Assyrian Church of the East

The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East (‘Ittā Qaddishtā wa-Shlikhāitā Qattoliqi d-Madnĕkhā d-Ātārāyē), currently presided over by Mar Dinkha IV, is a Christian church and one of the earliest churches to become totally separate from the Mediterranean Churches. It traces its origins to the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle as well as Saint Mari and Saint Addai as evidenced in the Doctrine of Addai. This church is sometimes referred to as the "Nestorian Church", the "Syrian Church" or the "Persian Church."

It has also been referred to, inaccurately, by a number of other names. These include Assyrian Orthodox Church, which has led some to mistakenly believe that it is a body of the Oriental Orthodox community. The church itself does not use the word "Orthodox" in any of its service books or in any of its official correspondence, nor does it use any word which can be translated as "correct faith" or "correct doctrine", the rough translation of the word Orthodox. In India, it is known as the Chaldean Syrian Church. In the West it is often known as the Nestorian Church although the Church itself considers the term pejorative. The church declares that no other church has suffered as many martyrdoms as the Assyrian Church of the East.

The Assyrian Church is the original Christian church in what was once Parthia; eastern Iraq and Iran. Geographically it stretched in the medieval period to China and India: a monument found in Xi'an (Hsi-an), the Tang-period capital of China (originally Chang'an), in Chinese and Syriac described the activities of the church in the 7th and 8th century, while half a millennium later a Chinese monk went from Beijing to Paris and Rome to call for an alliance with the Mongols against the Mamelukes. Prior to the Portuguese arrival in India in 1498, it provided "East Syrian" bishops to the Saint Thomas Christians. Patriarch Timothy I (727–823) wrote of the large Christian community in Tibet.

The founders of Assyrian theology are Diodorus of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who taught at Antioch. The normative Christology of the Assyrian church was written by Babai the Great (551–628) and is clearly different from the accusations of dualism directed toward Nestorius: his main christological work is called the 'Book of the Union', and in it Babai teaches that the two qnome (essences) are unmingled but everlastingly united in the one parsopa (personality) of Christ.

Early history

Consolidation of the Church

Christian communities existed in the regions of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia as early as the second century. A council is known to have been held at Seleucia-Ctesiphon about 325 to deal with jurisdictional conflicts among the leading bishops. At a subsequent Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (also known as the synod of Mar Isaak) in 410 the Christian communities of Mesopotamia renounced all subjection to Antioch and the "Western" bishops and the Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon assumed the rank of Catholicos.

Self government

In 410 the Sasanid emperor summoned the eastern church leaders to the Synod of Seleucia His purpose was to make the catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon minority leader of his people, personally responsible for their good conduct throughout the Persian empire. In 424 the bishops of Persia met in council under the leadership of Catholicos Dadiso and determined that there would be no reference of their disciplinary or theological problems to any other power, especially not to any church council in the Roman Empire

The formal separation from the See of Antioch and the western Syrian Church under the Byzantine Emperors, occurred at this synod in 424. Because of their independence there were no representatives of the Persian Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431, and of course they did not feel bound by any decisions of that or subsequent Roman Imperial councils in any way whatsoever.

It was the Council of Ephesus which decided the question of the title of the mother of Jesus and lead to the condemnation of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople. The theological nicety of ‘Theotokos’ as her title rather than ‘Christotokos’, was irrelevant to the Persian Christians and those further east. They were Greek terms, and the Persian Church used Syriac, not Greek.

Later European theologians and church historians decided to categorize the Persian Church as the “Nestorian Church” , an historically inaccurate, theologically incorrect, and heresiologically motivated insult. The present head, Catholicos Patriarch Mar Dinkha 4, explicitly rejected the term Nestorian, on the occasion of his consecration in 1976.

Nestorianism and the Assyrian Church

The Assyrian Church separated from the See of Antioch and the Byzantine Greek Church generally, before the Council of Ephesus. It is therefore historically inaccurate to suggest the separation was for theological reasons. The current theology of the Assyrian church cannot be defined as Nestorianism. Nestorius, a pupil of Theodore of Mopsuestia and bishop of Constantinople, was condemned because he declined to call the Virgin Mary 'mother of God' ("Theotokos" in Greek). He preferred to call her 'mother of Christ' ("Christotokos" in Greek). His opponent Cyril of Alexandria accused him of dividing Christ into two persons. Cyril of Alexandria worked hard to remove Nestorius and his supporters and followers from power. But in the Syriac-speaking world Theodore of Mopsuestia was held in very high esteem, and the condemnation of his pupil Nestorius was not received well. His followers were given refuge. The Persian kings, who were at constant war with the Roman Empire, saw the opportunity to assure the loyalty of their Christian subjects and supported the Nestorian schism:

  • They granted protection to Nestorians (462).
  • They executed the pro-Roman Catholicos Babowai who was then replaced by the Nestorian Bishop of Nisibis Bar Sauma (484).
  • They allowed the transfer of the school of Edessa to the Persian city Nisibis when the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor closed it for its Nestorian tendencies (489).

Subsequent history

At the time of the arrival of the Nestorian refugees from Edessa, the prelate was Babaeus or Babowai (sometimes also called 'Babai', not to be confused with 'Babai the Great') (457–484), who appears to have received them with open arms. But Bar Sauma, having become Bishop of Nisibis, the nearest important city to Edessa, broke with the weak Catholicos, whom he had deposed at the Synod of Beth Lapat in April, 484. In the same year Babowai was accused before the king of conspiring with Constantinople and cruelly put to death.

At the synod of Beth Lapat, it was also decided that monks and all church dignitaries should marry. This led to apostasy and a weakening of spiritual life, and already by 544 some of the reforms had been reverted. The counter reforms reached their zenith in 571 when Abraham the Great of Kashkar founded a new monastery on Mt. Izla above Nisibis to revive the strict monastic movement, and Henana of Adiabene became head of the school of Nisibis. Henana then broke with the Antiochene tradition of Theodore and openly followed the teaching of Origen. Attempts by the Bishops to censor and condemn Henana failed because of his protection by the royal court and he remained head of the school, even though almost all the students left.

The wars of 610–628 between the Persian and Byzantine empires weakened the political standing of the Assyrian church and several sees and villages were lost to the Monophysites. The Assyrian church was not allowed to choose a new Catholicos, and its theological tradition was undermined by Henana. Babai the Great together with Archdeacon Mar Aba administered the church without the authority vested in the position of the Catholicos. But in his official position as 'visitor of the monasteries of the north' Babai had the authority to investigate the orthodoxy of the monks and monasteries of northern Mesopotamia and to enforce discipline. In particular, he drove out married monks.

Babai the Great and his co-religionists worked hard to defend the legacy of Theodore: rival schools were set up in Nisibis and Balad, and the monastery of Mar Abraham, headed by Babai, took in a number of students from the school of Nisibis. Babai himself wrote a great number of commentaries and hagiographies to defeat the Monophysites and the Origenist Henana, and developed the only systematic Assyrian Christology. He taught that the two qnome (essence) are unmingled but everlastingly united in the one parsopa (personality) of Christ.

The defenders were successful: at the episcopal gathering of 612 the teachings of Theodore were canonized. Soon Babai's writings and Christology became normative, and the writings of Henana were doomed to oblivion. Assyrian monasticism was purged and gathered momentum. The church proved to be well organized during the Arab conquest that followed the Byzantine-Persian Wars, and flourished for many centuries after.

Southern expansion

Assyrian Christians reached India at an early date, either overland or via Christians in the Persian Gulf. There they along with the pre-existing christians are popularly known as Saint Thomas Christians. Letters of Patriarch Timothy I of Baghdad mention churches in both India and China ca.800. Bishops from the Church of the East were sent from Mesopotamia to India until the Sixteenth century, but ecclesio-political considerations related to Portuguese missions meant that for the next few centuries bishops for India were ordained only with authorization from Rome, or from the Chaldean Catholic Church (a particular church in communion with Rome). Those who sought independent ecclesiastical organization looked mainly to the Syrian Orthodox Church. During the Nineteenth century, Christians in Trichur again sought the ordination of a native bishop under authority of the Church of the East. This resulted in the organization of the Chaldean Syrian Church as a part of the Church of the East. The present Metropolitan of India is Mar Aprem.

Eastern expansion

The Assyrian Church was the first Christian tradition to reach China (in 635), reaching Mongolia at about the same time, and its relics can still be seen in Chinese cities such as Xi'an (Sai-an Fu), at that time the capital of China. An inscribed stone, set up in February, 781 at Chou-Chih (Pinyin, "Zhouzhi"), fifty miles to the south-west, describes the introduction of Christianity into China from Persia in the reign of Tang Taizong; see the entry for Nestorian Stele. However when Tang Wu Zong decided to suppress all foreign religions; Christianity largely ceased to exist in China. The church appears to have survived for a time, however, among the Uyghur, and had a substantial revival under the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty. Numerous gravestones written in Syriac survive from this time period in what is today Kyrgyzstan. A native of China was elected Patriarch as Yaballaha III in 1281, and his colleague Rabban Bar Sauma journeyed as far west as Gascony. A fourteenth-century monument in the remains of the Monastery of the Cross at Zhoukoudian in the Fangshan District near Beijing can still be seen.

Recent historical research indicates the presence of Christianity in Tibetan controlled lands as early as the sixth and seventh centuries. A strong presence existed by the eighth century when Patriarch Timothy I (727–823) in 782 called the Tibetans one of the more significant communities of the Church of the East and wrote of the need to appoint another bishop in ca.794.

The church prospered and expanded into China, the steppes of Central Asia, and the Malabar Coast of India until the 14th century, when the Mongol leader Timur completely destroyed the church east of Iraq, except in India and Iran.

Modern times

In the 15th century, the church decreed} that the title of Patriarch could pass only to relatives of then-patriarch Mar Shimun IV. This upset many in the church's hierarchy, and in 1552 a rival Patriarch, Mar Yohanan Soulaqa VIII, was elected. This rival Patriarch met with the Pope and entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Assyrian Church now had two rival leaders, a hereditary patriarch in Alqosh (in modern-day northern Iraq), and the pro-Latin patriarch in Diyarbakır. This situation lasted until 1662 when the Patriarch in Diyarbakır, Mar Shimun XIII Denha, broke communion with Rome, resumed relations with the line at Alqosh, and moved his seat to the village of Qochanis in the Turkish mountains. The Holy See responded by appointing a new patriarch to Diyarbakır to govern the Assyrians who stayed in communion with Rome. This latter group became known as the Chaldean Catholic Church. In 1804 the hereditary line of Patriarchs in Alqosh died out, and that church's hierarchy decided to accept the authority of the Chaldean Catholic Church patriarchs. The line of patriarchs at Qochanis remained independent.

Assyrians faced reprisals under the Hashemite monarchy for co-operating with Britain during the years after World War I, and most fled to the West. The Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, though born into the line of Patriarchs at Qochanis, was educated in Britain. For a time he sought a homeland for the Assyrians in Iraq but was forced to take refuge in Cyprus in 1933, later moving to Chicago, Illinois, and finally settling near San Francisco, California. The present Patriarch of Babylon is based in Chicago, and less than 1 million of the world's 4.5 million Assyrians remain in Iraq.

The Chaldean community was less numerous at the time of the British Mandate of Palestine, and did not play a major role in the British rule of the country. However with the exodus of Church of the East members, the Chaldean Catholic Church became the largest non-Muslim group in Iraq, and some later rose to power in the Ba'ath Party government, the most prominent being Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

In 1964, the issue of hereditary succession again caused a schism, with the subsequent election of Mar Thoma Darmo as a rival to the hereditary Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. Shortly thereafter the Patriarch became convinced that nothing in the Canon Law of the Church of the East prohibited the Patriarch from marrying. He therefore married in August 1973. Mar Shimun announced his resignation in 1973, but was asked to stay in office.

He was later allowed to continue in office, but was assassinated in 1975 while negotiations were being carried out over the conditions of his reinstatement. Mar Dinkha IV was elected as Shimun's successor, and announced the permanent end of the hereditary succession. While this removes the underlying dispute, the rift between the rival Patriarchs still exists, with Mar Addai II as the successor to Mar Thomas Darmo at the head of a group called the Ancient Church of the East.

On November 11, 1994, a historic meeting of Mar Dinkha IV and Pope John Paul II took place in Rome and a Common Christological Declaration was signed. One side effect of this meeting was that the Assyrian Church's relationship to the Chaldean Catholic Church was improved.

In September 2006, Mar Dinkha IV paid a historic visit to Northern Iraq to give oversight to the churches there and to encourage the governor of the Kurdish region to open a Christian school as well as a library in Arbil.


The most common eucharistic liturgy of the Church of the East is the Liturgy of Addai and Mari. This rite is well known to liturgical scholars because it lacks the Words of Institution used by Jesus at the Last Supper ("This is my body"..."This is [the cup of] my blood"). For that reason many (especially Roman Catholics) considered this liturgy as invalid. However, in 2001, after a study of this issue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, then being prefect) declared that this was a valid liturgy and that Iraqi Catholics who are under Roman jurisdiction could receive the Eucharist in an Assyrian Church if unable to attend their own churches. This declaration was approved by Pope John Paul II.



The Priesthood is the ministry of mediation between God and man in those things which impart forgiveness of sins, convey blessings, and put away wrath. It is divided into imperfect, as was that of the law; and perfect, as is that of the Church.


Baptism is the immersion in and the washing with water and this is divided into five kinds:

First, the washing off the filth of the body, as is commonly done by all men. Second, the washings according to usages of the law, ]whereby it was believed that purity towards God from all carnal uncleanness was attained. Thirdly, those of the traditions of the elders, such as “the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, beds”, and as “when they come from the market, except they bathe, they eat not.” Fourth, the baptism of John, whereby he preached only repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Fifth, the baptism of our Saviour , which is received, through the Holy Spirit, for the gift of adoption of sons, for the resurrection from the dead, and for everlasting life; which is “the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” For as the circumcision of the flesh was given for a sign denoting those who were of the family of Israel of old according to the flesh; so the baptism of Christ is a sign of spiritual relationship to the new Israel, viz., those who are the called, and the children of God. “But those who received Him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God.

Oil of Unction

The Oil of Unction is an apostolical tradition, originating from the oil consecrated by the Apostles themselves, and which by succession has been handed down in the Church to this day.

The Oil of Unction is pure olive oil.

Oblation (Qurbana)

Qurbana, "the Offering"; Qudasha, "the Hallowing"

The oblation is a service offered up by those below to those above, through material elements, in hope of the forgiveness of sins and of an answer to prayer. This involves meal of leavened bread and non-alcoholic wine which are considered the literal body and blood of Christ, and which purify the spirit and soul.

There are three Anaphorae: The Hallowing of the Apostles (Saint Addai and Saint Mari), The Hallowing of Nestorius and The Hallowing of Theodore of Mopsuestia. The first is the normal form, and from it the Malabar revision was derived. The second is used by the Chaldeans and Nestorians on the Epiphany and the feasts of St. John the Baptist and of the Greek Doctors, both of which occur in Epiphany-tide on the Wednesday of the Fast of the Ninevites, and on Maundy Thursday. The third is used by the same (except when the second is ordered) from Advent Sunday to Palm Sunday. The same pro-anaphoral part serves for all three. Three other Anaphorae are mentioned by Ebedyeshu (metropolitan of Nisibis, 1298) in his catalogue, those of Barsuma, Narses, and Diodorus of Tarsus; but they are not known now, unless Dr. Wright is correct in calling the fragment in Brit. Mus. Add. 14669, "Diodore of Tarsus".

The Eucharistic Liturgy is preceded by a preparation, or "Office of the Prothesis", which includes the solemn kneading and baking of the loaves. These among the Nestorians are leavened, the flour being mixed with a little oil and the holy leaven (malka), which, according to the legend, "was given and handed down to us by our holy fathers Mar Addai and Mar Mari and Mar Tuma", and of which and of the holy oil a very strange story is told. The real leavening, however, is done by means of fermented dough (khmira) from the preparation of the last Eucharistic Liturgy. The Chaldean Catholics now use unleavened bread.

The Liturgy itself is introduced by the first verse of the Gloria in Excelsis and the Lord's prayer, with inserted verses (giyura), consisting of a form of the Sanctus. Then follow:

The Introit Psalm (variable), called Marmitha, with a preliminary prayer, varying for Sundays and greater feasts and for "Memorials" and ferias. In the Malabar Rite, Pss. xiv, cl, and cxvi are said in alternate verses by priests and deacons. The "Antiphon of the Sanctuary" (Unitha d' qanki), variable, with a similarly varying prayer. The Lakhumara, an antiphon beginning "To Thee, Lord", which occurs in other services also preceded by a similarly varying prayer. The Trisagion. Incense is used before this. In the Eastern Rite at low Mass the elements are put on the altar before the incensing.

There are four or five Lections: (a) the Law and (b) the Prophecy, from the Old Testament, (c) the Lection from the Acts, (d) the Epistle, always from St. Paul, (e) the Gospel. Some days have all five lections, some four, some only three. All have an Epistle and a Gospel, but, generally, when there is a Lection from Law there is none from the Acts, and vice versa. Sometimes there is none from either Law or Acts. The first three are called Qiryani (Lections), the third Shlikha (Apostle). Before the Epistle and Gospel, hymns called Turgama (interpretation) are, or should be, said; that before the Epistle is invariable, that of the Gospel varies with the day. They answer to the Greek prokeimena. The Turgama of the Epistle is preceded by proper psalm verses called Shuraya (beginning), and that of the Gospel by other proper psalm verses called Zumara (song). The latter includes Alleluia between the verses. The Deacon's Litany, or Eklene, called Karazutha (proclamation), resembles the "Great Synapte" of the Greeks. During it the proper "Antiphon [Unitha] of the Gospel" is sung by the people.

The Offertory. The deacons proclaim the expulsion of the unbaptized, and set the "hearers" to watch the doors. The priest places the bread and wine on the altar, with words (in the Nestorian, but not in the Chaldean Catholic Rite) which seem as if they were already consecrated. He sets aside a "memorial of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ" (Chaldean; usual Malabar Rite, "Mother of God"; but according to Raulin's Latin of the Malabar Rite, "Mother of God Himself and of the Lord Jesus Christ"), and of the patron of the Church (in the Malabar Rite, "of St.Thomas"). Then follows the proper "Antiphon of the Mysteries" (Unitha d' razi), answering to the offertory.

The Creed is a variant of the Nicene Creed. It is possible that the order or words "and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and was made man, and was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary", may enshrine a Nestorian idea, but the Chaldean Catholics do not seem to have noticed it, their only alteration being the addition of the Filioque. The Malabar Book has an exact translation of Latin. In Neale's translation of the Malabar Rite the Karazutha, the Offertory, and the Expulsion of the Unbaptized come before the Lections and the Creed follows immediately on the Gospel, but in the Propaganda edition of 1774 the Offertory follows the Creed, which follows the Gospel.

The first Lavabo, followed by a Kushapa ("beseeching", i.e., prayer said in kneeling) and a form of the "Orate fratres", with its response. Then the variations of the three Anaphora begin. The Kiss of Peace, preceded by a G'hantha, i.e., a prayer said with bowed head. The prayer of Memorial (Dukhrana) of the Living and the Dead, and the Diptychs; the latter is now obsolete among the Nestorians. The Anaphora. As in all liturgies this begins with a form of a Sursum corda, but the East Syrian form is more elaborate than any other, especially in the Anaphora of Theodore. Then follows the Preface of the usual type ending with the Sanctus. The Post-Sanctus (to use the Hispanico-Gallican term. This is an amplification (similar in idea and often in phraseology to those in all liturgies except the Roman) of the idea of the Sanctus into a recital of the work of Redemption, extending to some length and ending, in the Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore, with the recital of the Institution. In the Anaphora of the Apostles the recital of the Institution is wanting, though it has been supplied in the Anglican edition of the Nestorian book. Hammond (Liturgies Eastern and Western, p. lix) and most other writers hold that the Words of Institution belong to this Liturgy and should be supplied somewhere; Hammond (loc.cit) suggests many arguments for their former presence. The reason of their absence is uncertain. While some hold that this essential passage dropped out in times of ignorance, others say it never was there at all, being unnecessary, since the consecration was held to be effected by the subsequent Epiklesis alone. Another theory, evidently of Western origin and not quite consistent with the general Eastern theory of consecration by an Epiklesis following Christ's words, is that, being the formula of consecration, it was held too sacred to be written down. It does not seem to be quite certain whether Nestorian priests did or did not insert the Words of Institution in old times, but it seems that many of them do not do so now. The Prayer of the Great Oblation with a second memorial of the Living and the Dead, a Kushapa. The G'hantha of the Epiklesis, or Invocation of Holy Spirit. The Epiklesis itself is called Nithi Mar (May He come, O Lord) from its opening words. The Liturgy of the Apostles is so vague as to the purpose of the Invocation that, when the words of Institution are not said, it would be difficult to imagine this formula to be sufficient on any hypothesis, Eastern or Western. The Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore, besides having the Words of Institution, have definite Invocations, evidently copied from Antiochean or Byzantine forms. The older Chaldean and the Malabar Catholic books have inserted the Words of Institution with an Elevation, after the Epiklesis. But the 1901 Mosul edition puts the Words of Institution first. Here follow a Prayer for Peace, a second Lavabo and a censing. The Fraction, Consignation, Conjunction, and Commixture. The Host is broken in two , and the sign of the Cross is made in the Chalice with one half, after which the other with the half that has been dipped in the chalice. The two halves are then reunited on the Paten. Then a cleft is made in the Host "qua parte intincta est in Sanguine" (Renaudot's tr.), and a particle is put in the chalice, after some intricate arranging on the paten.

Communion. The veil is thrown open, the deacon exhorts the communicants to draw near, the priests breaks up the Host for distribution. Then follows the Lord's Prayer, with Introduction and Embolism, and the Sancta Sanctis, and then the 'Antiphon of the Bema" (Communion) is sung. The Communion is in both species separately, the priest giving the Host and the deacon the Chalice. Then follows a variable antiphon of thanksgiving, a post-communion, and a post-communition, and a dismissal. Afterwards the Mkaprana, an unconsecrated portion of the holy loaf, is distributed to the communicants, but not, as in the case of the Greek antidoron, and as the name of the latter implies, to non-communicants. The Chaldean Catholics are communicated with the Host dipped in the Chalice. They reserve what is left of the Holy Gifts, while the Nestorian priests consume all before leaving the church. Properly, and according to their own canons, the Nestorians ought to say Mass on every Sunday and Friday, on every festival, and daily during the first, middle, and last week of Lent and the octave of Easter. In practice it is only said on Sundays and greater festivals, at the best, and in many churches not so often, a sort of "dry Mass" being used instead. The Chaldean Catholic priests say Mass daily, and where there are many priests there will be many Masses in the same Church in one day, which is contrary to the Nestorian canons. The Anglican editions of the liturgies omit the names of heretics and call the Anaphorae of Nestorius and Theodore the "Second Hallowing" and "Third Hallowing". Otherwise there are no alterations except the addition of Words of Institution to the first Anaphorae. The recent Catholic edition has made the same alterations and substituted "Mother of God" for "Mother of Christ". In each edition the added Words of Institution follow the form of the rite of the edition. The prayers of the Mass, like those of the Orthodox Eastern Church, are generally long and diffuse. Frequently they end with a sort of doxology called Qanuna which is said aloud, the rest being recited in a low tone. The Qanuna in form and usage resembles the Greek ekphonesis.

The vestments used by the priest at Mass are the Sudhra, a girded alb with three crosses in red or black on the shoulder, the Urara (orarion) or stole worn crossed by priests, but not by bishops (as in the West), and the Ma'apra, a sort of linen cope. The deacon wears the Sudhra, with an urara over the left shoulder.


The human race is apt to err and easily inclined to sin, and it is hardly possible that all should not be tried with spiritual diseases; and on this account the healing priesthood was given to heal freely. “If you forgive a man his sins, they shall be forgiven”.

“Those that are well need no physician; but those who are seriously sick “. And, again: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners unto repentance”. Three parables I quote to this effect, that of the Prodigal Son, of the Hundred Sheep, and of the Two Debtors, which were intended to increase the hope of sinners, and to open to them the gate of repentance which leads to heaven and imparts heavenly happiness. And in demonstration thereof, the case of Peter after his denial of CHRIST, and of Paul after his persecution, and the woman who was a sinner, the Publican, and the Thief upon the cross. Hence it is incumbent upon believers when, through the infirmity of their human nature, which all cannot keep upright, they are overcome of sin, to seek the Christian Dispensary, and to open their diseases to the spiritual Physicians, that by absolution and penance they may obtain the cure of their souls, and afterwards go and partake of the Lord’s Feast in purity, agreeably with the injunction of the eminent doctor, who writes thus: “Our Lord has committed the medicine of repentance to learned physicians, the priests of the Church. Whomsoever, therefore, Satan has cast into the disease of sin, let him come and show his wounds to the disciples of the Wise Physician who will heal him with spiritual medicine”

These things will most assuredly result if they are done in faith, and not after a worldly manner, for ‘‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin’’ just as some, people, for lucre’s sake, have made of this sacred thing a merchandize, and a source of temporal profit.

Holy Leaven (Melka)

The holy and blessed Apostles, Thomas and Bartholomew of the Twelve, and Adai and Man of the Seventy, who discipled the East, committed to all the Churches in the East the Holy Leaven, to be kept for the perfecting of the administration of the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body until His coming again. And should any Christians dispute the fact of the above mentioned Apostles having committed to those of the East this sanctified Leaven, on the ground that Peter, the head of the Apostles, and his companions did not commit it to the Western, and should object to us on this wise: “If what you say is true, then one of these two consequences must result: either the Apostles did not agree in their mode of discipling, which is unseemly to think, or this tradition of yours is false”. Against these we reply: The Easterners from the day of their discipleship up to this day have kept their faith as a sacred trust, and have observed, without change,. the Apostolical Canons; and notwithstanding all the persecutions which they have suffered from many kings, and their subjection to the severe yoke of a foreign power, they have never altered their creed nor changed their canons.

Such as are well versed in such matters know full well the labour and care required on the part of Christians to observe these canons, and more especially to preserve this Leaven, in a difficult country, where there is no Christian sovereign to support them, nor any commander to back them, and where they are continually persecuted, vexed, and troubled. Had this Leaven not been of Apostolical transmission they would not, most assuredly, have endured all these afflictions and trials to keep it together with orthodox faith. Then, as to their argument drawn from Peter and the great Apostles who discipled the West, we have this to oppose them, that those Apostles did transmit the same to the Westerns but that with their alteration of the faith, the canons also were corrupted by their (Western) subjection to the will of heretical kings. And, in proof of this statement, we urge that if they all held the traditions of the Apostles, the Franks would not offer an unleavened, and the Romans (Greeks) a leavened oblation; since the Apostles did not transmit it in two different ways. Therefore, the Westerns have changed the faith and the canons, and not the Easterners.

Sign of the Cross

This is also a special sacrament exclusive to this church. This is used as a substitute to marriage, which is not counted as a sacrament in this church. A reasonable doubt has been raised by many how the sign of the cross is a sacrament. Mar Abdisho has put it as a sacrament because "cross is that by which Christians are ever kept, and by it all the other sacraments are sealed and perfected". Mar Abdisho himself has added to the confusion of the state of this sacrament by not explaining about it in Memra 4 where he has written about other sacraments in detail. To make the confusion worse confounded Mar Abdisho has a chapter 'of Matrimony and of Virginity' in the same Memra where he deals with sacraments only. Instead in the following Memra, he has a chapter "on the worship of the Lord's Cross". "By this sign the Apostles wrought miracles and the laying on the hands for the priesthood, and all the other sacraments of the church are perfected thereby". Abdisho concludes his treatment of the subject quoting the well known Pauline passage "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God". Mar Abdisho reminds that "the great foundation of Christianity is the confession that through the cross renewal and universal salvation were obtained for all". It is believed that the sign of the cross will appear in the sky at the second coming of our Lord. Abdisho also states that the cross is to be worshipped. Hence we offer a fervent and eucharistic worship, not to the fashioned matter of the cross: but to Him whom we figure as upon it, and above all to God, who gave His son to be a cross (i.e crucified) for us, through Whom He gives to such as are worthy everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven.It must be noted in this connection that cross is the only object of veneration in the Church of East. They do not use crucifix and images. But the cross is kissed in the churches and in the homes.

There is a separate festival for the cross on September 26th which is the commemoration of the finding of the cross. There is a long service for this day in the Khudra.The cross is kept in the churches. It is found on the top of the church building. It is inside the altar. It is kept on the tables in the nave of the of the church so that the worshippers can kiss it when they enter as well as they go out of the church. Inside their homes, a cross is placed on the eastern wall of the first room. If one sees a cross in a house and do not find a crucifix or pictures, it is almost certain that the particular family belongs to the Church of the East. The cross is worn from a chain around the neck, not only by the Bishops but also by several laywomen and men. During the wedding ceremony the bride gives a golden cross to the bridegroom. in return for the ring which he puts on her finger. Golden and silver crosses are taken out in festival processions. When blessing is given for any service the priest or Bishop holds the cross in his hand. Golden, silver, wooden and plastic crosses are used. Crosses are stitched with thread on all the towels, table clothes, veil etc used in the Church. Crosses are engraved on the chalice, paten, spoon and even on the mould in which bread is baked.


The patriarch is head of the church, and under him there are three archdioceses in the Assyrian Church: one for Lebanon, Syria, and Europe, another for India, and the last serves Iraq and Russia. Individual dioceses exist in the eastern USA (including Chicago), western USA, California, Canada, Syria, Iran, Europe, and one for both Australia and New Zealand. Several congregation exist in Georgia, India, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. A single parish exists in the People's Republic of China, whose existence stretches back to antiquity, and another in Moscow. The present Patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV, has his headquarters (along with four other houses of worship) in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Archdiocese of Lebanon, Syria & Europe

Under Metropolitan Mar Narsai D'Baz

Diocese of Europe

Overseen by Bishop Mar Odisho Oraham, the Dioceses of Europe consists of 9 Churches and 3 Missions.

Diocese of Syria

Overseen by Bishop Mar Aprem Natniel.

Archdiocese of India

Overseen by Metropolitan Mar Aprem, the Archdiocese of India consists of over 28 Churches and 1 Mission.

Archdiocese of Iraq & Russia

Overseen by Metropolitan Mar Gewargis Sliwa who resides in Baghdad, Iraq.

Diocese of Baghdad

Overseen by Bishop Mar Sargis Yosip

Diocese of Nohadra and Russia

Overseen by Bishop Mar Iskhaq Yosip

Individual Dioceses

Diocese of Australia & New Zealand

Overseen by Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, the Dioceses of Australia & New Zealand consists of 4 Churches, a Mission, Ss Peter and Paul English parish for the youth and an Assyrian Primary School. The St. Hurmizd Assyrian Primary School provides education for over 3,600 students. Mar Narsai Assyrian college was also established in Sydney (the first Assyrian high school) and land has been bought for the construction of the multimillion dollar high school. Currently, the Assyrian Church in Australia is working on building an Assyrian Medical Centre, a retirement village and a Mar Narsai Assyrian College

Diocese of Canada

Overseen Bishop Mar Emmanuel Yosip, the Dioceses of Canada consists of 3 Churches and a Mission.

Diocese of Eastern United States

Overseen by Mar Dinkha IV Catholicos Patriarch, the Diocese of Eastern United States consists of 9 Churches.

Diocese of Iran

Overseen by Mar Dinkha IV Catholicos Patriarch, the Diocese of Iran consists of over 3 Churches and 15 Missions.

Diocese of Western California

Currently overseen by Bishop Mar Odisho Oraham, the Diocese of Western California consists of 4 Churches.

Diocese of Western United States

Overseen by Bishop Mar Aprim Khamis, consists of over 6 Churches and a Mission.

See also



  • Christoph Baumer, The Church of the East, an Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006), ISBN 184511115X
  • Mar Aprem Mooken, The Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century. Mōrān ’Eth’ō, 18. (Kottayam: St. Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute, 2003).
  • Weatherford, Jack (2004). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80964-4.
  • Erica Hunter, "The Church of the East in Central Asia," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 78, no.3 (1996), 129-142.
  • W. Klein, Das Nestorianische Christentum an den Handelswegen durch Kyrgyzstan, Silk Road Studies 3 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000).
  • A. C. Moule, Christians in China before the year 1550, (London: SPCK, 1930).
  • P. Y. Saeki, Nestorian Documents and Relics in China, 2nd ed., (Tokyo: Maruzen, 1951).

External links

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