17th century the Church experienced a series of splits, resulting in a series of competing patriarchs and lineages. Today, the two principal churches that emerged from these splits, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, each have their own patriarch, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, respectively.


The geographic location of the patriarchate was first in the Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in northern Mesopotamia. In the 9th century the patriarchate moved to Baghdad and then through various cities in what is now northern Iraq and northwest Iran, including, Tabriz, Mosul, and Maragheh on Lake Urmia. Following the Chaldean Catholic Church split from the Assyrian Church, the respective patriarchs of these churches continued to move around the Middle East. In the 19th century, the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East was in the village of Qudshanis in southeastern Turkey.[3] In the 20th century, the Assyrian patriarch went into exile, relocating to Chicago, Illinois, USA. Another patriarchate, which split off in the 1960s as the Ancient Church of the East, is in Baghdad.

The patriarchate of the Church of the East evolved from the position of the leader of the Christian community in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Persian capital. While Christianity had been introduced into Assyria and the Persian Empire in the first centuries AD, during the earliest period, leadership was unorganized and there was no established succession. In 280, Papa bar Aggai was consecrated as Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon by two visiting bishops, Akha d'abuh' of Arbela and Hai-Beël of Susa, thereby establishing the generally recognized succession.[4] Seleucia-Ctesiphon thus became its own episcopal see, and exerted some de facto control over the wider Persian Christian community. Papa's successors began to use the title of Catholicos, a Roman designation probably adopted due to its use by the Catholicos of Armenia, though at first it carried no formal recognition.[5] In 409 the Church of the East received state recognition from the Sassanid Emperor Yazdegerd I, and the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was called, at which the church's hierarchy was formalized. Bishop Mar Isaac was the first to be officially styled Catholicos over all of the Christians in Persia. Over the next decades, the Catholicoi adopted the additional title of Patriarch, which eventually became the better known designation.[6]

In the 16th century, another schism separated the church, with those following "Nestorianism" separating from a group which entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This latter group, known initially as The Church of Assyria and Mosul, and latterly the Chaldean Catholics, continues also to maintain its own list of Chaldean Catholic patriarchs.[2]

Because of the complex history of Eastern Christianity, it is difficult to define one single lineage of patriarchs,[2] though some modern churches, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, claim all patriarchs through the centuries as the Assyrian Patriarch, even though the modern version of the church did not come into being until much more recently.

A very simplified diagram of the various branches of Christianity. The lowest line shows the Church of the East (also sometimes referred to as the Nestorian Church or the Persian Church). In the modern era, the Church of the East is represented by the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Ancient Church of the East


It is as yet unknown to wikipedia what liturgical language the Church of the East uses, although most followers of the Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East together with northern Iraqi, northeast Syrian and southeast Turkish followers of the Syriac Orthodox Church speak closely related dialects of Akkadian influenced Eastern Aramaic.

List of Catholicoi of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and Patriarchs of the East until 1552[edit]

Legendary era[edit]

Seleucia-Ctesiphon era[edit]

See also: Al-Mada'in

Metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon elevated as titular Catholicos[edit]

Around 280, visiting bishops consecrated Papa bar Aggai as Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, thereby establishing the succession.[9] With him, heads of the church took the title Catholicos.

Catholicos of the East with jurisdiction over Eastern provinces[edit]

Isaac was recognised as 'Grand Metropolitan' and Primate of the Church of the East at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410. The acts of this Synod were later edited by the Patriarch Joseph (552–567) to grant him the title of Catholicos as well. This title for Patriarch Isaac in fact only came into use towards the end of the fifth century.

In 424, under Mar Dadisho I, the Church of the East declared itself independent of all other churches; thereafter, its Catholicoi began to use the additional title of Patriarch.[9]

From 628, the Maphrian also began to use the title Catholicos. See the list of Oriental Orthodox Catholicoi for details.

In 775, the seat transferred from Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Baghdad, the recently-established capital of the ʿAbbasid caliphs.[10]

List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East from 1552 to 1681[edit]

Main article: Schism of 1552

By the Schism of 1552 divided the Church of the East was divided into two factions, of which one (the Church of Assyria and Mosul) entered into communion with the Catholic Church and the other remained independent.

List of Patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East from 1681 to 1820[edit]

In 1681 a separate Patriarchate in communion with the Catholic Church was erected in Amid, splitting from the Eliya Line. In 1692 Shemʿon XIII Dinkha (based in Qochanis) of the Shimun line, broke formally communion with Rome.

With the reign of Patriarch Yohannan Hormizd, the Eliya Line in Alqosh entered in Communion with Rome, merging with the Catholic "Josephite" Amid line and thus forming the modern Chaldean Church. In 1830, Yohannan Hormizd was recognised by the Vatican as patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and moved the see in Mosul. This event marked the birth of the modern Chaldean Catholic Church. For the following Chaldean Patriarchs see the below.

The Shemʿon Line remained the only line not communion with the Catholic Church, and from the 19th-century it was known as Assyrian Church of the East.

List of Patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East since 1820[edit]

Shemʿon Line, with residence in Qochanis until 1915

Non-hereditary patriarchy

  • 106 Dinkha IV (1976–2015) first canonically elected Patriarch since 1600. Relocated the patriarchate to Chicago, Illinois in 1980 after temporarily living in Tehran, Iran. Abolished hereditary succession upon his election

List of Patriarchs of the Chaldean Catholic Church since 1830[edit]

Non-hereditary Eliya Line

List of Patriarchs of the Ancient Church of the East[edit]

In 1964, during the reign of Shemʿon XXI Eshai (also known as Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII), a schism occurred in the Church of the East causing the establishment of a separate Ancient Church of the East with its center in Baghdad. This schism occurred because of the changing of the church calendar from the traditional Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, along with hereditary succession and tribal rivalry. In 1968 communities in Iraq, Syria and India elected a rival Patriarch centered in Baghdad, the then suspended Metropolitan of India Mar Thoma Darmo. He consecrated prelates who in turn consecrated him Patriarch. Shimun XXIII Eshai continued as the official head of the Church of the East with his see in San Francisco. Currently the Patriarchate is located in Baghdad, Iraq.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Willison, Walker (1985). A history of the Christian church. Simon & Schuster. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-684-18417-3. this church had as its head a "catholikos" who came to be styled "Patriarch of the East" and had his seat originally at Seleucia-Ctesiphon (after 775 it was shifted to Baghdad). 
  2. ^ a b c Wilmshurst, David (2000). The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913. Peeters Publishers. p. 4. ISBN 978-90-429-0876-5. 
  3. ^ Wigram, p. 90
  4. ^ Wigram, pp. 42–44.
  5. ^ Wigram, pp. 90–91.
  6. ^ Wigram, p. 91.
  7. ^ I Peter, 1:1 and 5:13
  8. ^ a b "Nestorian Patriarchs". Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Stewart, p. 15
  10. ^ Vine, The Nestorian Churches, 104
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Wilmshurst 2011, p. 477


  • Heleen H.L. Murre (July 1999). "The Patriarchs of the Church of the East from the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries". Journal of Syriac Studies (Hugoye) 2 (2). Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  • Wilmshurst, David (2011). The martyred Church – A History of the Church of the East. London: East & West Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-907318-04-7. 
  • Wilmshurst, D. J., The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913 (Louvain, 2000)
  • Wigram, W. A. (2004). An introduction to the history of the Assyrian Church, or, The Church of the Sassanid Persian Empire, 100–640 A.D. Gorgias Press. ISBN 1-59333-103-7. 
  • Nestorian Patriarchs
  • Foster, John. The Church of the Tang Dynasty. 
  • Vine, A., The Nestorian Churches (London, 1937)