Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 10th, 2012

Short history of Eastern Christian sects: Assyrian, Chaldean, Jacobite

The Christian Assyrian Church or Athurian, also know as the Nestorian and the Persian Christian Church, was originally the Syriac Oriental Church. The message started in the city of Orfa (Ruha) in north Syria by the Euphrates River, and spread to the Parthian Kingdom during the Roman Empire) on the Tiger River.

The Syriac Oriental Church claims the disciple of Jesus Thomas as patron Saint. It consolidated its headquarters in the twin cities of Slik and Ctesiphon (ancient Capital of Persia), and 35 kilometers south of the newly built city of Baghdad around 762 by the Abbassid Calif Al Mansour.

The Assyrians refer to people who settled north Iraq 5,000 years ago, and the Arab historian Hassan Ben Bahlul defined the Assyrians as those inhabiting the city of Mosul and the neighboring provinces in current Kurdish region.

The Persian Empire vanquished the Parthians in the 3rd century and relocated to the Capital Ctesiphon, Consequently, the Assyrian Church was part and parcel of this Persian Empire. Their Patriarch was called Jathlic.

The Persian King Bahram II decided to institute Zarathustra as the religion of the Empire. Coincidentally, the Roman Emperor Constantin decided around 315 to recognize Christianity as one of the official religions in the Empire. King Bahram got suspicious and considered the Assyrian Christians as potential enemies and persecuted them harshly.

In the 5th century, the Syriac Church split from the Catholic Church.  In 431, the conclave of Ephesus (Afassus) condemned the doctrine of the Patriarch of Antioch Nestor as heretic. Thus, the Syriac Church was known as the Nestorian Church and located East of the Euphrates River in the Persian Kingdom.

In 451, the conclave of Chalcedon (Khalkhedonia) condemned the dogma of the priest Otikhus as heretic, and the followers were known as the Jacobite (Yaakibat) in reference to Bishop Jacob Baradei. This church settled on the west shores of the Euphrates River.

The main oriental “Catholic” Church in that period was named the Melkite Church, referring to the Church of the King or the Roman Emperor.

More than 5 decades before the birth of Islam, the Nestorian Church had reached China and translated its Bible into the Chinese language. The preaching activities followed the Silk Trade Road, and Nestorian churches and communities were established in Tibet, and Eastern Turkmenistan, and in India (the coastal province of Melbar)

During the Arab Empire, particularly during the Abbassid dynasty, the Nestorian Church members counted 8 million when the world population barely reached 300 million. The Abbassid dynasty made good use of the Nestorian scientists, mathematicians, medical profession, accounting, translation of Greek works in the “House of the Wise” (Beit el Hekmat) established by the Calif Al Maamoun.

For example, Patriarch Tiothius I reigned during a period that witnessed the coming to power of 5 caliphs: Mahdi, Hadi, Harun Rashid, Amin, and Maamoun.

In 1251, the Moguls ransacked Baghdad and established an Empire in the Middle-East that lasted two centuries before settling in India. During the Mogul Empire period, the Nestorian Church, Moguls and Turks joined the Church of the Orient and transformed it into an Asian Christian Church.

The warlord Tamerlane persecuted the Nestorian Church in around the year 1400 and forced them to flee to the Kurdistan region in north Iraq and East Turkey.

In mid 15th century, a sect of the Syriac Oriental Church split and recognized the Pope Eugene IV who called them Chaldeans, in reference to the ancient city of Chaldo.

The Nestorians in India were forced to affiliate with Rome Catholicism, revolted, and split in schisms in modern time. The Nestorians in north Syria and Turkey were persecuted and suffered the genocide alongside the Armenians between 1915-18.

The Syriac Orient Church was subjugated to several massive persecution, the two worst genocides were done at the hand of Tamerlane (Timorlenk) and in modern time by the Ottoman Empire and the Kurds.  For 16 centuries, the Syriac Orient Church struggled against powerful religions such as the Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism…

During Saddam Hussein reign on Iraq, the Chaldean Bishop Louis Sako summarized the conditions as: “We were not free but we enjoyed security. Currently, (after the US invasion of 2003 and the radicalization of Islam in Iraq) we are supposedly free but we lack security…”

It numbers around 400,000 members, when it was 8 million ten century ago.  In 1994, Patriarch Danhka IV signed the “Common Christian Declaration” with Pope John-Paul II. Unfortunately, Egypt Copt Church is putting the pressure on the Syriac Jacobite to recognize the Assyrian Church…

Note 1: The Swiss Christoph Bomer published in 2006 “Orient Church: The Illustrated history of the Assyrian Christians…”.  Azziz Amanueel Al Zibawi published a short Arabic review in the Lebanese daily Al Nahar.  The book is of 400 pages and divided in 12 chapters.

Note 2: Plenty of stories would like you to believe that the religious schisms in the Churches of the Orient were based on divergences on the “nature of Jesus“. History demonstrates that every Byzantium Emperor since 325 who “usurped power” tried to establish his own Church, even reverting to paganism.

Note 3: Before 325 and the official recognition of Emperor Constantin of the Christians as religions, the Near-East witnessed the mushrooming of particular Christian sects, each sect reading from its own Bible and living in isolation and going about according to particular life-styles along the Orontes (Al Assy) and the Euphrates rivers.




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