A Journey in the thought of East Syrian Fathers about the sacrament of Baptism Rev. TOWER ANDRIOUS

رحلة في فكر آباء كنيسة المشرق، حول سر المعمودية – الأب تاور اندريوس


The Sacrament of the holy leaven In Assyrian Church of the East – Fr. George Toma

The Sacramental Theology – Rev. Archdeacon Dr. William Toma

Typology of Mary in the Writings of East Syriac Fathers – Rev. Archdeacon Dr. William Toma



Basic Features of the Liturgy with Especial Reference to the East Syrian Eucharistic Liturgy -Rev. Archdeacon William Toma

East Syrian Liturgy as an Expression of Christology – With Special Attention to the use of the “Exchange of Predicates”

The Late Chorbishop M. J. Birnie


The question addressed in this paper is whether the Christology reflected in the liturgical prayers and anthems of the Church of the East expresses and nurtures a faith in the unitary person of the incarnate Logos, the Son of God. With attention to the axiom set forth by Celestine I, “The rule of prayer determines the rule of faith,” it will be demonstrated, through extracts from the various offices of the church as contained in the Order of the Hallowing of the Apostles and the Cycle of Offices and Propers, that the official prayers and anthems, when they deal with Christological themes, are directed to, or speak of, a single subject in the person of Christ, and nourish a faith in the undivided incarnate Word.

Since the initial “cause of scandal” which led to the first Council of Ephesus concerned the propriety of the use of the “exchange of predicates” between the divine and human natures of the person of Christ, it will be demonstrated through the above named sources that the exchange of predicates has a distinct place in the worship life of the faithful community of the Church of the East, notwithstanding the suspicion its use has occasioned in the church and among its theologians. The appearance of the “exchange” in these texts, and their long history without revision, testify to its acceptance by generations of worshippers in the church. And with Celestine’s axiom in mind, consideration will be given to the practical consequences this may have for the conceptualisation of the worshipper as he visualises the object of his worship.


The Exchange of Predicates

It is typical in liturgies of the Church of the East for prayers and anthems

to be addressed to God or to the Lord God, including those that are addressed to Christ and contain Christological descriptive matter. The divine Logos, the Son of God (though not conceived apart from His humanity), is intended as the one to whom those prayers and anthems are addressed. And though the exchange of predicates is seldom employed directly to express the unitary person of Christ, its use has acquired a qualified synodical approval, that is, it may be employed occasionally “and by way of the economy”1. This official qualified acceptance of the propriety and practical use of the exchange is evidence that the Church of the East finds it useful as a legitimate, if sometimes controversial, means of addressing and confessing the unitary person of Christ, and its use in liturgical settings, though limited, is nonetheless significant.

When we look for a striking and obvious use of the exchange of predicates in prayers of the Church of the East, we must confess that it is rare. But it does occur, and its occurrence is sometimes startling. One may consider this example from the Evening Office for Wednesday, which the rubrics emphasise must be said every Wednesday of the year:

Equip us, O our Lord and our God, with mighty and invincible armour, by the prayers of Your blessed Mother, and give us  portion and fellowship with her in Your heavenly bride-chamber. . .2

Because the Nestorian controversy emerged in the first instance over the propriety of the term Theotokos, and because the Church of the East eventually aligned itself with those who questioned its use and its implications for Christology, when this anthem is singled out it usually provokes scepticism and a scurrying for verification. In fact, though, the veneration given the holy Virgin among members of the Church of the East is intense and proportionally similar to that given her among other Christians and Christian bodies, and the historical survival of a prayer such as this should not be surprising to those familiar with the piety of the Assyrians. The unique place of the mother of Christ in salvation history, and her singular relationship to her Son, the “Son of the Most High”, are the subject matter of much hymnody in the Church. The placement and emphasis given to this prayer make it to stand out all the more.

Furthermore, as a frequently overlooked but useful example of the use of the exchange of predicates one may note the Litany of the Eucharist. A series of

petitions begins with the address, “O merciful God who in mercies governs all, we beseech you.”3 The following petitions, all beginning with the relative pronoun “who” or “to whom”, requiring an antecedent referent and contemplating no change of subject, without distinction speak of divine and human attributes or experiences:

Who is rich in His mercies and overflowing in His compassion, we beseech you . . . Who in His nature is good and the Giver of all good things . . . Who is glorified in heaven and worshipped on earth . . . Who by His birth (or epiphany, etc.) gladdened the earth and cheered the heavens . . . To whom immortality belongs naturally, and who dwells in gladsome light . . .

The sequential petitions which begin, “who by His birth, etc.” and “to whom immortality belongs naturally”, address their antecedent, “merciful God”, as the subject appropriate to both descriptions, and generations of worshippers in the Church of the East have comfortably and piously joined their voices and sentiments to them without compunction. An intellectual distinction of the divine and human natures of the “merciful God” to whom they make petition is possible, of course, as it is in any use of the exchange of predicates, but this is not, I believe, very likely to happen in the course of common prayer.

But it is not only in Marian references or in the above-named deacon’s litany that the Church of the East makes use of the exchange of predicates, but also in other Sacramental contexts. In the Anthem of the Bema4 for Epiphany we find this example:

Through water and the Spirit we have been sanctified; by Your body and blood we have gained life. O Good One who fashioned us from dust, You renewed our image through water and the Spirit; through water and the Spirit You fashioned us anew. Glorious is Your renewal, and lovely is Your coming.5

The words “Your body and blood” can have no other referent than the “Good One who fashioned us from the dust.” And here, as above, the subject of address is the second person of the Holy Trinity, incarnate in the manhood He took from us. The adoration is of the Word made flesh who gave us His own sanctifying body and blood, not another’s.

The evocative power of the singing of the Anthem of the Bema is significant in its formative influence on the worshippers’ faith and conceptualisation. The familiar tunes and rhythms of these relatively short and easily remembered hymns aid in fixing them in the memory of the worshipper, who is apt to sing them at home and at work as well as in church and, in times past, to understand and assimilate their message as well6. On the memorial of St. Stephen the Protomartyr the worshipper intones: “Let us sing glory and receive the body of the Son of God and His living blood.”7 On the memorial of the Syrian Doctors: “Come, let us take delight in the glorious Mysteries of the body and blood of the Son of God.”8 On the second Sunday in Lent: “Come, let us receive the body and blood of the First-born9 of the Godhead. . . . Come, let us receive the body of the Son who was sent from above.”10 And decisively, from the Anthem of the Bema for Thursday after Easter:

The eternal and everlasting Son, begotten of God and coessential with him, who gave His own body, which wicked men sacrificed upon Golgotha, that He might give life to all, died as He willed, revived as He sought, and gave His body and blood to His church. Hallelujah!11

In the latter anthem the subject, the Son, begotten of the Father and of the same essence, is described as not only willing death and resurrection for His own body, but dying and rising in the same.

These examples all refer what is characteristic of the human nature of Christ to his divinity, but in some cases of prayer the name of the addressee to whom the exchange of predicates refers appears reversed. In the first of a series of “sealing” prayers at the conclusion of the evening office for ordinary days, the opening sentence reads as follows:

Glory to you, Jesus, our victorious King, the Effulgence of the eternal Father, begotten without beginning beyond times and origins, for we have no hope and expectation except for You, the Creator.12

The significance of this prayer to our discussion is the typical way that names are viewed and commonly used in the Church of the East. In his Book on the Union Babai the Great has this to say concerning the name Jesus:

The Son of God is called “Christ”, both according to the series of [divine] names which we previously set down above . . . and according to the name which Gabriel ordained beforehand for Him, that is, “Jesus,” which indicates the special title of His human qnoma in the Union, which was taken from the nature of the blessed [and] holy Virgin, Mary. . . . Although this name Jesus, “Saviour,” makes known what He is going to become, yet it is the name of the qnoma of His manhood.13

This standard explanation, applying the name “Jesus” to the human nature of Christ, makes it all the more noteworthy that the address to Jesus should describe Him as the Effulgence of the eternal Father, begotten without beginning beyond times and origins, and the Creator. Thus, while the previous examples I have given ascribe human attributes to the Godhead in the economy, here the reverse takes place, as the properties of the divine Word are referred to the “human” name, Jesus. A unitary subject is contemplated, here under the name of His manhood. Both the human nature and the name which it bears belong to the subject of the Incarnation, the divine Word, the “Effulgence of the eternal Father”.


The Language of Prayer and Praise, and the Faith It Expresses or Evokes

The language of prayer and praise is formative in the worshipper, both through the images and sentiments it evokes, and through the faith it builds upon and reinforces by its repeated expression. In the liturgies of the Church of the East, in prayers specifically addressed to God or the Lord God, where Christ is meant, the language employed to describe His human experiences directs the worshipper’s mind to the Deity as antecedent. The subject of those experiences is conceptualised as one and not as one and another. Whatever “duality” may emerge in the course of polemic discussion or theoretical contemplation disappears in hymnic wonder and prayerful certitude in the Assyrian Christian as he, in his ordinary worship, addresses his Lord and God, the Word become flesh. The relationship thus conceived and acknowledged between worshipper and Worshipped is one to one. The suggestion of an internal, independent relationship of the divine nature to the human in the united Christ is absent from the worshipper’s adoration, who acknowledges only the ontic unity which the Incarnate One is perceived to be in His person and in His relationship to His people.

To approach the divine Son of God through the veil of his flesh; to honour His mother because of the relationship of His flesh to hers, and therefore His own relationship to her; to adore Him and receive Him intimately through the mediating elements of the sacraments—His own body and blood—these acts of devotion, through cumulative effect on the worshipper, leave not the slightest room for separation to be contemplated, either by implication or through inference, in the unique and absolute union of humanity and divinity in the person of Christ. The language of worship and adoration in the liturgies of the Church of the East does not lead the worshipper to conceptualise a human person existing by Himself in relationship with the Logos. The personal identity of the complete and undiminished manhood taken by the Logos is that of the eternal Son of God, “begotten without beginning beyond times and origins”, who is the sole object of petition and praise. Like the worship of his Christian brothers and sisters who have been taught to confess the union in philosophical terms foreign or suspicious to him (or to his ancestors), his own worship is of the one Son of God incarnate, both Suffering Servant and King of Glory.




1 Synodicon Orientale, ed. J. B. Chabot, (Syr. text) p. 136.

2 Khudra, p. 22.

ܙܲܝܸܢ ܠܲܢ ܡܵܪܲܢ ܘܐܲܠܵܗܲܢ ܒܙܲܝܢܵܐ ܚܲܣܝܼܢܵܐ ܘܠܵ‍ܐ ܡܸܙܕܲܟ̣ܝܵܢܵܐ: ܒܲܨܠܵܘܵܬ̣̈ܵܗ̇ ܕܐܸܡܵܟ̣ ܡܒܲܪܲܟ̣ܬܵܐ: ܘܲܥܒܸܕ ܠܲܢ ܥܲܡܵܗ̇ ܡܢܵܬ̣ܵܐ ܘܫܵܘܬܵܦܘܼܬ̣ܵܐ ܒܲܓ̣ܢܘܿܢܵܟ̣ ܫܡܲܝܵܢܵܐ: ܡܵܪܵܐ ܕܟ̣ܠ.

3 Ktaba dTurgame, pp. 84-85.

4 An anthem sung at the time of the reception of the Sacrament during the Eucharist.

5 Khudra, p. 424.

6 The modern Assyrians’ lack of understanding of the classical Syriac language is a barrier to understanding and a problem yet to be addressed.

7 Khudra, Vol. 1, p. 740.

8 Khudra, Vol. 1, p. 778.

9 ܒܘܼܟ̣ܪܵܐ ܕܐܲܠܵܗܵܐ

10 Khudra, Vol. 2, p. 194.

11 Khudra, Vol. 2, p. 570.

12 Khudra, p.13.

13 CSCO, “Book on the Union,” Paris, 1915, ed. A. Vaschalde, pp. 208, lines 25- 26,28-31; 209, lines 11-13.

Is the Theology of the Assyrian Church Nestorian?

His Beatitude Dr Mar Aprem Mooken

This paper was originally given at the First Non-Official Consultation on Dialogue within the Syriac Tradition, held in Vienna between June 24th – 29th 1994 under the auspices of the Pro Oriente Foundation. It was later published in the record of proceedings of the Consultation and edited on behalf of the Pro Oriente Foundation by Alfred Stirnemann and Gerhard Wilflinger.

His Beatitude Mar Aprem is the Metropolitan of Malabar and India. The Metropolitan holds a Master of Theology from the United Theological College (Serampore, 1966) and a Master of Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary (New York, 1967). He later undertook postgraduate theological studies graduating with a Doctorate of Theology from Serampore University (1976). He completed and was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Syriac by Mahatma Gandhi University in 2002. His Beatitude has also been a student at St Boniface College (Warminster, England), St Augustine’s College (Canterbury, England) and at the Ecumenical Institute (Bossey, Switzerland). His Beatitude has published almost 70 books and numerous monographs largely focused on church history, theology, biographies and travelogues in both English and Malayalam. Since his consecration as Metropolitan in Baghdad in 1968 His Beatitude has been intimately active in the ecumenical movement both in India and abroad. This has included ecumenical dialogues via the Pro Oriente Foundation (Vienna, Austria) and other bi-lateral theological consultations. He was previously co-chairman of the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Most recently, a second edition of His Beatitude’s PhD dissertation entitled The Assyrian Church of the East in the Twentieth Century (Kottayam: SEERI, 2003) has been published.



The question whether the Theology of the Church of the East (known as the Assyrian Church, East Syrian Church or the Nestorian Church) is Nestorian has been debated in the present century by some individual scholars. One problem in finding a suitable answer to this question is the difference in understanding the word Nestorian.

The Churches who accept the council of Ephesus of 431AD presided over by Cyril of Alexandria consider Nestorianism as a heresy because they thought that Nestorius taught two personalities in Jesus Christ and Jesus was born as a human being to Whom divinity was joined later at the time of baptism or so. But the truth is that Nestorius did not teach any such heresy. He believed like all bishops in his time that Christ was God and Man.

How exactly was this union of two nature, divinity and humanity in Christ, united in one person in Christ, this was the burden of the council of Chalcedon twenty years after the council of Ephesus of 431AD.

The Church of the East does not recognise the council of Ephesus presided over by Cyril of Alexandria. The history of the two rival councils held at Ephesus in June 431AD is ery complicated and unfortunate.

The anathematisms and counter-anathematisms have been discussed by the present writer in his M.Th. Thesis submitted to the Senate of Serampore in 1966 (Published by Mar Narsai press, Trichur, Kerala, India in 1978).

A short evaluation of the Council of Ephesus of 431AD would bring us to the conclusion that the Council of Ephesus of 431AD was guided also by the personal enmity of Cyril against Nestorius, rather than the Christological issue which was evidently the cause according to the “official version.” Moreover, the help of the Pope of Rome given to Cyril resulted in the ultimate victory.

It appears that unless and until one is able to produce the documents redeeming

1) the lack of authority in Cyril of Alexandria to convene the Council in spite of the protests of the Imperial Commissioner,

2) the absence of right intention in Cyril of Alexandria who presided over it,

3) the irregularity of the procedure of the Council when the accuser himself was the judge,

4) the absence of the patriarchs or authorised representatives of Constantinople and Antioch,

5) the incompleteness of the Council as the anticipated joint session of the Council could not take place even after the union of 433AD,

6) the lack of form in the manner of conducting it and,

7) the lack of integrity of the sayings of Nestorius cited,

the validity of the Synod of Ephesus of 431AD as an ecumenical Council of the universal church and its subsequent acceptance by the Church of the East remains doubtful.

The reasons for the refusal of recognition to this Council by the Church of the East are many. The Church of the East was neither invited nor present in this Council. The Council of Cyril was declared null and void, as per the oder of the Imperial Commissioner in June 431AD and the repeated orders of the Emperor till the “political” settlement, and such a settlement did not affect the Persian Church as it was beyond the jurisdiction of Theodosius II. Moreover, the Council of Cyril did not settle any issue, but, on the contrary, created more problems as seen the Eutychian heresy which was a development of the mia physis thought of Cyril of Alexandria. Aoart from the dangerous use of the ambiguous title Theotokos, the Christology of the Church of the East was much similar to that of the Council of Chalcedon, two decades later.

These factors demand a change of outlook by the other churches in regard to the recognition of the council of Ephesus of 431. Individuals have come out with statements in sympathy with, and in favour of, the stand of the Church of the East. Adolf Harnack and many others challenged the propriety of calling the Council of Ephesus the ecumenical council[1].

The French Roman Catholic theologian, Pére J. Mahe, who made a fresh examination of the writings of Theodoret, was led to the conclusion that the two Christologies of Antioch and Alexandria, in spite of notable differences, were alike perfectly orthodox[2]. If Theodoret, who wrote against the twelve anathematisms of Cyril against Nestorius, was considered orthodox in the Council of Chalcedon, Nestorius also would have been considered orthodox if he had been present. What is required is not individual opinions, but official statements by the Churches.


The Necessity for a “Nestorian Christology” Today

The relevance of Nestorianism for today is the appreciation of the humanity of our Lord. Such an emphasis was necessary at the time of Nestorius became of the influence of the Appollinarians. It is just as relevant today. G.L. Prestige says:

           “Redemption requires a human response and human appreciation, God Himself supplied a perfect human agent to lead the response and a perfect human instrument to convey the means of appropriation[3].”

Donald Baille argues that if the human nature of Jesus Christ lacks a human person (a human centre, subject and principal of identity) it is incomplete[4]. Cyril C. Richardson in his article “A Preface to Christology,” states that only Nestorians can answer the question “Wherein lies the reality of Jesus’ temptation? Wherein is His human freedom?[5]” The Christology of the Church of the East is relevant to modern times because of its teaching of perfect human nature. The Nestorian Christ is one who was subject to the conditions of life of the first century, tempted, triumphant and obedient and thereby being a perfect example to mankind of every nation for all times.

The necessity for a “Nestorian” Christology becomes inevitable when we think of the greatest position ascribed to Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. The fear expressed by Nestorius against the use of Theotokos should not be ignored. It is one of the positive contributions of Nestorius to have exposed the ptoential danger of this title.

As far back as our records of history go there was nobody to speak against this title before 428AD though it was used by certain individuals. Perhaps it would have become the standard expression of all Christians if Nestorius did not wage such a crusade against this title. Till the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church of the East was the only Church which shared the concern of Nestorius against the use of Theotokos. Since the Reformation, however, many churches share this attitude and thus the position taken by the Church of the East singularly, down through the centuries, is vindicated.

In these days, when the announcement such as the “Immaculate Conception of Mary,” Assumption of Mary to Heaven, Proclaiming Mary as the Queen of Heaven, are made, the Christians have begun to open their eyes to the dangers of the over-emphasis of the imprtance of Mary. The opposition to excessive Mariology demonstrated at the Vatican II and the opposition to a seperate Schema on Mary from many bishops at the Council show that even in the Roman church some at least are beginning to see the dangers of the title of Theotokos. Therefore, the position explained by Nestorius and consistently maintained by the Church of the East, deserves the appreciation of Christians.

Now many protestants have reocognised that the fears expressed by Nestorius against the use of the title Theotokos were genuine. This justifies the stand that the “Nestorian” Christology is relevant for today. The “Image of Nestorius” has changed considerably in the recent years. Bethune Baker proved that Nestorius was not a Nestorian![6] Wigram could see the Christological formula of the Church of the East as free from any charges of heresy[7].

F. Loofs, who did not give much importance to the “transactions of Ephesus” of 431, showed considerable sympathy to Nestorius and his Christology. Against the charge of dualism in Nestorianism, he argued that Nestorius emphasised the unity of the Person of Christ[8].

A.R. Vine, who felt it impossible to comprehend the meaning of the Christology of Bazaar of Heracleides, without a “metaphysical and Christological system” endeavoured to formulate a system by “working backwards and forwards,” and claimed to have succeeded in the “evolution of a self consistent metaphysics and Christology[9].” He reached the conclusion: “There are elements in the thought of Nestorius which provide a helpful mode of approarch to the Christological problem[10].” At present many take a position, which was long ago taken by Mosheim even before the “discovery” of the Bazaar, that “Nestorianism” is an error in words rather than in thought[11].

The present writer has gone a step furhter. The Christology of the Church of the East, as well as that of Nestorius himself, is not far from the Chalcedonian formula. Though the words are different the teaching is very much the same. The Christology of Chalcedon is Antiochene in emphasis. In other words, the Chalcedonian formula was the triumph of Nestorian Christology.

In 1907, William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, made the first Angilcan episcopal visit to the Assyrian Church to meet the Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun with a view to discuss the terms of inter-communion, During the interesting interview Bishop Collins explained the Anglican position in regard to the doctrinal requirements if such an inter-communion was to be made possible and frequent. Regarding Assyrians living in an area where there was no church of their denomination there ought to be no difficulty. Bishop Collins writes:

          “Not that we should ask them to disavow their fathers, not that we should ask them to revise their doctrinal books or to make a new creed, for but simply that we should say, ‘This is the faith as we hold it. Is this what you believe?[12]’


Three years later the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Davidson, following a resolution by the Lambeth Conference of 1908, wrote to the Patriarch of the Church of the East to clarify the doubts regarding the Christology of the Church of the East. After consultation with his bishops, the Patriarch replied on June 13, 1911, accepting the statement of faith propounded to him (the Quicunque vult) as expressing the belief of the Church of the East. The statement was sent by W.A. Wigram, head of the Archbishop’s Assyrian Mission, who in a covering note to the Archbishop remarked:

          “I venture to hope also that the letter of Mar Shimun to your Grace will suffice to clear this church from the charge of heresy, that has been levelled against it for so long.[13]”

His wish was fulfilled, for the Commission set up by the Lambeth Conference was completely satisfied by the explanation given to the use of the term Christokos. Due to the outbreak of war in 1914 the attempt for inter-communion could not immediately bear fruit, but the following Lambeth Conference[14], received the report from the Committee. The report reads:

          “… The watchword Theotokos is absent from their service books, and in one place is repudiated; on the other hand, its equivalent in other words is several times found, and strong instances of the language known as communicatio idiomatum occur.[15]”

Even the problem of two Qnome did not seem to be an obstacle to this Committee. The report states:

          One phrase which has caused some perplexity, that which asserts that there are in Christ one parsopa (prosopon), two qnome, and two natures. The word qnoma is equivalent of “Hypostasis” and if used in the later sense of that word, i.e. as meaning “person,” it would imply real Nestorianism; but research had made it plain that it is used in the earlier sense of “hypostasis,” namely, “substance,” and this makes the phrase, if redundant, at least perfectly, orthodox[16].

This report strongly recommended that if the “present” authorities of the Church of the East adhered to their statement of June 13, 1911, occasional inter-communion should be established. It is a matter of regret to read in the report of the following Lambeth Conference, a decade later, that “it has not been possible, owing to political and other conditions, to obtain the authoritative statement recommeded in 1920[17]”

While the Lambeth Conference Report of 1948 expressed the hope that the relations between these two churches may be strengthened[18], the report of 1958 mentioned only the political and material aspets of the Assyrian Church[19]. It does not mean that the Assyrian Church is in disagreement with the doctrinal position explained in 1911 statement. Neither does it mean that the Anglican church had “Second thought.” The council of Foreign Relations of the Church of England at Lambeth agrees with this view[20].

A word is necessary on the position of the Council of Chalcedon in the Church of the East. Monseigneur Chabot deserves the credit for the information that Synodicon Orientale included the Council of Chalcedon and “Tome of Leo” as officially accepted by the Church of the East. Though he did not print the texts of these documents in the edition, his announcement that these documents were approved documents of the Church of the East took the scholary world by surprise[21]. Wigram who took pains to investigate this question, was able to find the manuscript of Synodicon Orientale in Mosul and happened to see the formula of Chalcedon in it[22]. The Church which recognises the formula of Chalcedon deserves the recognition of the western Churches. The Church of England took a right step in proper direction.


The Prospects of these Aims

“If the broken unity of the Church Catholic is ever to be knit up once more,” Wigram wrote, “it must be by full recognition of these national differences which are national heritages which are so treasued by the nations who hold them that they went into separation rather than surrender them[23].”

As far as the Assyrian Church of the East is concerned, it will never forsake their hero. The Protestant Church, which do not accept the title “Theotokos” though used in the Council of Ephesus of 431 ought therefore to say officially whether they regard the approval of the condemnation of Nestorius by Cyril and his followers as a necessary test of orthodoxy.

The Anglican scholars expressed their willingness to accord official recognition to the Church of the East without insisting u[on the condemnation of the three Greek doctors, provided they cease to repeat the anathema on Cyril of Alexandria.

It is extremely unlikely that the Church of the East will cease to mention the names of the three Greek doctors in their Litany. Wigram suggested to use an alternate bidding found in the litany to avoid the names of the Greek doctors[24] with the hope that “the change would not be felt, as the people are all the while occupied in singing an anthem[25].” Whether the change will be felt or not, the Church of the East will never agree to any “change” in this matter. A change of attitude of other churches in regard to their recognition of the Council of 431AD will pave the way for the reunion of this once far-reaching Church which is the first major schism of the Christendom.

The prospects of a “Nestorian” Christology are much brighter today than ever before. The Protestant theologians who have begun to emphasise the reality of the suffering of Christ, as an example of his perfect humanity, can play a part in it. The present writer has gone further than the previous students of Nestorianism in suggesting without hesitation that Bazaar of Heracledies answers most of the charges levelled against Nestorius.

Sympathy towards Nestorius is being shown even in orthodox circles. M.V. Anastos, a Greek orthodox theologian, has shown that the Christology of Nestorius was not very different from that of Cyril. He argues:

          “… The Christology of Nestorius, if orthodox, should be reconcilable, not withstanding angry denials on both sides, with Cyril’s. In truth, it must be admitted, the line which separates them on this, as on all other issues, is either very thin or nonexistent[26].”

The results of the Arrhus consultation of August 1964, in a way, are discouraging, if a unilateral declaration of a Christological compromise is made from the East, they may have to go its own way and the “Church of the East” may find more affinity with the West than the East from the christological point of view. If the “eastern ecumenism” is based on Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus “western ecumenism” will be based on the Tome of Leo and the Council of Chalcedon.

As the non-Chalcedonian Churches insist on the reunion with the orthodox Churches without recognising the Council of Chalcedon of 451AD, the Church of the East has a legitimate claim to insist on the reunion without recognising the Council of Ephesus of 431AD, presided over by Cyril.

Even Cyril treated the decision of the Council of 431 with such a scant respect that within two years he swept that decision absolutely on one side, and made, on his own authority, a compromise with his rivals. It is possible for the churches to follow the example of Cyril and to rethink the importance they have attached to this as the third ecumenical council – an idea, which perhaps did not occur ever to Cyril[27].


A Final Word

The present writer had claimed his M.Th. Thesis to be an impartial study of the Council of Ephesus. Impartiality, however, does not consist in refusing to form any opinion or in a futile concealment of the dangers of the thought of the man concerned, but in treating them scientifically and sincerely and attempting to discover objectively the thought in the historical background in which it was developed.


This, then, the present writer hopes to achieve in this consultation. Men have thought about all the conceivable forms of the conception of the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. How exactly has this union taken place? It is open to conjectures. To a certain extent, it is beyond human speculation.

There was a period when these terms were only “in the making.” Such a beginning, though unfortunate, was necessary for an adequate understanding “Nestorianism” was necessary to prevent any notion of deification of human nature as an entity, thereby losing sight of the historical Christ. As Bethune Baker warns us the teachings against which Nestorius protested “would have made of the Saviour of men a person not really human, and Redemption a magical, instantaneous, rather than ethical, gradual, process[28].”

The “re-discovery” of the Bazaar was a “dispensation of God, in an age in which the doctrine of the Incarnation is exposed to dangers from opponents and defenders alike which are at least as dissolvent as those against which he cried unheard[29].” Modern thought can best profit from this controversy by attempting a synthesis of the apparently opposed but really complementary views.

The christology of the Church of the East, i.e. one person, two qnome and two kyane, when it is translated as one person, two concrete natures and two abstract natures, is perfectly orthodox. As A.R. Vine has pleaded we should give Nestorius the benefit of doubt with regard to the technical terms. If we attempt to understand exactly how Godhead and manhood are united in the one person Jesus Christ, we reach the inevitable conclusion that the problem of Christology is insoluble.



The Syriac manuscripts and printed books found in this Church teaching the Christology of one person, two qnome and two natures. Having examined this Christological formula this thesis upholds the theory put forward earlier by Professor J.F. Bethune Baker that Nestorius was not a “Nestorian.”

In understanding the qnoma, this writer rejects the translation given by some scholars as person and puts forward an alternative view that it should be understood as “the individuated nature” or concrete nature, if the word kyana (nature) is understood as “abstract nature.” Qnoma is also translated in this thesis as hypostasis. This is done so because several other writers have done likewise; for instance, in their useful work “A Nestorian Collection of Christological Texts,” Luise Abramowski and Alan Goodman translate the word as hypostasis. But hypostasis does not convey the true meaning of qnoma as used by Nestorian Fathers. The present writer is of the opinion that some better word could be coined in order to convey the true meaning which the members of this Church attributed to this controversial, but crucial, term qnoma.

This writer does not argue that this Christology, even if it is understood properly, agrees completely with the Christological formula of the Council of Chalcedon AD 451 though the Nestorian Christology has several points of agreement with Tome of Leo, as Nestorius himself has claimed, over against his opponent Cyril of Alexandria, the observations made by V.C. Samuel, quoted in the present writer’s D.Th. dissertation, give us a new direction to explore further the points of agreement between Cyril’s Christology and the Christology of Nestorius.

Though this Church considers Nestorius as a saint, this is not a Church founded by Nestorius. Nestorius did not know Syriac and the East Syrian Church of the Persian empire know no Greek. There was no contact between the East Syrian Churches of Persia and the “heretic” and his supporters in AD 431. Only after the death of Nestorius, when the East Syrian Church had not part in the Christological battles between Nestorius and Cyril, nor had any knowledge of this unhappy controversy during the life time of the champions, has been unjustly described as the Church founded by Nestorius.

The separation of the East Syrian Church from the rest of the Christendom and particularly from the jurisdiction of Antioch had taken place before the Christological controversy had sprung up in AD 428. A canon of the Synod of Dadisho’ in AD 424 forbade the bishops of this Church to have any ecclesiastical jurisdictional contact with the West. This fact itself leads us to the conclusion that the separation of the East Syrian Church was motivated by political, cultural, linguistic or personal considerations rather than any theological reason for there was none such existent in AD 424.

The important Pauline ideas of self-emptying, image of God, form of servant, historical Jesus etc., have been founded in Nestorius too. It was from his biblical foundation Nestorius formulated his theory of prosopic union.

The Christological formula of this Church is that of the prosopic union rejecting the formula of hypostatic union accepted by both Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian etc.). This prosopic union is a three tier Christology where the union is not at the first level of natures, nor at the second level of the hypostases but at the third level of the prosopon. To the members of this Church, the idea of perfect God and man is understood only if Christ has both natures and qnome of both God and man and the union has taken place only at the level of prosopon.

As for the Mariology, it refuses to call Mary “Theotokos” unlike the Orthodox Church. However, this writer believes that despite the refusal to use the title Theotokos to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Nestorian” Churches throughout the world, is in general agreement with the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) Churches in giving respect and veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. A Nestorian is an orthodox without theotokos.

This Church does not overdo the respect due to Mary as the Roman Catholics seem to do, nor does it underestimate the honour due to the Blessed Virgin Mary as some of the Protestant Churches have admittedly done. The prayers of this Church about Virgin Mary would lead to the inevitable conclusion that this Church tries to give a proper place to the Blessed Virgin Mary avoiding the excesses and at the same time trying to save the Church from the danger of ignoring the Mother of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In this context, it must be stated further that nobody in this Church as never questioned the Virgin Birth, as some modern theologians in various Churches do today. She is ever virgin before, in and after the birth of Jesus Christ.

The special emphasis of the Nestorian Christology on the humanity of our Lord is the statement that in jesus Christ there are two distinct qnome, divine and human. This emphasis on the humanity of the Saviour of the mankind saved the Church in the fifth century from the heresy of the followers of Apollinarius who were still in the capital city of Constantinople where Nestorius worked as the head of the Church during the period AD 428-31. This emphasis on humanity is generally recognised today in the contemporary theological debate throughout the world. The East Syrian Church therefore, the present writer hopes, will have a definite contribution to make in the development of a Christian theology utilising the initiatives provided by some emerging dynamics in the religious and cultural context in the world today.

By the denial of the title Imme d’Alaha (Mother of God) the Assyrian Church never denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. They believed like all fathers of the Council of Nicea 325AD and the Council of Constantinople 381AD that the expressions used in those Councils and the Nicene creed are good enough to guarantee the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Imme D’Msheha (Mother of Messiah) is proper expression as all Christians believe that Messiah is perfect God and perfect man. Is the theology of the Assyrian Church Nestorian? The answer is both Yes and No. If Nestorius himself was never a Nestorian, why should anybody bother whether the reply is Yes or No? It is “Nestorian” to the extent that the Assyrian Church considers him a Saint and Greek doctor (Malpana Yawnaya) of the Church. The answer is “No” if the questioner thought that Nestorianism is the denial of the divinity or the total separation o the divine and human natures in Christ.



[1]                 Adolf Harnack calls Cyril’s Council “this petty assembly” in contrast to what he calls the “legal council under the presidency of the Imperial Commissioner.” (Harnack op. cit; p.187)
[2]                 Pére J. Mahe in the Revue d’histoire ecclésiastique vol. VII, No. 3, July 1906, quoted from Bethune Baker, op. cit; p. 198
[3]                 G.L. Prestige; Fathers and heretics, London, S.P.C.K., 1948
[4]                 Donald Baille; God was in Christ, New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1948
[5]                 Cyril C. Richardson; “A Preface to Christology,” Religion in Life, Vol. XXVII No.                                      4. p. 508
[6]                 Bethune Baker, Nestorius and His Teachings, Cambridge, University Press, 1908
[7]                 W.A. Wigram, The Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian or East Syrian Church,                                             London, S.O.C.K. 1908, p. 289
[8]                 F. Loofs, Nestorius and His Place in the History of Christian Doctrine, Cam                                                 bridge 1914 p. 126
[9]                 A.R. Vine, The Nestorian Churches, London, The Independent Press, 1937, p. 53
[10]               Ibid; p. 54
[11]               J.L. Mosheim; An Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, (ed) Murdock                                                James; London; William Tegg & Co., 1876, p. 633
[12]               A.J. Mason; Life of William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, London: 1912,                                         p. 125
[13]               W.A. Wigram, Letter addressed to Dr. Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury,                                                dated August, 1911. (From the Archives of Lambeth Palace Library, London)
[14]               Lambeth Conference of 1920
[15]               Lambeth Conferences (1867, 1930); London: S.P.C.K., 1948, p. 132
[16]               Ibid.
[17]               Lambeth Conference, 1930, London: S.P.C.K., n.d. p. 146
[18]               Lambeth Conference, 1948, London: S.P.C.K., 1948, Part II, p. 71
[19]          Lambeth Conference, 1958, London: S.P.C.K., 1958, p. 251
[20]               Letter to the present writer, dated 3rd November 1965
[21]               The Church of the East officially has not made any statement about this announcement
[22]               Wigram informs us that the word “Theotokos” is translated as “Mother of Christ” who is both God and man; and one Qnoma is altered as two Qnome. The “blessed Cyril” is changed to “accursed Cyril” and the phrase “to rebuke the folly of Nestorius” is omitted! (cf., Wigram, op. cit; p. 296)
[23]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church, London: S.P.C.K., 1908, pp. 63-4
[24]               The bidding is not an alternate one in the litany as Wigram states.
[25]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church, op. cit; pp. 25-26
[26]               M.V. Anatos; “Nestorius was Orthodox.” Dumbarton Oaks Paper XIV, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1962, p. 139. He concludes that Nestorius was the “dyophysite par excellence” (Ibid. p. 140)
[27]               W.A. Wigram; Doctrinal Position of the Assyrian Church; op. cit; p. 35
[28]               F.J. Bethune Baker; op. cit; p. 207
[29]               Ibid; p. 196


A Survey of the Christology of the Assyrian Church of the East as Expressed in the Khudra

Mar Awa Royel, Bishop

His Grace Mar Awa Royel is the Bishop of California, Secretary of the Holy Synod and President of the Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Education Development (CIRED). He Grace was consecrated to the episcopacy at Mar Zaia Cathedral, Modesto, California in November 2008. A native Chicagoan, His Grace graduated with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois in 1999. He later undertook postgraduate theological studies in Rome graduating with a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (2001) and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology (2007) from the Pontifical Oriental Institute, specialising in Eastern Liturgy. He also represents the Assyrian Church of the East as a member of the Forum Syriacum (Pro Oriente Foundation, Vienna) and has been active in a wide variety of international symposia and ecumenical consultations to date. His Grace’s latest publication is Mysteries of the Kingdom: The Sacraments of the Assyrian Church of the East (California: CIRED, 2012).


The question of the Church’s Christological expression finds its roots in the question of the Lord Jesus posed to his Disciples in Caesarea of Philippi: “Who do you say that I am,” Matthew 16:15. That is really at the foundation of every, and any, discussion concerning how the Church confesses the one Son, Jesus Christ. The response of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” constructs a framework for later Christological expressions of the Church. Later, one of the Lord’s Post-Resurrection appearances, the apostle Thomas equally gives a highly Christological expression to the Risen Lord whom he experienced and truly handled after the resurrection—“My Lord and my God,” John 20:28.  In the Synoptic Gospels, the blessed Evangelists speak of Jesus ‘Son of God,’ ‘Christ’ and ‘Lord’ ( ܡܪܝܐ Marya in Aramaic, or Kyrios in Greek), while the Johannine tradition is more emphatic in its expression of the Eternal Son as ‘Word’ (or ܡܠܬܐ  Meltha)—Logos—the very Mind and Wisdom of God.[1] Theologians will speak of a ‘Christology from Below’ (identifying the Synoptic Gospels tradition) or a ‘Christology from Above’ (in reference to the tradition of St. John, the Beloved Disciple).

Although the Gospels express a christological faith that is complete and sufficient in its own right, the emergence in the early centuries of the Church of various heresies which denied either the complete humanity of Christ (such as Docetism[2] of the late third century and Apollinarianism[3] of the early fourth century) or the Lord’s complete and true divinity (such as Arianism[4] of the early fourth century) necessitated an expounding of the pure and simple Christological expressions of the New Testament. The influence of Hellenistic culture and the use of philosophy by the early Fathers of the Church also contributed to the development and growth of a Christological parlance and expressions that were much more complex than the Christology expressed in the New Testament texts.

The apostolic kerygma, therefore, is foundational for dogma—the Church’s official expressions and formulas of faith; without the apostles, there can be no apostolic faith, nor can there be an Apostolic Tradition, as such. Without the living Tradition of the apostles, there can be no valid apostolic expression. This living Tradition of the apostles, in turn, is outwardly expressed and experienced by the faithful in the Church’s life of worship and prayer—her Liturgy. For the Assyrian Church of the East, the main liturgical formulary is the Khudra, or ‘Cycle,’ which contains the offices and prayers for all Sundays of the liturgical year and the Feasts of our Lord and commemorations that are observed on Sundays.[5]

A very important and continuously viable principle expressive of the importance of the Church’s liturgical nature, and indeed the very content of the liturgy, is the famous axiom “the law of prayer establishes the law of belief.”[6]


The Formation of the Khudra

The major formularies with regard to the liturgical prayer are the Khudra, Gazza and the Kashkol; these have been formulated and organized at the Upper Monastery at Mosul.[7]   The Khudra, an Syriac term meaning ‘cycle’, is the principal liturgical formulary of the Church of the East.  It has already been effectively studied by Anton Baumstark and William Macomber.[8]  The oldest extant copy of the Khudra (10th-11th century),[9] which has come to be known as the ‘Mar Eša‘ya Khudra’ (belonging to the parish at Mosul under this name), was effectively discovered by W. Macomber, who writes concerning the Khudra:

[the Khudra] contains the variable chants of the choir for the divine office and the Mass for the entire cycle of the liturgical year.  The compilation of the Khudra is traditionally attributed to the Catholicos Patriarch Išo‘yahb III of Adiabene (648/9-648/9) and his collaborator, the monk ‘Enanišo‘, and there is no compelling reason for doubting he attribution.[10]

We have already discussed the redaction of the Khudra initiated by Išo‘yahb III, whose liturgical reforms actually began while he was yet metropolitan of Adiabene.[11] The fact that the recension of the Khudra standardized by Išo‘yahb while he was already patriarch, residing at the Upper Monastery, has gained for the name of this formulary, “according to the order of the Upper Monastery of Mar Abraham and Mar Gabriel at Mosul.”[12] The manuscript tradition almost always refers to this work as the “Khudra dam-dabranootha,” i.e., the Khudra ‘of the dispensation.’[13]  This refers to the whole liturgical year, with its different seasons and feasts in between, as celebrating the divine economy or mdabraootha—the economy of salvation authored by God the Father and realized in his Son, Jesus Christ.

The early history of this most-important formulary is not known.  Whether some sort of ‘primitive’ recension of the book prior to the seventh century reforms ever existed cannot be known.  The earliest witnesses to the Khudra outside the book itself are the Liber Superiorum (Book of Governors)[14]  of Thomas of Marga and the Expositio Officiorum of Pseudo-George of Arbel (ܢܘܗܪܐ ܕܬܫܡ̱ܫܬܼ̈ܐ ܥܕܬܢܝܬܼ̈ܐ).[15] The author refers to the penqīthā made by Išo‘yahb a number of times. At first glance, the title penqīthā, no doubt coming from the Greek πινακιδίον seems to refer to a lost work of Išo‘yahb which describes the various reforms he effected and an explanation of the rubrics he had stipulated.[16] According to Baby Varghese the penqīthā:

…was a commentary on the ceremonies of the eucharist, daily office and other liturgical rites.  This work seems to have given a theological rational for the liturgical actions.  The theological explanation given to the liturgical actions by an influential patriarch invested them with ‘a sacrosanct quality to change.’  This liturgical commentary, now lost, is used in an anonymous commentary on the anaphora and other liturgical ceremonies probably written in the ninth century.[17]

However, according to Pseudo-George of Arbel, the penqīthā in question seems to be none other than the Khudra:

Why is it that since the beginning of the year is Tishrin II, and that there is no feast from Tishrin to Kanon I, the blessed Išo‘yahb kept the Annunciation and the beginning of the penqīthā until Kanon, and did not make its beginning [to be] from Kanon?  The Church celebrates four beginnings in counting the year, and every one of them has a day and month, I mean the beginning of the year and the beginning of the penqīthā, and the beginning of the books and the beginning of the governors.  The beginning of the year is Tishrin I; the beginning of the penqīthā is Kanon I; the beginning of the books is the beginning of the season of the Fast of the Passion; and the beginning of the governors is the beginning of the season of Resurrection…and the second [of the beginnings] is that of the dispensation, i.e. the penqīthā…[18]

Thus, according to the usage of penqīthā in the Expositio, it could refer to none other than the Khudra itself.   Again, the author of the Expositio writes:  “Why is it that since the [period of] Consecration of the Church is before all of the liturgies, including Baptism [Epiphany], the blessed Išo‘yahb ordered the beginning of the penqīthā [to be] the Annunciation, and placed the baptism at Resurrection, and after all of the Khudra, ordered the Consecration of the Church…”[19]

The so-called penqīthā of Išo‘yahb is also mentioned by ‘Abdišo‘ of Nisibs in his Catalogus Auctorum. Concerning the writings of Išo‘yahb he mentions that he ordered the penqīthā d- Khudra, or the ‘volume of the Khudra.’[20] Here the understanding in clear—the penqīthā and the Khudra are one and the same volume.

It seems that in the period lasting from the christological controversies to the reforms of Išo‘yahb III, the East Syrians used to refer to the Khudra as the Penqīthā, in agreement with the West Syrian usage which is in sway to this very day. A Khudra manuscript of 1607/08, Cambridge Add. 1981, has this interesting rubric for the commemoration of ‘One Person’ (celebrated on the second Friday preceding the beginning of Lent): “The Commemoration of ‘One Person,’ and it is also known as that of Mar Aba the Catholicos.  And know, O sir reader, that in the ancient penqyāthā [pl.] it is assigned [the commemoration] of Mar Bar Sawma of Nisibis.  However, the Catholicos Ezekiel assigned it to the honor of ‘One Person,’ that is of Mar Aba the Catholicos his master.”[21]

It is highly likely that even after the period of Ezekiel’s pontificate (570-581), the Khudra was in fact referred to as the Penqīthā, and that its name was changed most probably by Išo‘yahb III once elected patriarchate, the reason being the aversion of the Church of the East to a name which the West Syrian ‘adversaries’ were utilizing for their main prayer book as well and a need to distinguish themselves from the ‘heretics.’ In conclusion, upon noting that the West Syrian equivalent to the Khudra is in fact a huge volume referred to as the Fenqīthō, and that there are many rubrics contained in the Khudra itself, one is led to believe that in fact, the penqīthā of Išo‘yahb and the Khudra are one and the same.

The final formative period of the Khudra comes with the redaction of the Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Elia I (1028-1049).[22] The Khudra underwent a revision sometime around 1250 AD.[23] According to Adolf Rücker, the last of the most famous master of the Upper Monastery to be mentioned by name was  Mar Yahb’Alaha II (1190-1222); it is most likely that this reform of ‘around 1250’ mentioned by George Percy Badger is in reference to this patriarch.[24]


A Precursory View of the Christology of the Khudra

The Christology of the Khudra is expressed, obviously, in the ecclesiastical compositions of this liturgical formulary. The very opening of the Khudra, which begins with the four Sundays of the Annunciation (Subara), in the first ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ (ܥܘܢܝܬܼܐ ܕܒܼܣܠܝܩ̈ܐ), which is the main vesperal antiphon for Sundays, Feast Days and Commemorations, begins on a very high note, christologically speaking. The ecclesiastical compositions for the opening of the liturgical year recall the dispensation of God which was begun in Abraham, with whom the promises concerning the Christ began: “God the Word [who is] from the Father, did not take the form of the servant from angels but from the seed of Abraham. And He came [by means of] or humanity in His goodness, that He might save our race from error.”[25] The first of the Old Testament readings is, in fact, very much tied to this antiphon, for all of Genesis 17 is to be read. It recalls the election of Abraham and the giving of the Covenant and its sign (between God and Abraham) to his and his children after him.

Similarly, for the Second Sunday of Annunciation, the same antiphon proclaims: “The great mystery which was hidden from centuries and generations, was revealed to us at the end of times: for, the Only Begotten who is in the bosom of his Father came and was clothed with the form of the servant in his goodness. He has recounted and revealed to us concerning the fullness of the faith of the Trinity.”[26] This second antiphon is based on Ephesians 3:9, where St. Paul speaks of the revelation of the hidden mystery of Christ among the nations: “…and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ…”

The ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ for the Third Sunday of Annunciation is equally Christological and incarnational in nature. The antiphon proclaims: “He who is incomprehensible and not confined by creatures fulfilled his economy by our humanity. For, the divine nature was joined to the human nature which was assumed, while not undergoing change. The Virgin gave birth in a holy manner to Christ—the Power and Wisdom of God. This [same] One we worship while we all proclaim one Son—he who is the Savior of the world.”[27] This antiphon recalls the words of St. Paul in I Corinthians 1:24, “…but to those who are called, both Jews and Arameans, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God.”

Finally, the season of Annunciation closes with the Fourth Sunday, which the major verspertine antiphon again recalls the message of the annunciation of the eternal Son in his humanity: “The Radiance from the Father who was revealed in our humanity was seen from the house of David, and he reigns over the house of Jacob and there is no limit to his dominion. The angel announced to Mary and gave greetings full of mercy to the Virgin, and the hope which is full of good things he announced to the Holy One: ‘Peace be to you, O Blessed among women, full of hope; peace be to you and blessed are you, O who gives birth without intercourse. For, from you shall shine the Master of the height and the depth and that is in them—glory be to him from every mouth. Glorious, O my Lord, is the day of your Annunciation.”[28]

For the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension, the ‘Antiphon of the Basilike’ is even more expressive of the Church of the East’s understanding of ‘christology from above.’ This antiphon is based on Philippians 2:7, Romans 5:18 and ending with Galatians 1:8-9: “He who in his essence is God the Word, increased his compassion towards our crippled state and put on our image that it might be a dwelling for his Godhead. And he took it [= our image] and affixed it to the Cross and gave it up to death that by it he might give us life. And he made it to ascend and seated it in the heavens, above the principalities and powers. That in the manner of the First Adam we were made guilty, through the Second Adam we were justified—who can recount his marvelous generation! In this manner do we glorify and we believe with knowledge and give thanks in wonder, even as we have learned in truth. For, neither an angel from heaven if he were to come and persuade us and change us by his [own] Gospel, outside of that which we were evangelized—we shall not reject his humanity nor shall we ascribe passion to his Godhead.”[29]

The christological expressions of the Khudra are for the most part simple, yet theologically rich. The main focus is the duality of the natures, in keeping with the strict diaphysite christological creed of the Church of the East, and the unity of the natures of the Godhead and humanity in the one person of Sonship. The classic hymn ‘Blessed is the Compassionate One’ (ܒܪܝܟܼ ܚܢܢܐ) by Mar Babai the Great (ca. 551-628) is really the only ecclesiastical composition in the Khudra which expresses in a liturgical manner the Church of the East’s position concerning the duality of Qnoma in Christ.


A Brief Note on the Meaning of Qnoma

The ecclesiastical compositions of the Khudra very rarely make use of the term Qnoma in the antiphons. The duality of natures in our Lord Jesus Christ, yet stressing the unity of the natures in the one Son of God is of essential importance. ‘Qnoma’ is defined as “individual nature” or “unique nature.” In his synodical letter which deals with Christology, Patriarch Mar Isho’yahb II of Gdhala (628-646) speaks about the meaning of Qnoma in the Christological position of the Church of the East. He became patriarch in the very year that Mar Babai the Great died (i.e. 628); he is the well-known author of the Book of Union (ܡܐܡܪ̈ܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܒܼܝ ܥܠ ܐܠܗܘܬܼܐ ܘܥܠ ܐَܢܫܘܬܼܐ ܘܥܠ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ ܕܚܕܝܘܬܼܐ).[30] Babai the Great is the first to formally express the Church of the East’s Christological formula of two natures (ousia), two qnoma and one person of Sonship.

Isho’yahb II presented the orthodox faith contained in his Letter to Rabban Abraham d’Beth Madaye,[31] concerning how one ought to confess the only person of Christ, and which in the ancient codices was contained in the ‘Eastern Synods’ or Synodicon Orientale.[32] Concerning the definition of Qnoma, Mar Isho’yahb II writes: “And how would it be possible for the nature of the Father to be seen in his Son, if ‘qnoma’ were not in every place the definition of [a] nature and its demonstrator. On account of this, it was also fittingly named ‘individual nature’ (ousia), that is, a singular nature…”[33] Mar Isho’yahb further states that qnoma is the “genuine nature” which as the individuated nature is ‘self-subsistent.’ He concludes when speaking about the duality of natures in Christ: “…they do not constitute two Gods nor two Sons, but rather one is Christ in all things pertaining to him—one Son, one Only Begotten, one Firstborn, one Lord, one High Priest, one God—one in his being numbered with his Father, and one in his being numbered with us. This is what the union has accomplished, this is the unsearchable mystery of the economy of our Savior…”[34]



At the heart of the Church’s christological expression is the mystery of the Incarnation—that the Son of God became Man for our salvation. The Assyrian Church of the East ardently holds to the duality of natures in Christ—the divinity and the humanity—yet clearly expresses the unity of the natures in the singularity of the person of Christ the Son. The communication idiomatum is found not in the Qnoma but in the one person of the Son of God incarnate. The main liturgical formulary of the Church of the East, the Khudra, is replete with christological expressions that demonstrate the orthodoxy of her faith. I conclude with yet another antiphon, found in the night office (lelya) for the Fourth Saturday of the Resurrection: “We have gained great pride without limit over death by the Cross of Christ. By his resurrection from among the dead, he wiped out the judgment of death which entered upon us through his Passion. With great praise that is limitless we all cry out and say: ‘O Only Begotten, God the Word, he who wore our mortal body, have pity upon your servants who have confessed in your Cross.’”[35]




[1]           See John 1:1; I John 1:1.
[2]           ‘Docetism,’ from the Greek dokein (meaning, ‘to appear/seam’) was the heresy that arose first in the letter of Serapion of Antioch (bishop 197-203), who held that Jesus only ‘seemed’ to be human and that his physical body was only a phantasm.
[3]           Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) held that Christ did not have a human mind, but a human lower soul and a divine mind. Along with Eutychianism, Apollinarism is the extreme form of monophysitism.
[4]           ‘Arianism’ was the heresy espoused by Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria (ca. 250-336). He held and taught that Christ as the Son of God did not always exist (eternally) with the Father, but was created, and as such distinct from the nature of the Father. Thus, for Arius the Father was greater than the Son (an idea based on John 14:28). Arius’ teaching was condemned as heretical at the first ecumenical council of Nicea (325), and the condemnation was reiterated at the second ecumenical council of Constantinople I (381).
[5]           The Khudra was printed between the years 1960-62 in Thrissur, Kerala, South India by the Mar Narsai Press and with the express permission of the late His Holiness Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), Catholicos-Patriarch. This being the first Assyrian edition of this liturgical formulary, the other two liturgical books—the Gazza (containing the offices for feasts of our Lord and commemorations of the saints which are not based on the Sunday-cycle) and the Kashkul (containing the propers for the night, morning and evening offices for the ferial days, excluding all Sundays, feasts and commemorations)—were combined into one volume, and are now collectively referred to as the Khudra. Hereafter abbreviated as Khudra.
[6]           Stated by Prosper of Aquitaine (ca. 390-455), in the eighth book of his concerning the grace of God and free will: “Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every catholic Church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing.” See Patrologia Latina 51:209-210.
[7]           Cf. W. C. Van Unnik, Nestorian Questions on the Administration of the Eucharist by Isho’yahb IV (Haarlem 1937; reprinted Amsterdam 1970) 148.
[8]           See: A. Baumstark, Geschichte der syrischen Literatur mit Ausschluss der christlich-palästinensischen Texte (Bonn 1922) 198. W. F. Macomber, “A List of the Known Manuscripts of the Chaldean Hudra” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973) 275-306; Idem., “The Oldest Known Text of the Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966) 335-371; cf. Idem., “A History of the Chaldean Mass,” Worship 51 (1977) 112.   Cf. B. Varghese, “East Syrian Liturgy During the Sassanid Period,” Harp 15 (2002) 216.
[9]           It seems that an even older extant Khudra exists in the collection of the Syriac and Soghdian Christian manuscripts found at Turfan. For my discussion this Khudra fragment, possibly older than the Mar Esha’ya manuscript by one century, see my forthcoming article: “From Mosul to Turfan: The Hūdrā in the Liturgy of the Assyrian Church of the East. A Survey of its Historical Development and its Liturgical Anomalies at Turfan.” Lecture delivered at the VIII Christianity in Iraq Seminar Day, May 2011, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. My thanks to Dr. Erica Hunter for her invitation and for providing me with digital copies of the Turfan fragments.
[10]          W.F. Macomber, “Manuscripts of the Hudra,” 120-121.  For a description of the contents of the Mar Eša‘ya Khudra see: P. Yousif, Appunti sulla preghiera liturgica del rito caldeo (commune) [= Notes on the Common Liturgical Prayer of the Chaldean Rite], (unpublished class notes at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome 1982-1983) 3.
[11]          Cf. E. Tisserant, “(L’Église) nestorienne,” Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, vol. 11.1 (Paris 1931) column 319.
[12]          Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte, 198.
[13]          See for example manuscript Borgia Syriac 150 (fol. 1r) and Borgia Syriac 85 (fol. 1r).
[14]          See Earnest A. W. Budge, The Book of Governors: The Historia Monastica of Thomas, Bishop of Margâ A.D. 840, volumes I-II, London 1893.
[15]          R. H. Connolly (editor & Latin translation), Anonymi Auctoris Expositio Officiorum Ecclesiae Georgio Arbelensi vulgo adscripta. Accedit Abrahae Bar Lipheh Interpretatio Officiorum, vols. I-II. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 64, 72 – 71, 76 = Scriptores Syri 25, 29 – 28, 32, Paris-Rome 1913, 1915; reprinted Louvain 1960-1961. Hereafter abbreviated as EOE I/II.
[16]          See J.-M. Fiey, “Išo‘yaw le Grand. Vie du catholicos nestorien Išo‘yaw III d’Adiabène (580-659), Orientalia Christiana Periodica 35-36 (1969-1970) 11; P. Yousif, Appunti sulla Messa caldea [= Notes on the Chaldean Mass], (unpublished class notes at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome 1982-1983) 15. Cf. BAUMSTARK, Geschichte, 198.
[17]          VARGHESE, “East Syrian Liturgy,” 217-218.
[18]          See EOE I, 25-26.
[19]          EOE II, 116-117.
[20]          J.S. Assemani (editor & Latin translation), Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino-Vaticana de Scriptores Syri, vols I-III/1-2 (Rome 1719-1728; reprinted Hildersheim/New York 1975; Piscataway, NJ 2002) vol. III/1, 139.
[21]          f. 94r:                         ܘܕܥ ܐܘ ܡܪܝ ܩܪܘܝܐ. ܕܘܟܼܪܢܐ ܕܚܕ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ ܘܡܬ݂ܝܕܥ ܕܡܪܝ ܐܒ̣ܐ ܩܬܼܘܠܝܩܐ؛ ܕܒ̣ܦܢܩܝܬ̈ܐ ܥܬܝܩܬ̈ܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܪܨܘܡܐ ܕܨܘܒ̣ܐ ܪܫܝܡ. ܒܪܡ ܚܙܩܝܐܝܠ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܐ ܣܡܗ ܠܐܝܩܪܐ ܕܚܕ ܦܪܨܘܦܐ. ܘܐܝܬ̣ܘܗܝ ܕܡܪܝ ܐܒ̣ܐ ܩܬܘܠܝܩܐ ܪܒܗ.
[22]          W.F. Macomber, “Manuscripts of the Hudra,” 122-123; Idem., “Oldest Known Text,” 342.  Cf. A. Baumstark, Geschichte, 198.  The Syriac text of all of these rites may be found in J.E.Y. KELAITA (editor), The Liturgy of the Church of the East, Mosul 1928.
[23]          Based on information “according to the historical notices found in the prefaces to this [Khudra] ritual…made in the Deir Alleita…;” see G.P. Badger, The Nestorians and Their Rituals. With Narration of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842-1844, vols. I-II (London 1852; reprinted London 1987) vol. II, 22.  Badger does not cite the alleged manuscripts from which he has extracted this historical note.  Cf. D.G. Bickel, Conceptus rei Syrorum literariae (Munich 1871) 88; J. Moolan, “The History and Structure of the Syro-Malabar Liturgical Seasons,” Christian Orient 25 (2004) 89.
[24]            A. Rücker, “Das ‘Obere Kloster’ bei Mossul and seine Bedeutung für die Geschichte der Ostsyrischen Liturgie” Oriens Christianus, third series, 7 (1932) 181 note 2; cf. C. Van Unnik, Nestorian Questions, 149.
[25]             Khudra, vol. I, 114.
[26]             Khudra, vol. I, 127.
[27]              Khudra, vol. I, 138.
[28]              Khudra, vol. I, 148-149.
[29]               Khudra, vol. II, 681.
[30]               See the Syriac text in: A. Vaschalde (editor), Babai Magni: Liber De Unione, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 79 = Scriptores Syri 34, Louvain 1915. The English translation of this text, made by the late Cor-bishop Michael J. Birnie (†2013) with an introduction by S.P. Brock, is in preparation by the Assyrian Church’s Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Educational Development (CIRED), and is due to be published late 2013/early 2014.
[31]               Founder of a monastery in the village of Ba Mada, near Mosul, who lived during the patriarchate of Mar Isho’yahb I of Arzon (582-595).
[32]              The Syriac Synodicon was edited with a French translation by J.B. Chabot in 1902. However, this letter of Mar Isho’yahb II is omitted in Chabot’s edition. For the Syriac text and French translation see: L. R. M. Sako (editor & French translation), Lettre christologique du patriarche Syro-Oriental Īšō’yahb II de Gdālā (628-646). Étude, traduction et edition critique, published doctoral dissertation, Rome 1983.
[33]              Sako, Lettre christologique, 172.
[34]               Sako, Lettre christologique, 187.
[35]               Khudra, vol. II, 634.