Nestorian Church

Nestorian Church

Nestorian Church, Christian community of Iraq, Iran, and Malabar, India. It represents the ancient church of Persia and is sometimes called the Assyrian (or East Syrian) Church. It numbers about 175,000, including emigrants to the United States. It has much in common with other Eastern rites. The liturgy (said in Syriac) is probably of the Antiochene family of liturgies; the rite is called Chaldaean or Assyrian. The churches are not much ornamented, but the Nestorians offer great honors to the Cross. A unique feature of their worship is their "holy leaven," an altar bread they believe is derived from dough used at the Last Supper. The theology of the church is not precise, but there are traits of ancient Nestorianism, which holds that there were two separate persons in Christ—one divine, the other human. Its members venerate Nestorius as a saint, deny the Virgin the title Mother of God while otherwise honoring her highly, and reject the ecumenical councils after the second. The ancient Persian church was the only one to espouse the cause of Nestorius; as a result it lost communion with the rest of Christendom. The head of the church, called the patriarch of the East, holds a hereditary office, from uncle to nephew. The church has relations with some Jacobites and some Anglicans; in 1994 the Nestorian and Roman Catholic churches signed a declaration recognizing the legitimacy of each other's theological positions. Among the Nestorians and outnumbering them lives a community in communion with the pope, known as Chaldaean Catholics. They have rite and practices in common with the Nestorians, but have had a separate church organization since the 16th cent.; the patriarch of Babylon heads the church. The largest group using this rite is that of the Malabar Chaldaean Catholics, who ultimately derive their Christianity from Syrian missions in India. The great period of expansion of the Nestorian church was from the 7th to the 10th cent., with missions to China and India. A famous monument in Xi'an, China, was constructed (781) by Chinese Nestorians. The missions were destroyed and the church reduced through persecution by the Chinese, the Hindus, and the Muslims. In the 19th and early 20th cent., there were terrible massacres of Nestorians and Chaldaeans by Kurds and Turks.

See J. Joseph, The Nestorians and Their Muslim Neighbors (1961); W. C. Emhardt and G. M. Lamsa, The Oldest Christian People (1926, repr. 1970); N. Garsoian and T. Mathews, ed., East of Byzantium (1982).

Chaldean Syrian Church is the name used for the Assyrian Church of the East in India. It is one of several groups of Saint Thomas Christians tracing their origins to St. Thomas the Apostle who, according to tradition, came to India in AD 52.

For many generations until the 16th century, the Christians of India were accustomed to receive their bishops from the Church of the East. Following the Portuguese colonization of several coastal regions of India, Christians in Malabar were allied with the Roman Catholic Church. Beginning in the 17th century, ecclesiastically conservative groups began to seek leadership from the Syrian Orthodox Church.

The modern history of the Church of the East in India dates to the decades after 1814 when leading Christians in Thrissur, failing in their own attempt to gain a bishop from the Syrian Orthodox Church, began to seek to have a bishop ordained by the Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East in Qochanis. The priest Anthony Thondonatta was consecrated bishop as Mar Abdisho in 1862 in Qochanis, though he did not begin functioning as Metropolitan in India until 1882. Their publishing arm, Mar Narsai Press, prints several liturgcal books used throughout the Assyrian (often considered "Nestorian") Church of the East. The present Metropolitan, Mar Aprem Mooken (ordained in 1968), is headquartered in Trichur and is a noted author. Marth Mariyam Cathedral is the seat of the Metropolitan.

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