Dr. Sebastian P. Brock
Source: Sebastian P. Brock, “The Dispute Between the Cherub and the Thief,”
Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies vol. 5, no. 2 (2002), pars. 1-13.
Abstract. The lively verse dialogue between the Repentant Thief (Luke 23:43) and the Cherub guarding the entrance to Paradise (Genesis 3:24) is an excellent representative of the ancient literary genre of dispute literature that has remained popular in the Middle East in various languages for nearly four millennia. The aim of the present article is to make the poem available in translation to an English-speaking audience. The introduction gives an outline of the poem’s wider context, and ends with some suggestions about how it might be revived for use today.
An ancient Mesopotamian genre
The Syriac dialogue poems
The Cherub and the Thief
The dramatic potential and a suggestion for today
An ancient Mesopotamian genre.  One of the most long-lived literary genres of the Middle East is the Precedence Disputation, the oldest examples of which go back to Sumerian literature of the early second millennium BC. The thread of continuity, over nearly four thousand years, can be traced through Akkadian, Middle Persian, Jewish Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and Persian,1 right up to the present day when examples in Modern Syriac and in Modern Arabic have been collected.2 Among Syriac authors, it was Ephrem who, in the mid fourth century AD, first adapted this ancient literary genre to a Christian context, with a series of Precedence Disputes between Death and Satan, where each argues that he has the greater control over human beings.3
 Although these formalized Precedence Disputes may be in either prose or verse, the vast majority of the Syriac examples are in verse, following a regular structure; this consists of a short introduction, followed by the dispute or argument between two persons speaking in alternate stanzas, and ending with a brief conclusion (or sometimes, doxology). The verse structure employed is that of the soghitha, with short stanzas consisting of four isosyllabic lines; very frequently the central dialogue has an alphabetic acrostic.
The Syriac dialogue poems.  The great majority of the Syriac dispute and dialogue poems deal with biblical subjects, though there are a few on secular topics.4 In those that take their starting point in an episode in the Bible, the dispute element is usually more in the form of an argument, and this, while presented in a lively (and sometimes humorous) manner, may at the same time convey some underlying teaching of a more profound nature. It is not known what the exact context, liturgical or other, Ephrem had in mind for his Disputes between Death and Satan, but subsequently these dialogue soghyatha came to be written and used for the Night Office (Lelya/Lilyo). In the extant liturgical manuscripts the dialogue soghyatha are mainly grouped around the Nativity-Epiphany and Holy Week. The poems tend to be preserved in their complete form only in the earliest manuscripts, dating from the ninth to the twelfth century; in manuscripts of a later date the poems are often either abbreviated or with alternate stanzas only (thus giving only one speaker’s verses); in the latter case, the manuscript was specifically intended for use by just one of two choirs.
 The dialogue soghyatha have unfortunately not fared well in the various printed editions of the West Syriac Fenqitho and East Syriac Hudra: those that do feature are usually either in a very truncated form, or give just alternate verses; only very rarely do they preserve the text complete. As it happens, the Dialogue between the Cherub and the Thief, translated below, happens not to feature in any printed liturgical edition known to me, despite the fact that it has an extensive manuscript tradition and translations into Modern Syriac, indicating its continuing popularity over the centuries.
The Cherub and the Thief.  Like many of the Dialogue soghyatha, that between the Cherub and the Thief takes as its starting point a single biblical verse, namely Luke 23:43, where Christ tells the Thief who acknowledges him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise”.
 The unknown author, who probably belongs to the fifth century, sets the scene of the poem at the gates of Paradise, where the Thief encounters the Cherub5 who has been given the task of guarding the entrance of Paradise against anyone from the banished human race who might try to approach (Genesis 3:24). The lively argument between the two continues until the Thief finally produces the key to Paradise—the cross—that he bears.
 The Dispute between the Cherub and the Thief is to be found in numerous liturgical manuscripts of both the Syrian Orthodox Church and of the Church of the East, as well as in three Modern Syriac versions. The Syriac text (based on an East Syriac manuscript) was first published by E. Sachau in 1896, and this has been recently republished, along with the three Modern Syriac versions (one of which Sachau had also published), in an excellent and attractive volume entitled Il ladrone e il cherubino. Dramma liturgico cristiano orientale in siriaco e neoaramaico, by Fabrizio Pennacchietti.6 Another edition of the poem, this time based on much earlier Syrian Orthodox manuscripts, is included in my Sughyotho Mgabbyotho;7 an English translation of this was subsequently published in India,8and it is basically the same translation which is republished below. The differences between the East and West Syriac texts of the poem are not great, as will be seen from the list of more important differences given below, after the translation. Although the West Syriac manuscripts are very considerably older than the East Syriac ones, it is likely that the latter sometimes preserve the original text (thus, for example, at 33b “He put on a body”, in the East Syriac manuscripts, preserves the early Syriac metaphor for the incarnation which later Syrian Orthodox tradition tended to abandon).9
Some other treatments of the theme.  The soghitha may well have been known to Jacob of Serugh (d. 521), one of whose verse homilies is on the same subject; attention is drawn to the main parallels in the brief commentary which follows the translation. After a long prologue (pp. 658-666), Jacob’s memra provides the following speeches: Thief to Christ (pp. 666-668), Christ to the Thief (pp. 668-669); these are followed by a narrative, and then the Cherub and the Thief are given alternating speeches: Cherub to Thief: pp. 671-672, 673-673, 675, 676-677, 680-681, 684-685; and Thief to Cherub: pp. 672-673, 674-675, 675-676, 677-680, 681-683, 685-687.
 Jacob’s older contemporary, Narsai, by contrast, does not provide any homily on this subject. In Greek literature of the period there are occasional vague parallels, where the Cherub is introduced, but a sustained dialogue between the Cherub and the Thief is very rare, and is best attested in the second half of a Greek text attributed to John Chrysostom (Clavis Patrum Graecorum 4877), published by M. van Esbroeck, together with early Georgian and Arabic translations.10 The few parallels between this text and the Soghitha are noted in the Commentary below.
The dramatic potential and a suggestion for today.  It would seem that it is only with this particular dialogue poem that the dramatic potential of the genre was exploited, with the poem being acted out in a stylised form of liturgical drama. A description of this, belonging to the early twentieth century, can be found in W.A.Wigram’s The Assyrians and their Neighbours:11
…the boy to whom it has been given to ‘act the Penitent Thief’ for that year, storms the sanctuary vi et armis, and is driven back again and again by the blazing torches held by the deacons, who for the nonce represent the Cherubim that guarded Paradise with the flaming sword. At last the Penitent Thief secures the cross that lies always on a table at the entrance of the sanctuary – and which each worshipper kisses on entering the church – and comes forward brandishing that passport to bliss. Then the deacon-angels receive him, and – seeing that souls are always borne by angels into Paradise, and also that no unordained man my set foot in the sanctuary, the boy is carried pick-a-back into the ‘Altar-enclosure’.
 In a modern context both this, and the other dialogue poems on biblical topics would seem to offer excellent material for catechetical use, above all with children. Here it is worth mentioning that the Dialogue between John the Baptist and Jesus (based on Matthew 3:14) was performed (in English translation, of course!) in England a few years ago at a school for children with learning disabilities. For use of this sort in church schools, the English translation could, if thought necessary, be abbreviated and/or adapted; indeed, there is no reason why the dialogue might not be imaginatively rewritten, simply taking elements from here and there in the original Syriac poems.
 It is not only with children that these lively dialogue poems deserve to be brought back into life again, for they could also well be used to good effect set to music once again – either employing their traditional qole (the most commonly found is ‘Amo w-’amme), or to new musical settings. It would seem that here is a wonderful opportunity for the various Suryoyo gude, or musical groups, to draw creatively on this their splendid heritage, whose roots lie in ancient Mesopotamia.
1. At the Crucifixion I beheld a marvel
when the Thief cried out to our Lord,
“Remember me, Lord, on the day when You come
to that Kingdom which does not pass away”. [Luke 23:43]
Praise to You, Lord, for at Your coming
sinners turned back from their wickedness;
they entered and found shelter
in the Garden of Eden – which is the holy Church.
2. He made a petition, stretched out and gave it
to the crucified King, asking for mercy;
and He who is full of mercy heard his cry
and opened the door to his request.
3. “Remember me, Lord”, was what he cried out on the cross,
“in that Kingdom which does not pass away, [Luke 23:43]
and in that glory in which You will be revealed
may I behold Your rest, seeing that I have acknowledged You”. [cp Luke 12:8]
4. Our Lord replied, “Since you have acknowledged me
this very day you shall be in the Garden of Eden;
in very truth, man, you will not be kept back
from that Kingdom to which you are looking.
5. “Take with you the cross as a sign, and be off:
it is a great key whereby the mighty gate
of that Garden shall be opened,
and Adam, who has been expelled, shall enter again”. [Gen. 3:24]
6. The word of our Lord was sealed
like a royal missive from the palace;
it was handed over to the thief
who took it and made off for the Garden of Eden.
7. The Cherub heard him and rushed up,
he grabbed the Thief at the gate,
stopping him with the sharp blade that he held.
All astonished, he addressed him as follows:
8. CHERUB “Tell me, my man, who has sent you?
What is it you want, and how did you get here?
What is the reason that brought you here?
Reveal and explain to me who it is who has sent you”.
9. THIEF “I will tell you who has sent me,
just hold back your blade and listen to my words.
I am a thief, but I supplicated for mercy,
and it was your Lord who sent me on my way here”.
10. CHERUB “By what powerful means did your arrival take place?
Who brought you to this dread spot?
Who transported you across the sea of fire
so that you could enter Eden? Who is it who sent you?”
11. THIEF “It was through the power of the Son, who sent me,
that I crossed over and came here without hindrance.
Through Him I subdued all powers
and I have come to enter here, seeing that He has given me confidence”.
12. CHERUB “You are indeed a thief, just as you have said,
but you can’t steal into this region of ours:
it is fenced in with the sword that guards it. [Gen. 3:24]
Turn back, my man, you have lost your way”.
13. THIEF “I was indeed a thief, but I have changed:
it was not to steal that I have come here.
Look, I’ve got with me the key to Eden,
to open it up and enter: I will not be prevented”.
14. CHERUB “Our region is awesome and cannot be trodden,
for fire is its indomitable wall;
the blade flashes out all around it.
How is it you have made so bold as to come here?”
15. THIEF “Your region is indeed awesome, just as you have said,
– but only until our Lord mounted the cross,
when He transfixed the sword of all suffering
so that your blade no longer kills”.
16. CHERUB “Ever since the time that Adam left
I haven’t ever seen anyone turn up here;
your race has been banished from the Garden;
you shall not enter it, so don’t argue any more”.
17. THIEF “Ever since the time that Adam left
your Lord has been angered at our race,
but now He is reconciled and has opened up the gate. [Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16]
It is to no purpose that you are standing here”.
18. CHERUB “You should realize that it isn’t possible
for an unclean man to enter in here
– and you are a murderer, and a shedder of blood.
Who is it who has brought you to this pure place?”
19. THIEF “You should realize that such is the wish
of Him who makes the unclean clean, who was crucified together with me;
with the blood from His side He has washed me completely clean. [John 19:34]
It was He who has sent me to Paradise”.
20. CHERUB “Be off with you, man, and don’t argue any further,
for this is what I have been ordered:
to guard from your race, by means of the sword,
the Tree of Life that is to be found in here”. [Gen. 3:22]
21. THIEF “Be off with you, angel; you should learn and see
that I’ve left behind, hanging on Golgotha,
that very Fruit of Salvation that’s in your garden
– so that our race may now enter without any hindrance”.
22. CHERUB “Eve and Adam fell into debt and wrote out
a document that will not be erased: [Col. 2:14]
they went out of here under sentence
to live in low estate in the land of thorns”. [Gen. 3:18]
23. THIEF “The debt is repaid. Just listen, O Cherub:
the document has now been transfixed on the cross; [Col. 2:14]
by means of both blood and water your Lord has wiped it out,
and pinned it there with nails so that it won’t be exacted”.
24. CHERUB “Adam was driven out from this Garden
and there is no way he can enter here again,
for the sword’s blade is revolving
and he’ll encounter it should he come near”.
25. THIEF “He who was driven out has returned to his father’s house,
for the great Shepherd has gone out and found [John 10:11]
that sheep that had left the Garden;
carrying him on His shoulders, He has escorted him back”. [Luke 15:5]
26. CHERUB “It is something totally novel that I’ve seen today:
a path leading back into the Garden.
But here are Adam’s footprints, take a look:
he has left here and not returned again”.
27. THIEF “Jesus your Lord has performed a novel deed,
for now He has released Adam who had been confined;
He has raised up whole crowds from inside Sheol, [Matt. 27:52]
and they have sent me in advance, to open up for them”.
28. CHERUB “I am the cherub: how is it you have transgressed
against my office of guarding, with which I’ve been entrusted?
A fiery being like me cannot be vanquished,
but as for you, an offspring of Adam, how bold you are!”
29. THIEF “I am your companion and we have but a single Lord
in common for both of us;
His authority is much higher than either yours or mine,
and so I’ve no fear, seeing that it was He who has sent me”.
30. CHERUB “You simply cannot enter in here,
for it is a resplendent place that no one can tread:
the Shekhina is escorted around inside it,
and the sword of fire is guarding it”.
31. THIEF “You cannot hold anyone back,
for the sword is not blunted and made dull.
The cross has opened up the Garden of Eden;
there’s no means by which it can still be kept closed”.
32. CHERUB “Haven’t you heard from the Bible
how the cherub and the sword go round
guarding the way to the Garden of Eden,
so that none of Adam’s offspring can enter here?”
33. THIEF “Haven’t you heard from the Revelation
that your Lord has come down and become man,
thus reconciling Adam, who was in a state of anger,
bringing back to Eden the one who had been driven out?”
34. CHERUB “The sign of the revolving sword
that guards the Tree of Life
frightened off Adam when he was driven out,
so how is it that you’re not afraid?”
35. THIEF “The sign of your Lord is with me,
and by it the sharp sword is blunted;
but it too is the sentence remitted,
and by it, Adam, once expelled, shall return”.
36. CHERUB “The ranks of fire are standing here,
thousands of them in bands innumerable;
the multitudes are awesome, and quite simply
you can’t travel on any further and enter among them”.
37. THIEF “The multitudinous ranks of which you’ve told me
are themselves in awe as they look upon the Cross:
the sign of the Son inspires them with awe
and they worship before it, while me they hold in honour”.
38. CHERUB “The sign of my Lord is upon the Chariot, [Is. 66:15]
resplendent upon the Throne, but from us it is hidden, [Ezek. 1:26-7]
so how is that you—as you are claiming—
carry this sign of His and escort it?”
39. THIEF “His sign is upon the Chariot above,
but look, His Cross is on Golgotha below,
and with His own blood He has written a new missive
permitting Adam to come back into the Garden”.
40. CHERUB “O agent in blood, who has brought you here?
Who is it has sent you, a murderer?
The sword is drawn, and if you make bold
the blade will flash out against you”.
41. THIEF “O agent for the King, don’t be upset;
your authority is repealed, for your Lord has willed it so.
It is His cross that I’ve brought to you as a sign:
look and see if it’s genuine, and don’t be so angry”.
42. CHERUB “This Cross of the Son which you’ve brought to me
is something I dare not look upon at all.
It is both genuine and awesome; no longer will you be debarred
from entering Eden, seeing that He has so willed it”.
43. THIEF “The Cross of your Lord has breached the fence [Eph. 2:14]
that had been built up between us and you,
Anger has passed away and peace has come,
and the path to Eden is no longer cut off”.
44. CHERUB “He who was slain has sent to me and testified with His own blood
that I should let go of the blame which I’ve been wielding.
Fearful is this sign which you have brought me;
enter in, O heir; I will not turn you back”.
45. THIEF “Resurrection has occurred for the race of humankind
that had been thrust out of their home.
You cherubim and angels, rejoice with us, [cp Luke 15:10]
for we have returned now to your city”.
46. CHERUB “Great is the compassion that has been shown to you,
the descendants of Adam who sinned and thus died.
Enter, thief, you will not be kept back,
for the gate is now open for those who repent”.
47. THIEF “Great and most glorious is the compassion of
for His mercy has effected and His love has constrained Him.
Rejoice with us, O spiritual beings,
for we have been mingled into your race”.
48. CHERUB “The Gentle One has held back from your race [Matt.11:29]
the blade and the sword that I have been wielding.
Outcasts who have returned, have no fear,
enter inside the Garden with exultation”.
49. THIEF “Praise be in Eden that is now at peace,
peace on earth which has been liberated.
Blessed is the Crucified One who has reconciled us
so that we shall not longer be deprived of your race”.
50. Thanks be to You, O Lord of all,
who have brought back Adam who had been driven out,
while to the thief who asked for mercy
You opened up the gate that had been closed.
51. Thanks be to You, at whose word
the thief entered into the Garden of Eden,
and there was good hope for Adam again
and he returned to the place from which he had gone out.
 The following are the main variants in the East Syriac manuscript tradition (edited by Sachau and Pennacchietti):
3:b ..when you will be revealed.
c ..you will come.
d (May I see) Your compassion.
8:d (explain to me) who you are.
9:a ..who are questioning me.
17:a …Adam sinned.
18:d to the place of the upright.
24:a Your race (was driven out…)
25:b the Good Shepherd
c that had strayed from the flock.
27:c ..raised up the dead.
d and He has sent me.
28:c (A fiery being) I am who..
30:b for this place may not be trodden.
b and put on a body.
c who had been driven out.
d who had been in a state of anger.
34:a The fire and the…
36:d and pass through among them.
38:b seated upon..
39:a His radiance..
42:a of Jesus.
d come and enter Eden.
43:1 of the Son.
44:d I will not make bold; enter in, O heir.
45:d we have arrive at.
46:d for those who enter in.
47:b His love willed it.
d to your assembly.
48:a The Cross..
49:d …your ranks.
50:c in (the person of) the thief.
51:d who returned.
Abbreviation: JS = P. Bedjan, Homiliae Selectae Mar-Jacobi Sarugensis, V (Paris/Leipzig, 1910), cited by page and line (other volumes of JS are cited by page alone).
1c cp JS 666:11, 15; 668:18.
2ab cp JS 666:19-20, “He (the Thief) sought from Him mercy, that He would have compassion on him in the Kingdom; / he made supplication that was full of suffering to present to Him”.
2d cp JS 666:22, “Open up the door of mercy to me so that I may enter the fair place”. And 668:21, “He opened up the great door of mercy before his petition”.
3d cp JS 668:5, “I have acknowledged You”.
4c cp JS 668:22-669:1, “Verily, verily I say to you, consider as true, O man, / that today you will rejoice with me in the Kingdom”.
5b For the Cross as a “key”, see already Ephrem, Hymns on the Resurrection II:1; in Jacob, cp JS 669:10, 670:15, 674:3 (also in his Letters, ed. Olinder, 3:19-20).
6ab For “royal missive” (saqra = Latin sacra), cp JS 669:20-21, and especially 670:4, “with His living name He would seal the royal missive (saqra) for the thief on the right hand”. Though not yet found in Ephrem, the term saqra is later frequently used to denote messages from the heavenly world to earth, above all in the context of the Annunciation. That it was a letter from Christ which the Thief took with him is a theme found in a few Greek sources, notably Romanos’ Kontakion on the Adoration of the Cross (ed. Maas-Trypanis, no 23), stanzas 10-11 (where the Thief tells the Cherub that he has with him a letter (gramma) with Christ’s seal on it; likewise in the Greek text attributed to John Chrysostom, edited by van Esbroeck, Thief tells the Cherub that “Christ has written for me a letter (epistolen)” (section 8). In the Cave of Treasures 51:23 (ed. S-M.Ri), Christ wrote with his own blood a saqra of Adam’s return and sent it by the hands of the Thief.
7d cp JS 671:2, “The Cherub met him and stood there in amazement to question him”.
8a cp JS 671:3-4, “Tell me, man, who are you? Where are you from? / How did you come over the awesome path of flame?”
9c cp JS 673:1, “I am a thief who used to go about with hateful deeds”.
10c For “sea of fire”, cp JS 670:18, 671:12, 673:21.
12c Behind the term “fenced” (sig), lies an allusion to the “fence” (syaga) of Eph. 2:14, “He has broken down the fence of hostility”. Syriac writers regularly understand this verse as referring to the “fence” keeping humanity out of Paradise, subsequent to the Fall); thus already Ephrem, Madrashe on Paradise II.7, IV.1 etc; cp JS 686:20, “He has broken down the fence, and so your standing here is redundant”.
13a cp JS 674:11, “I was a thief, but mercy captured me from (my) hateful deeds”.
14bcd cp JS 674:4-5, “And there is a wall of fire and you cannot break through the partition; / the blade of fire flares out and is fearful, and if you should be so bold…”.
17d cp JS 686:20, cited above, on 12c.
19c cp JS 674:12, “I bathed and was scoured clean of the evils with which I was befouled”.
23b The Georgian and Arabic text edited by van Esbroeck also adduces Col. 2:4 (section 12; not in his Greek text).
25bcd The Georgian and Arabic text likewise introduces the theme of the lost sheep (section 12; again absent from the Greek).
30c The term “Shekhina” (shkinta), or Divine Presence, is quite common in Syriac poets from Ephrem (e.g. Madrashe on Paradise II.11) onwards.
33b The East Syriac text, with “put on a body” almost certainly preserves the original reading here. This archaic phraseology (already found in the Acts of Thomas, Aphrahat, Ephrem, and in the earliest Syriac translation of the Nicene Creed) was subsequently disapproved of by Philoxenus in the light of the Christological controversies; it was accordingly avoided by many (but by no means all) Syrian Orthodox writers.
36a For “The ranks of fire” (sedray nura), cp JS 669:19.
40a For “man of blood”, cp JS 675:19 and 677:2.
44d cp JS 669:18, “Tell those who are lost that Adam, the heir, has returned”.
47b The phrase “His love has constrained Him” also occurs in the Soghitha on Mary and the Angel (verse 1b), and in a Soghitha attributed to Ephrem (Soghitha II.2 in E. Beck, Hymni de Nativitate): “The daughter of poor parents has become mother to the Rich One / whose love has thus constrained Him”. The same verb (‘sa) also features a number of times in Jacob’s memre (e.g. I, 507; II, 137),12 although not in that on the Cherub and the Thief, where the nearest parallel is 686:18, “He became a Mediator and pacified His Father for His love so wished it”.
1 Overviews can be found in G.J. Reinink and H.L.J. Vanstiphout (eds), Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 42; Leuven, 1991); R. Murray, “Aramaic and Syriac dispute poems and their connections”, in M.J. Geller, J.C. Greenfield and M.P. Weitzman (eds), Studia Aramaica (Journal of Semitic Studies, Supplement 4; 1995), 157-87; S.P. Brock, “The Dispute Poem: from Sumer to Syriac”, Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 1 (2001), 1-10.
2 Modern Syriac: e.g. L. Yaure, “A poem in the Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmia”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 16 (1957), 73-87 (Samovar and Boys); Modern Arabic: e.g. C.D. Holes, “The rat and the ship’s captain”, Studia Orientalia 75 (1995), 101-20.
3 Carmina Nisibena LII-LIV; English translation of LII in S.P. Brock, The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem (Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, 4; 1983), 70-72.
4 A list is given in S.P. Brock, “Syriac dispute poems: the various types”, in Reinink and Vanstiphout, Dispute Poems and Dialogues, 109-19 (reprinted in From Ephrem to Romanos (Aldershot, 1999), chap. VII (and Addenda, 4-5).
5 Whereas the Hebrew and Septuagint have the plural, Cherubim, the Peshitta has the singular.
6 Torino, 1993. On the cover will be found a reproduction of a medieval illustration of the topic (for this, see J.Leroy, “La sogitha du cherubin et du larron, source d’une miniature du manuscrit syriaque BM Add.7169”, Parole de l’Orient 6/7 (1975/6), 413-19.
7 Monastery of St Ephrem, Holland, 1982 (it features as no. 13, pp.61-5); for the contents and sources of this collection of 26 pieces, see “Syriac dialogue poems: marginalia to a recent edition”, Le Muséon 97 (1984), 29-58.
8 Sogiatha: Syriac Dialogue Hymns (Syrian Churches Series XI; Kottayam, 1987), 28-35. There is also a French translation by F. Graffin, in L’Orient Syrien 12 (1967), 481-90.
9 The East Syriac recension may also be original at 3d, 18d, 25c, 28c, 33a and 50c.
10 “Homélie éphrémienne sur le bon Larron en grec, géorgien et arabe”, Analecta Bollandiana 101 (1983), 327-62.
11 London, 1929, p.198.
12 Jacob normally prefers the verb ngad (e.g. I, 609; II, 349, 507 etc.).
Brock, S.P. “The Dispute Poem: from Sumer to Syriac”, Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 1 (2001), 1-10.
— The Harp of the Spirit: Eighteen Poems of Saint Ephrem (Studies Supplementary to Sobornost, 4; 1983), 70-72.
— Sogiatha: Syriac Dialogue Hymns (Syrian Churches Series XI; Kottayam, 1987), 28-35.
— Sughyotho Mgabbyotho, (Monastery of St Ephrem, Holland, 1982), pp. 61-5.
— “Syriac dispute poems: the various types”, in Reinink and Vanstiphout, Dispute Poems and Dialogues, 109-19 (reprinted in From Ephrem to Romanos (Aldershot, 1999), chap. VII (and Addenda, 4-5).
— “Syriac dialogue poems: marginalia to a recent edition”, Le Muséon 97 (1984), 29-58.
Graffin, F. “La soghitha du chérubin et du larron,” L’Orient Syrien 12 (1967), 481-90.
Holes, C.D. “The rat and the ship’s captain”, Studia Orientalia 75 (1995), 101-20.
Leroy, J. “La sogitha du cherubin et du larron, source d’une miniature du manuscrit syriaque BM Add.7169”, Parole de l’Orient 6/7 (1975/6), 413-19.
Murray, R. “Aramaic and Syriac dispute poems and their connections”, in M.J. Geller, J.C. Greenfield and M.P. Weitzman (eds), Studia Aramaica (Journal of Semitic Studies, Supplement 4; 1995), 157-87.
Pennacchietti, F. Il ladrone e il cherubino. Dramma liturgico cristiano orientale in siriaco e neoaramaico, (Torino: Zamorani, 1993).
Reinink, G.J. and H.L.J. Vanstiphout (eds), Dispute Poems and Dialogues in the Ancient and Mediaeval Near East (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 42; Leuven, 1991).
Sachau, E. “Über die Poesie in der Volkssprache der Nestorianer”, Sitzungsberichte der Königlich-Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin XI.8 (1896), 179-215.
van Esbroeck, M. “Homélie éphrémienne sur le bon Larron en grec, géorgien et arabe”, Analecta Bollandiana 101 (1983), 327-62.
Yaure, L. “A poem in the Neo-Aramaic dialect of Urmia”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 16 (1957), 73-87.
Dr Sebastian Brock
Traditions and Heritage of the Christian East, ed. D. Afinogenov and
A. Muraviev. Moscow: Izdatelstvo “Indrik”, 1996.
Introduction. The classic formulations of the Christology of the Church of the East are primarily to be found in the medieval compendia such as the Pearl (Marganita), by Abdisho of Nisibis (†1318), where he sets out in formulaic fashion the conflicting definitions of the three ecclesiastical communities of the Near East, the Syrian Orthodox; (Jacobites), for whom there was one kyana (ܟܝܢܐ nature) and one qnoma (ܩܢܘܡܐ hypostasis) in the incarnate Christ; the Chalcedonians (Melkites) for whom there were two kyane and one qnoma; and the Church of the East (Nestorians), who taught that there were two kyane and two qnome1 (all were agreed in one proposon). Since the origins of this formulation go back to the fifth and seventh centuries, the present paper will be confined to that formative period. Here our most important source is the collection of synods of the Church of the East, put together c.800, and generally known today as the Synodicon Orientale2. In the course of these synodical documents we have a considerable number of credal statements3; of these, the first one relevant to our purpose belongs to the year 486. In view of the paucity of other sources for the second half of the fifth century, the writings (in the form of verse homilies) of Narsai are of particular importance; several of his homilies are polemical in character and so contain many passages of christological interest4. Probably sometime after the peace with Persia near the end of Justinian`s reign, there were official discussions in Constantinople between the Greek and Persian Churches, for which a record has been preserved in a Syriac manuscript of monothelete provenance5. By far the most detailed exposition on the christology of the Church of the East from this period is the Liber de Unione by Babai the Great. (†628)6 and it was his position (advocating two qnome in the incarnate Christ) that eventually became the official teaching of the Church of the East. A number of other seventh-century Syriac writers are of relevance, notably the catholicoi Isho’yabh II7, Isho’yabh III8, and George9. Finally, mention should be made here of the florilegium of christological texts of somewhat later date, edited and translated by Abramowski and Goodman10.
Historical setting. Syriac-speaking Christianity took root outside, and to the east of, the Roman Empire from an early date, although it is only from the fourth century onwards that we begin to have reasonably good sources for the history of the Church as it developed in the Sasanian Empire11. The very fact that the Church of the East belongs geographically outside the Roman Empire had a consequence of utmost importance: since the great church councils of the Roman Empire were officially convened by the emperor, these gatherings were confined to bishops from within the Roman Empire, and so the term ecumenical in this context needs to be understood in the sense of belonging to the Roman oikoumene. Consequently these councils were of no direct or immediate concern to the Church in Persia, that is, the Church of the East. In the course of time, however, it is not surprising that the Church of the East should have expressed an opinion on the main councils that had emerged as landmarks in the history of the Church within the Roman Empire. Thus the Council of Nicaea was officially accepted by the Church of the East at a synod held in Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410 – a full eighty-five years after the Council had taken place.
At another synod held in 420 approval was given to the canons of a whole series of western councils, namely, Nicaea (for the second time!), Ancyra, Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch and Laodicea. The disorderly conduct of the Council of Ephesus, and the shabby treatment accorded to John of Antioch and his followers, naturally ensured that this Council was never received by the Church of the East12. The Council of Chalcedon was a different matter, since it was seen at least as a move in the right direction, though its doctrinal definition of faith was seen as both inadequate and illogical. The comment of the Catholicos Isho’yabh II (628-46) is typical13:
“Although those who gathered at the Synod of Chalcedon were clothed with the intention of restoring the faith, yet they too slid away from the true faith; owing to their feeble phraseology they provided a stumbling block for many. Although, in accordance with the opinion of their own minds, they preserved the true faith with the confession of the two natures, yet by their formula of one qnoma (hypostasis), it seems, they tempted weak minds. As an outcome of the affair a contradiction occurred, for with the formula of one qnoma (hypostasis) they corrupted the confession of two natures, while with the two natures they rebuked and refuted the one qnoma. Thus they found themselves standing at a crossroads, and they wavered and turned aside from the blessed ranks of the orthodox, yet they did not join the assemblies of the heretics; they both pulled down and built up, while lacking a sure foundation for their feet. On what side we should number them I do not know, for their terminology cannot stand up, as Nature and Scripture testify: for in them many qnome can be found in a single nature but it has never been the case, and it has never been heard of, that there should be various natures in a single qnoma.”
We shall be returning later to Isho’yabh’s complaint about the illogical use of the term qnoma in the Chalcedonies Definition. In the decades prior to the Council of Chalcedon, knowledge of fourth-century western synods had been brought to the synods of 410 and 420 by bishops from the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire who were also serving as imperial envoys to the Sasanian court14. At the synod of 424, however, we encounter a ban imposed on appeals to western bishops, evidently since some bishops had been appealing to them as a means of undermining the authority of the bishop of Seleucia—Ctesiphon. This left the Persian School at Edessa, so named from the many students from the Persian Empire who studied there, to become the main channel through which the Church of the East became aware of theological developments in the Roman Empire. Since the School favoured a strict dyophysite position on christology, it is not surprising that from early on in the christological disputes the Church in Persia tended to see the issues at stake from an Antiochene perspective, and to have little sympathy for the Alexandrine tradition of christology.
Furthermore, it was at the Persian School of Edessa that several works of Theodore of Mopsuestia were translated into Syriac already in the 430s. Thanks to these translations, Theodore was to become, for the Church of the East, the most influential of all the Greek Fathers in matters of theology and exegesis. Babai the Great went so far as to call him the perfect disciple of the apostles and the shrine of the Holy Spirit15. After the closure of the School of the Persians by the emperor Zeno in 489, the school was effectively transferred across the border to Nisibis. Thus, during the course of the sixth and early seventh century, when the School of Nisibis16 was at its apogee, a strict form of Antiochene christology came to be widely propagated within the Susanna Empire.
The place of the Church of the East within the theological Spectrum. All too often in the past the history of doctrine has been presented by means of a threefold model, where orthodox Chalcedon is seen as flanked on one side by heretical Monophysites and on the other by heretical Nestorians. Both modern scholarship and ecumenical dialogue have shown how perverse and misleading such a simplistic model is. It is thus of urgent importance that an alternative model, more sensitive to the gradations between the Antiochene and Alexandrine poles of the christological spectrum be adopted. For our present purposes I would propose a sevenfold model (see the accompanying table). Starting at the Alexandrine end of the spectrum the first position would be that of Eutyches, who supposedly held that Christ was consubstantial only with the Father. For this clearly heretical position one could keep the term monophysite. Very sharply to be distinguished from Eutychian position is that of Severus of Antioch and others17; this second position is of course that of the Oriental Orthodox Churches today, and this makes it all the more important avoid using, with reference to this position, the ambiguous, and hence misleading, term monophysite; I would suggest instead the term miaphysite18. The third position, as we move across the spectrum, would be that of the Neo-Chalcedonians, with their acceptance of both the Chalcedonian in two natures and the Cyrilline one incarnate nature of God the Word.
Next we have the position of silence concerning Chalcedon, represented by Zeno’s Henoticon and the Corpus of writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite. Moving over from the Alexandrine to the Antiochene christoligical tradition we have two positions which are clearly very close, firstly the strict dyophysites within the Roman Empire, represented by such people as Theodoret, the Akoimetai monks and the Roman Church, and secondly the dyophysites outside the Roman Empire – in other words, the position of the Church of the East. Then finally, we have the extreme Antiochene position, teaching two prosopa, which may or may not have been held by Nestorius.
With such a model it can readily be seen that different theological criteria will lead to different groupings. If the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of faith is taken as the yardstick of orthodoxy, then only the middle three positions are acceptable; if, however, one were to adjudicate on the basis of the combination of two other criteria of orthodoxy, namely a single subject in Christ, and Christ as consubstantial both with the Father and with humanity, then one would have much more comprehensive picture, for this would allow the inclusion of both the Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East.
Seen against this broader spectrum, then, it should begin to be clear that it is hardly satisfactory to pronounce judgment on the christological teaching of either the Church of the East or that of the Oriental Orthodox Churches solely by using the Chalcedonian Definition as the yardstick of orthodoxy. In this connection two further important points need to be remembered: first, the mode of theological discourse used at the Council of Chalcedon is by no means the only one appropriate for expressing the mystery of the Incarnation, and, secondly, the terms nature and hypostasis were open to several different understandings, and this problem of ambiguity only became more pronounced when they were translated into Syriac. It is to these problems of terminology that we should now turn.
Technical terms. In the fourth century two very different modes of theological discourse existed side by side: one, characteristic of the Greek-speaking world, was analytic in character, and during the course of the Arian controversy and its aftermath, this had adopted some of the tools of Greek philosophy; the other, more characteristic of the Syriac-speaking world, was suspicious of definitions of faith, in that these were seen as setting boundaries (fines) to, and thus attempting to contain, the Uncontainable second approach, of which Ephrem is the most prominent proponent, preferred instead to use the language of poetry, paradox and metaphor. Although in the course of the fifth century it was the Greek theological agenda and mode of discourse that dominated the scene in both languages, the other approach by no means disappeared (it survived above all in the context of liturgical poetry). As far as the Church of the East is concerned, the preservation of phraseology characteristic of this earlier Syriac tradition accounts for some of the distinctive features of its christological discourse: these features are in fact archaic survivals which had been dropped elsewhere in the Christian world, but, owing to its isolation, have been preserved in the writers of the Church in Persia. A single example will help to illustrate this.
The earliest surviving Syiac writers regularly, use as a metaphor for the incarnation, the phrase He put on the body(ܠܒܫ ܦܓܪܐ)19 and it was only natural that this phrase should have been the one chosen to render ὲσαρκώθη in the earliest Syriac translation of the Nicene Creed20. The metaphor is of course by no means confined to Syriac writers, for it can also be found in many early Greek and Latin Christian writers. In the course of the fifth century, however, this and related phraseology came to be dropped, above all by writers in the Alexandrine christological tradition, since it was considered to be open to misunderstanding; thus Philoxenos of Mabbug complained that its use in certain places in the Peshitta translation of the New Testament inclined to the position of Nestorius who cast the body on to the Word as one does a garment on to an ordinary body, or as purple is put on an emperor21 (it was because of misleading renderings such as these that Philoxenos sponsored the revision of the Syriac New Testament known by his name). Already at the Second Council of Ephesus in 449 Ibas had come under attack from his enemies for using the imagery of purple in connection with the incarnation22, yet only a few decades earlier it had been perfectly acceptable in the Doctrina Addai, Edessa’s famous foundation legend23; and before that, such language had freely been used by authoritative writers like Ephrem24. The ancient Syriac metaphor of clothing in connection with the incarnation thus only continued in widespread use in the Church of the East, and throughout the sixth and seventh centuries we find numerous reflections of it, such as the garment of humanity in Mar Aba’s Letter of 54425, or the robe of His humanity in the Synod of 57626.
The christological language of the Church of the East had an archaic flavor in another respect, as well. Over the course of the fifth to the seventh century an enormous amount of Greek patristic literature was translated into Syriac; needless to say, most of this took place in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, rather than in the Persian Empire, and so the Church of the East became aware of this material at first in chiefly through its main point of contact with the Church in the Roman Empire, namely, the Persian School in Edessa, which (as we have already seen) had already provided Syriac translations of many of Theodore of Mopsuestia’s works in the 430s. Owing to the ever-increasing influence and prestige of Greek in the Syriac-speaking Church27, translators from Greek into Syriac moved, over the course of two and a half centuries, from a rather free and paraphrastic form of translation to a more and more literal style which, by the beginning of the seventh century, aimed to reflect as many details as possible of the Greek original. This shift in translation practice can readily be observed in both biblical and patristic translations made during this period, and over the course of time the various translators developed more and more sophisticated techniques of literal translation28. Thus, in the case of Greek texts where we have two Syriac translations, the later one if often a revision of the earlier, and time and time again one can observe the reviser replacing dynamic renderings of his predecessor by formal equivalents. This process can above all be seen in the treatment of terms for the incarnation. Whereas early translators had translated ὲσαρκώθη by the standard Syriac phrase of the incarnation ܠܒܫ ܦܓܪܐ, He put on the body, in the course of the fifth century this was replaced by ܐܬܓܫܡ He was embodied, and finally by ܐܬܒܣܪ He was enfleshed, a direct calque on the Greek verb. A particularly significant innovation was the introduction of the neologism, ܐܬܒܪܢܫ He was inhominated, to render ένανθρωπέω; this seems to be associated with Philoxenos’ concern for accurate Christological terminology in Syriac, and its introduction probably belogs to c.50029. These new terms in due course became familiar to writers of the Church of the East, and are all found in Babai’s Liber de Unione; however, it is significant that, while the synod of Isho’yabh I (585) uses the terms ܐܬܓܫܢ and ܡܬܓܫܡܢܘܬܐ, Mar Aba (544) still uses the native Syriac terminology, ܐ݉ܢܫܘܬܐ ܕܠܒܫ the humanity which He put on30; the verb ܐܬܒܪܢܫ, and the noun ܡܬܒܪܢܫܢܘܬܐ inhomination, never feature the credal statements of the sixth-century synods (ܐܬܒܪܢܫ does, however, occur in the secondary East Syrian revision of the translation of the Nicene Creed).
The Greek terms physis and hypostasis, so central to the christological debates of the fifth and sixth centuries, posed their own problems, both in Greek and in Syriac. We have already seen the Catholicos Isho’yabh II complaining about the illogicality of the Chalcedonian Definition, speaking of two natures and one hypostasis31. Exactly the same complaint was made from the other end of the theological spectrum by no less a theologian than Severus of Antioch, who wrote32:
“It is obvious to all who have just a modicum of training in the teachings of true religion that it is contradictory to speak of two natures with reference to one Christ, he being on hypostasis. For whenever one speaks of one hypostasis one must necessarily also speak of one nature.”
Severus and Isho’yahb of course have two different starting points, the former with his emphasis on the oneness of the incarnate Christ, the latter with his concern for the full reality of the two natures, divinity and humanity, in the same incarnate Christ. But besides having different starting points, the two men have different understandings of what the two technical terms imply, and here the ambiguity is to be found in both Greek and in Syriac, though the latter there is a further problem, due to the say that, for Severus, physis is virtually synonymous with hypostasis, and with this understanding of the term, the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon is manifestly unsatisfactory. For Isho’yahb, however, kyana/ϕύσιϚ is far closer in sense to ousia than it is to hypostasis, and accordingly, a strict dyophysite position is essential if Christ is to be consubstantial with both the Father and with humanity. This understanding of kyana in the Church of the East was in fact bolstered by the earliest Syriac equivalent for homoousios by bar kyana, son of, i. e. belonging to, the same nature. The term ܒܪ ܟܝܢܐ remained in currency in the Church of the East long after it had generally been superseded in the us of the Syriac-speaking churches of the Roman Empire, where more literal renderings, such as ܒܪ ܐܝܬܘܬܐ of the same being, ,ܫܘܐ ܒܐܝܬܘܬܐ equal in being, ܫܘܐ ܒܘܣܝܼܐ equal in ousia had taken over33.
Although hypostasis was always rendered into Syriac as qnoma, the term qnoma has much a wider range of sense than does hypostasis, and in any discussion of the christology of the Church of the East, it would seem advisable to retain the Syriac term qnoma, rather than retrovert it as hypostasis. This is especially important when dealing with the distinctive teaching of the Church of the East which emerged in the course of the sixth century concerning the two qnome. (We shal return to this development in due course). In early Syriac qnoma simply means self, and can sometimes be translated person, as in the phrase, ܒܲܩܢܘܿܡܹܗ in his own person. It never, however, renders πρὀσωπου, and in a christological context it should never be translated person, though a number of scholars have, at least in the past, most misleadingly done so. For most writers of the Church of the East in the sixth century qnoma represents the individual example, or manifestation, of a kyana, or nature – a term which, as we have seen, they understood as having a generic or abstract sense.
Development in the texts of the fifth to seventh centuries.
Thanks to the witness of Narsai, the Synodicon Orientale and Babai, to name only the most important sources, it is possible to trace in outline the development of the christological teaching of the Church of the East in this formative period.
Narsai has a number of verse homilies which touch on christology. It is clear that these were written in the context of polemic against those who failed to keep the distinction between the divinity and humanity in the incarnate Christ. Narsai himself points out that, because of this polemical context34,
the zeal of foolish men
… has compelled me to distinguish the natures:
although I have distinguished the natures,
the glorious things from the lowly,
yet in my confession I have not made any split,
for it is in the one Son that I confess;
a single Lordship do I believe,
a single authority do I recognise,
as I worship equally
the Word and the habitation which He chose;
I acknowledge the King Who put on
the purple of the body of Adam;
I worship the Lord Who made great
our nature, together with His greatness.
(If) I have distinguished the one from the other,
this was not through division of mind,
but so that the accursed may not consider
that the Son is created, as they have imagined.
In this short passage it is easy to pick up echoes of the language of Theodore, notably in the metaphor of indwelling35. Significant, too, is the reappearance of two archaic features, the term body of Adam to describe Christ’s human nature, and the imagery of a king putting on a purple robe to portray the process of the incarnation.
Later on in the same homily Narsai specifically rejects any idea that there are two prosopa in the incarnate Christ36:
Let not the hearer suppose
by the fact that I have distinguished the natures
that I am speaking of two prosopa
which are distant from one another.
I am talking of one prosopon,
of the Word and the temple he chose (cf. John 2:21),
and I confess one Son,
but I preach in two natures:
the venerated and glorious nature of the Word,
the Being (ܐܝܼܬܝܐ) from His Father,
and our nature which He took
in accordance with the promises He made.
Perfect in His divinity,
for He is equal with His Begetter,
and complete in His humanity,
with soul and body of mortal beings.
Two that became, in the union,
a single love and a single will…
A point of contention between the Antiochene and Alexandrine christological positions lay in the interpretation of John 1:14, the Word became flesh and tabernacle in us. To theologians in the Antiochene tradition, any idea that the Word became, i.e. changed into, flesh, was anathema; instead, Narsai paraphrases the beginning of the verse as there came into being flesh, and He (the Word) dwelt (ܥܡܪ) in us; he then comments, it was not that (the Word) was lowered to a state of coming into being (ܠܘ ܠܗܘܝܐ ܐܬܗܬܝ),… but that He fashioned (lit. composed) for Himself flesh, and dwelt (ܥܡܪ) in His good will37. It is interesting to note that a centur or so later babai reiterates this interpretation in his Liber de Unione38.
There were two main reasons for Narsai’s rejection of the Alexandrine interpretation of John 1:14; in the first place, by imputing change to the Word it failed to preserve the utter transcendence of the divinity (that is why, at the end of the first passage quoted, Narsai accuses his opponents of holding that the Son is created). But perhaps even more important is Narsai’s soteriological concern, which comes out in another homily39:
If the Word became flesh,
let us enquire whose flesh it was:
did He bring it down with Him from the height,
or is it the flesh of a human being?
If He Himself (ܒܲܩܢܘܿܡܹܗ) became flesh,
and He did not take flesh from Mary,
what did His becoming flesh in what belonged to Him (ܒܕܝܼܠܹܗ)
help our (human) nature?
…how were mortals benefitted
by the Word Who became flesh,
Seeing that He came flesh in His own nature (ܒܲܟܝܵܢܹܗ),
while our nature remained in its low estate.
For Narsai (and the tradition of the Church of the East in general) salvation is effected through the assumed human nature of the incarnate Christ, and so it is essential to keep this nature distinct from the divinity if salvation is going to be effective for humanity. As we shall see, the Alexandrine christological tradition has a different conception of how salvation is effected in Christ.
It is not possible to give any precise dating to Narsai’s homilies, but presumably they will belong to the last decades of the fifth century. The first synod of the Church of the East subsequent to the Council of Chalcedon whose doctrinal statement survives is that of 48640. The language is strictly dyophysite, confessing the two natures, of the divinity and of the humanity, while none of us shall dare to introduce mixture, mingling of confusion into the differences of these two natures, though there is a single Lordship and a single (object of) worship. The union of the two natures is described as a nqiputa (corresponding to Greek synapheia). Anathema is pronounced on all who teach that suffering and change apply to (lit. attach to) the divinity of our Lord, and on all who fail to preserve, with respect to the unione of the prosopon of our Saviour, a confession of perfect God and perfect Man. As in Narsai, so here we can observe the unmistakable influence of Theodore of Mopsuestia, and the same concern to maintain the separate identity of the humanity and the divinity. I have quoted from the credal statement of this synod of 486 in some detail, since in most western textbooks the unwary student is told that it was at this synod that the Church of the East adopted Nestorianism41. Such an interpretation of the synod’s statement of faith can only be described as perverse and utterly misleading.
The short statement of the synod of 55442 reaffirms that we preserve the characteristics (ܕܝܠܝܬܐ, corresponding to ἰδιότητεϚ) of the natures, thereby getting rid of confusion, disturbance, alteration and change. At the same time, anyone who speaks of two Christs or two Sons, is anathematized. In subsequent credal statements we find such phrases as single union of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, Jesus Christ in the unification of His natures (Synod of 585)43, in an indivisible union, prosopic union (confession of faith by Isho’yahb I)44, (the divinity and the humanity are united in a true union of the one person (πρὀσωπου) of the Son, Christ (Synod of 605)45, the wonderful conjunction (ܢܩܦܐ) and inseparable union that took place from the very beginning of the fashioning (Assembly of bishops in 612)46. Significantly, the term qnoma in these credal statements of the sixth century is confined to a Trinitarian context (thus in the Letter of Mar Aba (544), the synods of 576, 585, 596, 605), and it is only in the document produced by the assembly of bishops that we first find the term qnoma used in a christological context, in the phrase the qnoma of His humanity47 – to be joined, in a related document, by its counterpart qnoma of the divinity48. This second document (which constitutes a reply to the theological opponents) also contains the phrase Christ is two natures and two qnome. It is to this development that I now turn.
The teaching of two qnome is primarily associated with the theologian Babai the Great49, and it was probably under his influence that we find this phraseology in the document of 612. For Babai, qnoma certainly does not have the sense of self-existent hypostasis. It is significant that the phrase he most frequently used is the two natures and their qnome. For him kyana, nature is the abstract, i.e. divinity, humanity, while qnoma is the individual instance of a particular kyana, an individuated nature. Such a qnoma does not necessarily have to exist independently, and in the case of Christ this is definitely not the case: here the qnoma of the divinity is Christ’s divinity, and the qnoma of the humanity is Christ’s humanity. Babai emphasizes on a number of occasions that these two qnome have been united since the very moment of conception of the one Son50.
It is unclear how this teaching concerning the two qnome emerged as the official doctrine of the Church of the East: it certainly did not originate with Babai (who improbably claimed it went back to Theodore of Mopsuestia). In any case qnome already feature in the report of the theological discussions with the Chalcedonians in Constantinople, arranged by Justinian (probably soon after 561)51, and a possible earlier witness is to be found in Homily 17, attributed to Narsai52. Though the attribution to Narsai cannot stand53, it is very possible that the homily belongs to the sixth century. In Babai’s own time there were certainly opposition to the formula of two qnome, as we know from the controversies surrounding Hnana, head of the School of Nisibis, and Sahdona, bishop of Mahoza d-Arewan (in Beth Garmai)54, furthermore, Babai recognized that many former Fathers had used qnoma in the sense of parsopa, and that this was still the case, so they say, in Byzantine territory; this, however, he goes on, should be avoided, in order to counter theopaschite teaching55.
Soteriology. Two main concerns can be identified as underlying the Church of the East’s insistence on duality in Christ, and its firm distinction between the two natures. First is the concern to maintain the utter transcendence of the divinity, and the abhorrence of the idea that suffering could touch the divinity (here it should be noted that suffering, hasha/πάθοϚ, evidently had overtones of fallen human nature for them). More important from our present point of view, is the second concern, which is a soteriological one. This concern has already come to our notice in the third of the passages quoted from Narsai. Exactly the same concern emerges clearly from a Letter on christology written c.68O by the Catholicos George56
“If Christ had not been truly human and accepted death in His humanity for our sake, – being innocent of sin – and had not God Who is in Him raised Him up, it would not have been possible for us sinners, condemned to death, to acquire hope of resurrection from the dead; for if it had been God who died and rose – in accordance with the wicked utterance of the blasphemers – then it would only be God, and those who are innocent, like Him, who would be held worthy of the resurrection, and He would have provided assurance of resurrection only to those who were consubstantial with Him (ܒܢܝ ܟܝܢܗ), and not to our guilty mortal nature.”
From these, and other passages, it is clear that, for the theologians of the Church of the East, salvation was effected for humanity through the human nature of Christ (expressed sometimes as ܒܪܢܫܐ the Man, rather than ܐ݉ܢܫܘܬܐ humanity): this was raised up in glory (Babai indeed Says, divinized)57 at the resurrection. Given this model, it is obvious that it is essential to lay the emphasis on the duality of the natures in Christ; at the same time, it becomes readily understandable why the Church of the East had such a horror of the Cyrilline teaching of the one incarnate nature of God the Word, seeing that this would wreck the hope of salvation for humanity. The Alexandrine conception of how salvation for humanity is effected was, of course, quite different: for them, what was essential was to express the full reality of the incarnation of God the Word, for what is not assumed is not saved. As a consequence of this understanding of salvation it was necessary to emphasize the aspect of oneness in Christ, since duality implied that God the Word had not become fully Man. For both poles of the christological spectrum Christ was completely God and completely Human, and consubstantial both with the Father and with humanity, but because they had two quite different conceptual models of how salvation for humanity was effected by Christ, they necessarily adopted two different christological formulations that on the surface are mutually contradictory, but which, at a much deeper level, were both trying to express, from different standpoints, the same ineffable mystery. If one keeps in mind the Church of the East’s view of how salvation is effected, it furthermore becomes obvious why the term θεοτοκοϚ/ܝܠܕܬ ܐܠܗܐ never came to be adopted in this Church: since salvation comes through the humanity, taken by God the Word from the Virgin, it is hardly appropriate to speak of her giving birth to God, since this would at best obscure, at worst imply the denial of, the reality of human salvation. With the Alexandrine understanding of salvation, on the other hand, the title simply emphasizes the full reality of the incarnation of God the Word, and so is entirely fitting.
Nestorius? I have deliberately left the question of Nestorius to the end of my paper. Already in the Middle Ages Abdisho complains about the injustice of the designation of the Orientals as Nestorians, pointing out that Nestorius was not their patriarch, and they did not know his language58. A very similar point was made by the present Catholicos, Mar Dinkha, at his consecration (in London) in1976: Nestorius was a Greek, and has nothing directly to do with the Church of the East.
In the theological polemic of the fifth and sixth centuries the term Nestorian was used as a way of denigrating one’s opponent, and to the miaphysites all dyophysites tended to be seen as Nestorians, or at best, crypto-Nestorians. It was a means of condemning by association, and accordingly the term in texts of that period meant little more than dyophysite, or at most, strict dyophysite. The question of Nestorius’ own teaching, of such great interest to modern scholars59, is actually of very little relevance to the Church of the East, for whom Nestorius is primarily a symbolic figure of someone who was a martyr to the Antiochene christlogical cause. This can be clearly seen from the earliest document from the Church of the East to refer to him, the verse homily on the Three Doctors by Narsai60. The three doctors in question are Diodore, Theodore and Nestorius. Narsai clearly knows something about Diodore, quite a lot about Theodore (whom he had clearly read in Syriac translation), but extremely little about. Nestorius. The only work of Nestorius to get into Syriac was his second apology, the Liber Heracleidis61, and this was only translated c.540 and had little influence on any Syriac writer apart from Babai. Nestorius does not receive a single mention in any of the fifth and sixth-century synods of the Church of the East, and the Anaphora under his name certainly does not belong to him.
Thus there exist two conflicting conceptions of Nestorius and Nestorianism: on the one hand, for both the Chalcedonian Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches Nestorius has traditionally been seen as an arch-heretic who preached two prosopa in Christ, while for the Church of the East he was little more than a name to be honoured on the grounds that he had suffered at Cyril`s hand for the cause of the Antiochene dyophysite christological tradition. Whatever may be the truth about the nature of Nestorius’ teaching, it is clear that the term Nestorian, like the term Monophysite, is open to two very different understandings, and so serves as an open invitation to misunderstanding. Accordingly it would seem imperative to drop both terms in connection with the non-Chalcedonian Churches to which they traditionally, and opprobriously, been applied by the Churches in the Chalcedonian tradition.
In modern times ecumenical dialogue between the Chalcedonies and non-Chalcedonian Churches has primarily been concentrated on discussions with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that is, those belonging to the Alexandrine end of the christological spectrum. In this area notable advances in removing past misunderstandings on each side over the other’s christological teaching. The Church of the East, representing the opposite end of the spectrum, has, by contrast, been rather left out of consideration62. In very recent years, however, some attention has been paid to this matter in the Middle East Council of Churches (of which the Church of the East has not yet been accepted as a member), and the Pro Oriente Stiftung in Vienna has now initiated informal consultations on the christology of the Church of the East, at which representatives of all the Churches of Syriac liturgical tradition are present. A number of significant papers were presented at Pro Oriente’s consultation held in Vienna last June, and it is to be hoped that future meetings will continue to remove misunderstandings in due course produced concrete results.
1 `Abdisho`. Marganita III.4; the text is given in Assemani J. S. Bibliotheca Orientals, III.1, Rome, 1725. p. 354-355. In both Assemani`s Latin and in the English translation by Badger G.P. The Nestorians and their Rituals. Vol. II, L., 1852, p. 399-400, qnoma is most misleadingly translated as person. Regrettably this perverse rendering has also been adapted by certain more recent western scholars as well.
2 Edited with French translation by Chabot J. B. Synodicon Orientale. P., 1902. There is also a German translation by Brown O. Das Buch der Synhados oder Synodicon Orientale. Stuttgart-Wien. 1900 (reprinted Amsterdam, 1975). An English translation by M.J. Birnie is in preparation.
3 An English translation of these is provided in my: The Christology of the Church of the East in the Synods of the fifth to early seventh centuries // G. Dragas (ed.), Aksum-Thyateira; a Festschrift for Archbishop Methodios. L., 1985, p. 125-142, reprinted in my: Studies in Syriac Christianity. L., 1992, ch. XII.
4 Particularly relevant here are the Homilies on the Nativity, Epiphany, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, edited with an English translation by F.G. McLeod in Patrologia Orientalis 40.1 (1979). Two other important homilies, no. 56 on the Dedication of the Church, and no. 81 on John 1:14, are available only in the rare photographic edition published by the Patriarchal Press (San Francisco, 1970), I, p. 581-95, and II, p. 206-18; an analysis of the homily on John 1:14, by J. Frishman, is shortly to be published in The Harp (Kottayam).
5 Edited with French translation by Guillaumont A. Justinien et l`Eglise de Perse // Dumbarton on Oaks Papers 23/24. 1969/70, p. 39-66.
6 Edited with Latin translation by A.Vaschalde, CSCO 79-80 = Scriptores Syri 34- 35 (1915). There is a very helpful general presentation of Babai’s christology by a Syro-Malankara scholar: Chediath G. The Christology of Mar Babai the Great, Kottayam, 1982; and important discussions by L. Abramowski in her; Die Christologie Babais des Grossen // [I] Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 197), 1974, p. 219-245; and Babai der Grosse; christologische Probleme und ihre Losungen // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 41, 1975, p. 290-343. Unfortunately there are no reliable extant sources for the christological teaching of Babai`s theological opponent, Hnana.
7 Edited with French translation by Sako L. Lettre christologique du Patriarche syro-oriental Isho’yahb II de Gdala. Rome, 1983. Also of interest is the case of Maryrius, or Sahdona, who was deposed from his see as a result of his Christological teaching: see de Halleux A. La christologie de Martyrios/Sahdona dans l’evolution du nestorianisme // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 23, 1957. p. 5-32.
8 Edited with Latin translation by R. Duval. Isho’yahb Patriarch. Liber Epistularum, CSCO 11-12 = Scriptores Syri 11-12 (1905). Isho’yahb III follows Babai in his Christology.
9 Letter to Mina, edited with Latin translation by J.B. Chabot, Synodicon Orientale (Paris, 1902),
p. 227-244 (tr. 490-514).
10 Edited with English translation by Abramowski L. and Goodman A. A Nestorian collection of Christological Texts, I-II Cambridge, 1972.
11 The standard work on the early history of the Church of the East remains Labourt J. Le christianisme dans l`empire perse sous la dynastie sassanide. P., 1904; supplemented by: Fiey J.-M. Jalons pour une histoire de l`église en Iraq // CSCO 310 (1970). A helpful general survey can he found in: Young W. G. Patriarch Shah, and Caliph. Rawalpindi, 1974. There is also a brief overview in my; Christians in Sasanian Empire: a case of divided loyalties// Studies in Church History 18, 1982, p. 1-19; reprinted in: Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity. L., 1984, ch. VI
12 There is an interesting study of this Council by a metropolitan of the Church of the
East, Mar Aprem, The Council of Ephesus (Trichur, 1978). For an important study by A. de Halleux on the first session of the Council, see his: La premiere session du Concile d’Ephese (22 juin 431) // Ephemerides THeologicae Lovanienses 59, 1993, p. 48-87.
13 Ed. Sako [n. 7], sections 42—49.
14 For this role of bishops, see Garsoian N. Le role de l’hierarchie chrétienne dans les rapports diplomatiques entre Byzance et les Sassanides // Revue des Etudes Armeniennes, NS 10, 1973, p. 119-38, reprinted in her: Armenia Between Byzantium and the Sassanians. L., 1985, ch. VIII; and Sako L. Le role de la hierarchie syriaque orientale dans les rapports diplomatiques entre le Perse et Byzance aux Ve-VIIe siècles. P., 1986).
15 Liber De Unione, p. 246.
16 On the School of Nisibis, see especially: Voobus A. The School of Nisibis // CSCO, Subsidia 26, 1965; also Wolska W. La topographie chretienne de Cosmas Indicopleustes. Theologie et science au. Vle siècle. P., 1962, ch. II Cosmas et l’ecole de Nisibe
17 These from the beginning have regularly condemned Eutyches’ position.
18 Or the more anglicized form henophysite (by analogy with henotheist), which I have used in: The Christology of the Church of the East…[n. 3].
19 See my: Clothing metaphors as a means of theological expression in Syriac tradition // M. Schmidt (ed.). Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den ostlichen Vatern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter. Regensburg, 1982, p. 11-38, reprinted in my Studies in Syriac Christinaity. L., 1992, ch. XI.
20 See Gribomont J. Le symbole de foi de Seleucie-Ctesiphon (410) // R.H. Fischer (ed.)., A Tribute to Arthur Voobus. Chicago, 1977, p. 283-294; and de Halleux A. Le symbole des eveques perses au synode de Seleucie-Ctesiphon (410) // G. Wiessner (ed.)., Erkenntnisse und Meinungen II (Gottinger Orientforschungen, Reihe Syriaca, 17), 1978, p. 161-190.
21 Philoxene de Mabbog. Commentaire du prologue johannique / ed. A. de Halleux; CSCO 380, Scriptores Syri 165, 1977, p. 53. For the background, see my: The resolution of the Philoxenian/Harklean problem // New Testament Textual Criticism: Essays in Honour of B.M. Metzger. Oxford, 1981, p. 325-343.
22 Flemming J. Akten der Ephesinischen Synode vom Jahre 449 Syrisch (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissnschaften in Gottingen, phil.-hist. KI., NF 15,1, Berlin, 1917, repr. Gottingen, 1970, S. 46.
23 Phillips G. the Doctrine of Addai. L., 1876, p. 19/20* (the English translation misleadingly renders argwana as vestment, rather than purple). On the Edessene milieu to which the Doctrine of Addai belongs, see my: Historical fiction in the fifth-century Edessa. The Teaching of Addai and some related texts // forthcoming in the proceedings of the Syriac Symposium held at Brown University in 1991.
24 E.g. Hymns on the Nativity 21:5, Hymns on Faith 91:2.
25 Synodicon Orientale, ed. Chabot [n. 2], p. 542; English translation [n. 3], p. 135.
26 Synodicon Orneitale, p. 113; English translation, p. 136. In his Liber de Unione [n. 6] Babai points out that the image of a garment and its wearer was intended to illustrate the voluntary character of the conjunction of the two natures, (p. 233), and to point to the existence of two kyane (p. 241).
27 I have tried to sketch out this development in my: From antagonism to assimilation: Syriac attitudes to Greek learning // N. Garsoian, T. Matthews and R. Thomson (eds.)., East of Byzantium: Syriac and Armenia in the Formative Period. Washington DC, 1982, p. 17-34, reprinted in my: Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, ch. V.
28 See for further details my: Towards a history of Syriac translation // III Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 221), 1983, p. 1-14, reprinted in my: Studies in Syriac Christianity, ch. X.
29 See de Halleux A. La philoxenienne du symbole // II Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 205), 1978, p. 295-415; also Gribomont J. La catechese de Severe d’Antioche et le Credo // Parole de l’Orient 6/7, 1975/6, p. 125-158.
30 Babai uses the rlated phrase lbesh ‘nashutan, He put on our humanity (Liber de Unione, p. 48), though elsewhere he normally uses terminology of Greek origin.
31 See note 13.
32 Severi Antiocheni orations ad Nephalium / ed. J. Lebon, CSCO 119, Scriptores Syri 64, 1949, p. 16.
33 Thus Babai normally uses bar kyana (Liber de Unione, p. 202, 207, 264, etc.); bar kyaneh, alongside bar ituteh, features in the Synod of 585.
34 Narsai, Homily 56 (ed. Patriarchal Press), I, p. 594.
35 E.g. in his Commentary on John / ed. J.B. Chabot, CSCO 115 Scriptores Syri 62, 1940, p. 33. The phraseology also occurs in the Letter of Ibas, a document accepted at the Council of Chalcedon.
36 Narsai, Homily 56 (ed. Patriarchal Press), I, p. 588-589.
37 Narsai, Homily 81 (ed. Patriarchal Press), II, p. 209.
38 Babai, Liber de Unione, p. 126. Philoxenos polemicizes against this exegesis on a number of occasions; see further my: From Annunciation to Pentacost: the travels of a technical term // Eulogema: Studies in Honor of Robert Taft SJ (Studia Anselmiana 110), 1993, p. 71-91, esp. p. 75-76.
39 Narsai, Homily 81 (ed. Patriarchal Press), II, p. 212
40 Synodicon Orientale [n. 2], p. 54-55; English translation [n. 3], p. 133-134. W. Macomber, in his: The christology of the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon AD 486 // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 24, 1958, p. 142-154, tends to interpret the phraseology inmalam partem, though he has to concede that it is also true that the words used can be taken as materially orthodox.
41 Thus even so great a scholar as W. de Vries, in his: Die syrisch-nestorianische Haltung zu Chalkedon // Das Konzil von Chalkedon, I, Wurzburg, 1951, S. 603, wrote Das offizielle Annahme des Nestorianismus durch die persische Kirche geschah auf der Synode von Seleukia des Jahres 486.
42 Synodicon Orientale, p. 97; English translation, p. 135.
43 Synodicon Orientale, p. 134; English translation, p. 136.
44 Synodicon Orientale, p. 195; English translation, p. 138-139.
45 Synodicon Orientale, p. 201; English translation, p. 140.
46 Synodicon Orientale, p. 565; English translation, p. 141.
47 Synodicon Orientale, p. 567; English translation, p. 141.
48 Synodicon Orientale, p. 575; English translation, p. 142.
49 See the literature cited in n. 6.
50 Thus Liber de Unione, p. 59f., 88f.
51 See n. 5; for a discussion of the date, see Lee A. D. Evagrius, Paul of Nisibis and the problem of loyalties in the mid-sixth century // Journal of Ecclesastical History 44, 1993, p. 569-585, esp. p. 576-577.
52 A. Mingana omits the passage in his edition (I, p. 282), but mentions it in his introduction, p. 10 n. 2: Two natures, it is said, and two qonme is our Lord, in one prosopon of the divinity and the humanity. Cp also the English translation by R. H. Connolly, The Liturgical Homilies of Narsai. Cambridge, 1909, p. 14.
53 See my: Diachronic aspects of Syriac word formation: an aid for dating anonymous texts // V Symposium Syriacum (Orientalia Christiana Analecta 236), 1990, p. 321-330, esp. p. 327-328. It is in fact possible to see from a passage of genuine Narsai how the two qnome teaching could have arisen in Syriac writers: in the Homily on the Nativity (ed. McLeod), lines 413-144, Narsai writes, with reference to John 1:14, It is possible for one to tabernacle in another in perfect love, but how is it possible for one to tabernacle in himself/in his/qnoma?.
54 For Sahdona, see the reference in note 7. The general context of the development of the two qnome teaching is well brought out by Reinink G. Tradition and the formation of the “Nestorian” identity in 6th-7th century Iraq // forthcoming in the proceedings of the Fourth Workshop (London, 1994) on Late Antiquity and Early Islam. At an unknown date the text of the Chalcedonian Definition of faith was tacitly altered so that it incorporated the Church of the East’s two qnome doctrine: see de Halleux A. // La falsification du symbole de Chalcadoine dans le Synodicon nestorien // Melanges offerts e J. Dauvillier. Toulouse, 1979, p. 375-384.
55 Babai, Liber de Unione, p. 305-306.
56 Synodicon Orientale, p. 237. The curious imagery of Christ’s body as a hostage which can be traced back to Aphrahat and Ephrem, likewise points to the central importance of Christ’s human nature in the Church of the East’s conception of salvation; for detals, see my: Christ “the Hostage”: a theme in the East Syriac liturgical tradition and its origin // H. C. Brennecke, E. L. Grasmuck and C. Markschies (eds.), Logos: Frestschrift fur Luise Abramowski (Beihefte zur ZNW 67), 1993, p. 472-485.
57 Babai. Liber de Unione…, p. 299.
58 See reference in n. 1.
59 An important recent study is given by de Halleux A. Nestorius. Histoire et doctrine // Irenikon 56, 1993, p. 38-51, 163-77.
60 Edited with French translation by F. Martin in Journal Asiatique IX.4 (1899), p. 446-492, and IX.15 (1900), p. 469-525.
61 On the various documents, not all by Nestorius, in the Liber Heracleidis, see Abramowski L. Untersuchungen zum Liber Heraclidis des Nestorius // CSCO, Subsidia 22, 1963.
62 An excellent and perceptive study of the christology of the Church of the East from an Orthodox point of view is given by D. Miller, in the Epilogue to The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Boston, 1984, p. 481-541.
By H.G. Dr. Mar Awa Royel
Bishop of California and Secretary of the Holy Synod
Reverend clergy, friends and dear enthusiasts of the Jingjiao. It is a great privilege for me to stand here before you at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and address you concerning the history of the Assyrian Church of the East and its evangelization of the great Chinese people. I believe our visit these days is record-making, and for us to travel in the footsteps of our ancient spiritual forefathers, it is breath-taking. I’m sure the history of the evangelization of China by the Church of the East is well known to all of you, probably than it is to us. However, I stand here as a descendent of the great forefathers of the Jingjiao who first came to this blessed land in the early half of the seventh century of the Christian era, bearing the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Good News to the Chinese, among them the bishop Alopen, the chor-bishop Adam, etc. In advance, I thank you for the courtesy afforded for me to address you, and I would like to thank the friends and staff of the Institute of Sino-Christian Studies for their magnanimous task of arranging our visit and sojourn in Hong Kong this week.
The first evangelizers who introduced the Christian faith to the Chinese people were the apostles of the Church of the East. The Christian faith of the Assyrian Church of the East was referred to in the Chinese records as the ‘Luminous Religion’ or ‘Jingjiao’ (景教). The imperial Chinese records recount that in the year 635 AD the illustrious and virtuous ‘Alopen’ (according to P.Y. Saeki ‘Abraham’) arrived in Ch’an-An, or according to the ‘Nestorian monument’ Kumdan (later called ‘Hsi-an’) from the country of Syria, or Ta’chin. Emperor Tai-tsung (founder of the Tang Dynasty, 618-907 AD) accorded the Christian teacher from the East every respect and sent his prime minister by the name of Fang Hiuen-ling to conduct the visitor inside. The Scriptures which Alopen had translated were deposited in the imperial library, and after having examined the faith contained therein, the emperor gave orders that the ‘Luminous Religion’ of Alopen be spread in all the realm. Thus, in July of 638 AD the emperor decreed:
“Right principles have no invariable name, holy men have no invariable station; instruction is established in accordance with the locality, with the object of benefiting the people at large. The greatly virtuous Alopen, of the kingdom of Syria, has brought his sacred books and images from that distant part, and has presented them at our chief capital. Having examined the principles of this religion, we find them to be purely excellent and natural; investigating its originating source, we find it has taken its rise from the establishment of important truths; its ritual is free from perplexing expressions, its principles will survive when the framework is forgotten; it is beneficial to all creatures; it is advantageous to mankind. Let it be published throughout the empire, and let the proper authority build a Syrian church in the capital in the I-ning May, which shall be governed by twenty-one priests. When the virtue of the Chau dynasty declined, the rider on the azure ox ascended to the west; the principles of the great Tang becoming resplendent, the illustrious breezes have come to fan the East.”
The successive emperor Kausung reiterated the toleration edict of Tai-tsung, and gave Alopen the title: “Great Conservator of Doctrine for the Protector of the Empire.” The arrival of Alopen from Persia into the empire in 635 AD was probably due to the fact that Tang had conquered Turkestan in 630 and re-opened the ancient trade rout with the West. This occurred during the patriarchate of Mar Isho’yahb II Gdalaya [‘the Arab’], who ruled as catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East from 628 to 644 AD.
The ‘Nestorian Monument of China,’ as it is popularly called (or Jingjiaobei in Chinese, for ‘Nestorian tablet’) was composed by the Priest Adam (= Jing-Jing) and erected on the seventh day of the First Month in the year 781 AD by the presbyter and chor-bishop Yazdebozid of Kumdan (referred to as the capital city, and the name given by the Arabs) to commemorate the centenary of the evangelization of the fathers of the Church of the East who arrived in China in the mid 630’s of the Christian era. This presbyter is referred to as “Adam the presbyter and chor-bishop and papish (a hapaxlegomenon in the Syriac tongue!) of Sinistan.” It is recorded to have been erected during the patriarchate of Mar Khnanisho II (774-778/779 AD), who is credited with transferring the patriarchal seat of the Church of the East from Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Baghdad, which was founded as the seat of the Abbasid caliphate dynast (being transferred from Damascus) in 762 AD by the Caliph Abbas ibn Abul-Muttalib. The names of some 70 Assyrian missionaries are inscribed in the Syriac tongue, along with an almost 2,000 word description of their luminous teaching and theology. The stele further records the arrival of another group of 17 missionaries in the year 744 AD from Ta Ch’in (that is, ‘Syria’ or ‘Mesopotamia’).
Originating from this period, nine Chinese manuscripts and two Syriac manuscripts were found in a cave (which was sealed around the year 1036 and discovered in about 1908 and edited by the French scholar Paul Pelliot) in Dun-huang, one dating to the year 641 AD and the other 717 AD. These documents (in both Chinese and Syriac) were translated and edited by the late sinologue Prof. P.Y. Saeki in his famous The Nestorian Relics and Documents in China (Tokyo 1951), and re-examined by Max Deeg in his article “Towards a new translation of the Chinese Nestorian Documents from the Tang Dynasty” – Salzburg, 2003). These documents, essentially a collection of discourses or what some have called sutras, contain theological explanations of the Christian faith as explicated by the early band of evangelizers headed by the famed Alopen. The first, dated to 641 AD, is titled ‘The Lord of the Universe’s Discourse on Alms-Giving.’ A group of three manuscripts, dated to 635-638 AD are ‘The Jesus Messiah Discourses (Sutras),’ among others. These Chinese documents were had by two Japanese scholars in the years 1916 and 1922 respectively, and were housed in Kyoto, Japan. Later, in an imperial proclamation of 745 AD, the faith of the Nestorian Jingjiao was referred to as “the Persian religion (styled Bosijiao) of the Scriptures, starting from Ta-Ch’in with men coming to preach and practice, has long existed in the Middle Kingdom” (= China). A very important source subsequent to the erection of the Nestorian monument is the Book of Governors, of Thomas the bishop of Marga, writing around the year 840 AD. Thomas mentions a certain monk by the name of David from the monastery of Beth ‘Awe was made metropolitan of the Beth Sinaye (i.e. Chinese) in the late eighth century.
The famous tablet was buried in about the year 845 AD, when the emperor Wu-Tsung ordered an edict outlawing any foreign religion or teaching in the land. During that period of suppression, it is recorded than almost 2,000 Nestorian and Zoroastrian (‘Ta Ch’in and Mu-hu Hsien) existed at the time; the edict further enforced the destruction of all monasteries (especially Buddhist ones) and the return of the monastics to secular life.
At that moment, the Church of the East, as all of the other eastern religions in China, had entered a decadent period. The work of evangelization had been renewed (according to some Arabic sources) around the year 980 when monks began to be sent to China by the patriarch at Baghdad once again. It is further recorded that the catholicos-patriarch Makikha I bar Shlemon (1092-1109) appointed a certain George as bishop of Cathay in 1093 AD. The famous tablet was not to see the light of day until 1625 AD, when it was re-discovered by a Jesuit priest in ‘Kuan-chung’, some 30 miles from Hsian-fu.
The missions of the Church of the East into Central Asia are equally well-known. The Syriac Chronica Minora (ca. 680 AD) describes how in 644 AD numerous Turk tribes (beyond the river Oxus) came to the Christian faith through the missionary activities of Mar Elia, the metropolitan of Merw; in fact, there might have already been Christians among the Turks who were taken prisoner by the Byzantine emperor Maurice in 581 AD. We find an early attestation to a certain “bishop of the Turks (Turkestan – the area east of the Oxus River) in the Life of Mar Aba, a document dated to 549 AD. Already by 781, the Catholicos-Patriarch Timothy I (781-823) in his Letter to the Monks of Mar (St.) Maron indicates that a king of the Turks (Khagan) had converted to the Christian faith (Church of the East) from idolatry, and the king had requested that the patriarch send them a metropolitan to over the faithful there. In one of his letters To Sergius, the patriarch mentions that he has already consecrated the metropolitan in question per the request of the king, and that he ordaining one for Tibet as well (“in these days the Holy spirit had consecrated a metropolitan for the Turks, and we are preparing to ordain one for the Tibetans”). During Timothy’s time, it is related that through the agency of Mar Abdisho the metropolitan of Merw, some 200,000 Tartars along with their prince were converted to the Christian faith of the Church of the East from paganism. By the end of the first millennium, the five major powers of the Turko-Tartars had already been Christianized through the agency of Nestorian clergy: the Kerait, Naiman, Ouïgour, Öngüt and the Merkites; the Turko-Mongol tribe Uriyan-gakit was also Christianized by then.
The theology of the Nestorian stele is quite intriguing, as it proposes theological terminology that is distinct to the Chinese Christians of the Church of the East. The Three-in-One God’ (san i ching feng) is referred to as Aluohe (modern Mandarin pronunciation); the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as Mishihe; the adversary of man, who deceived him, is referred to as Sadan (Satan), and the eastern region or Syria is referred to as Da Qin. Other aspects of the faith referred to on the stone tablet is that Mishihe returned to heaven and left 27 scriptures behind him (that is, the books of the New Testament), and that his ministers bear the Sign of the Cross and teach love and charity in the world, they have long beards and shave their foreheads (the monastic tonsure), hold both poor and rich equally, worship towards the East, pray seven times a day, and on Sunday hold a special service to purify themselves spiritually. The Nestorian stele states:
“The twenty-seven standard works of his sutras were preserved. The great means of Conversion were widely extended, and the sealed Gate of the blessed life was unlocked. His Law is to bathe with water and with the Spirit, and thus to cleanse from all vain delusions and to purify men until they regain the whiteness of their nature. His ministers carry the Cross with them as a sign. They travel about wherever the sun shines, and try to re-unite those that are beyond the pale (i.e. those that are lost). Striking the wood, they proclaim the Glad Tidings of love and charity. They turn ceremoniously to the East, and hasten in the path of life and glory. They preserve the beard to show that they have outward works to do, while they shave the crown to remind themselves that they have no private selfish desires. They keep neither male nor female slaves. Putting all men on an equality, they make no distinction between the noble and the mean. They neither accumulate property nor wealth; but giving all they possess they set a good example to others. They observe fasting in order that they may subdue ‘the knowledge’. They keep the vigil of silence and watchfulness so that they may observe ‘The Precepts.’ Seven times a day they meet for worship and praise, and earnestly they offer prayers for the living as well as for the dead. Once in seven days, they have ‘a sacrifice without the animal’. Thus cleansing their hearts, they regain their purity. This ever True and Unchanging Way is mysterious, and is almost impossible to name. But its meritorious operations are so brilliantly manifested that we make an effort and call it by the name of the ‘Luminous Religion.’” (translation of Prof. P.Y. Saeki).
In Prof. Saeki’s translation of the description of some of the most important tenants of the Jingjiao, we notice the following that are still preserved and observed by the Assyrian Church of the East: 27 books of the New Testament; conversion; baptism; the Cross; finding the spiritually lost; the semantron (wooden prayer board) or naqosha; proclamation of the Gospel; praying towards the East; keeping the beard; the monastic tonsure; not keeping slaves; fasting; vigils; prayer seven times a day; prayers for the living and the dead; and the Eucharistic sacrifice.
By H.B. Dr. Mar Aprem Mooken
Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East
Archdiocese of India
The history of Christianity in India from the time of St.Thomas, the doubting disciple of Jesus Christ in 52 A.D.to the arrival of Vasco de Gama, from Portugal who came to South India in 1498 A.D. is the same. There was only one Christian Church receiving bishops from the Persian Church. It is known by nickname Nestorian Church.
The Chaldean Syrian Church in Trichur, also known as Church of the East or the Nestorian Church is the faithful remnant of the pre-Portuguese Syrian Christianity in India. This small community based in Trichur uses the same faith which was practiced when the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498 AD. It has much in common with the Syro Malabar community, using the liturgy of Mar Addai and Mar Mari.
After the attack of Tippu Sultan in the second half of the 18th century, the famous Shakthan Thampuran of the erstwhile Cochin state decided to improve the commerce of his state by developing Trichur town. In 1796 he brought 52 Christian families from the neighbourhood of Trichur to improve the trade in Trichur. .
In 1814 A.D. the Mart Mariam Big church was built in Trichur for the worship of the Chaldean Syrians from Ollur, Aranatukara, Kottekad, Arimbur etc. brought by Shakthan Thampuran, ruler of Cochin state for the progress of commerce in Cochin State.
In 1815 Palayil Abraham Kathanar dedicated this church by the command of Sri Kerala Varma, the Maharaja of Cochin. The famous Rama Varma known as Shakthan Thampuran who brought the Christians to Trichur.died in 1805 AD. His successor Rama Varma died in 1808 AD. Sri Kerala Varma Maharajah was his successor. It was this Maharajah who gave the theetooram (royal order) to Palayal Abraham Kathanar.
The first bishop to come to Mart Mariam Church in Trichur after its construction in 1814 A.D was Mar Thoma Roccos Metropolitan sent by Patriarch Mar Joseph Audo in 1861 A.D. Mar Thoma Roccos was sent to India by the request of the Syrian Christians in Kerala through Fr. Antony Thondanatta. Fr.Antony went to Mosul along with Fr. Antony Kudakachira who died during that journey.. Mar Rokos who arrived in Trichur in 1861 was received by many parishes like Trichur, Ollur, Aranatukara etc. But he was sent away in 1862 by the Catholics under the leadership of the Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias, founder of the CMI congregation.
In 1862 AD Fr. Antony Thondanatta went to Mosul in the same boat in which Mar Thoma Rokos was returning from Malabar to Mosul. Fr. Thondanatta did not get any positive response from the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Mosul Mar Joseph Audo. So he proceeded to Kochanes in Kurdistan. The Nestorian Patriarch Mar Ruwel Shimun (1862-1903 AD) consecrated him Metropolitan of India. Although he returned to his native Travancore state in 1863 he could not function as Metropolitan, as his followers had become Roman Catholics. He was forced to remain a priest in Catholic Church in Vilakumadom near Palai after shaving off his beard. After 1874 he moved to Trichur as Vicar General to Mar Elia Mellus Metropolitan. When Elia Mellus returned to Mesopotamia in 1882 Thondanatta moved to Elamthottam near Palai. After his defeat in the church litigations in Elamthottam he returned to Trichur in 1897 or 98 and died on 16 November 1900. He is buried inside the altar of the Mart Mariam Cathedral, Trichur. His remains were transferred in 1954 to the chapel in the southern side of the Church near the tomb of his successor Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan.
Mar Abimalek Timotheus born in Mar Bhisho village near in the border of Turkey and Iran on 28 August 1878 was made deacon in 1903 and priest and Archdeacon on 1904. He was consecrated Metropolitan on 13 December 1907. He arrived in Trichur on 27 February 1908. He died on 30 April 1945.
Mar Abimalek Timotheus was very famous. Jawaharlal Nehru during his first visit to Trichur on May 29, 1931 came to meet Mar Timotheus along with his wife Kamala and daughter Indira who later became the Prime Minister of India like her father. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about this visit in his book An Autobiography. He was the friend of the Maharajah of Cochin as well as the British Resident to Travancore & Cochin states. Even now his tomb is visited by Christians and Hindus.
After 7 years and 2 months after the death of Mar Timotheus, Mar Thoma Darmo Metropolitan arrived on 20 June 1952. Mansur Elisha Darmo was born on 21 September 1904 in Eil near in Southern Turkey. He was ordained a deacon by Mar Abimalek Timotheus Metropolitan of India when he visited the Baquba (near Baghdad) refugee camp of Assyrians in 1921. He served a deacon in Khabour, Syria till 1951 when he was chosen by Mar Yosip Khananisho Metropolitan in Iraq and Mar Eshai Shimun Patriarch to be Metropolitan of India.
Mar Thoma Darmo Metropolitan worked in India from June 20, 1952 to September 7, 1968. During this period many churches, parsonages, shop rooms, Seminary, Mar Timotheus Memorial Orphanage etc. were built. He ordained many clergy and sent some for theological education in other Seminaries. Printing of Hudra in 3 volumes is his major achievement.
There was a split between him and his consecrator Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun who suspended the Metropolitan on 10 January 1964. The issue was the hereditary succession of the bishops and Patriarchs. The patriarchate was in the Mar Shimun family since the middle of the 15th century, about hundred years before the major split under monk John Sulaqa in 1553.
In March 1964 Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun issued a universal order adopting Gregorian calendar beginning with Advent 1964. Thus the followers of Mar Shimun had two Christmases in 1964. The calendar issue continues to be an issue in the Assyrian Church outside India.
Mar Thoma Darmo Metropolitan consecrated two Indian priests in Baghdad in September 1968. Mar Poulose Episcopa and Mar Aprem Metropolitan. Mar Poulose was on his way to study in USA.
In October 1968 Mar Aprem Metropolitan after a stay of 6 weeks in Baghdad returned to India. He began to give leadership to the group called Metran Group. Fr. Antony Chakola gave leadership to the opposite group known as Bawai Group. The civil suits continued.
Mar Timotheus Metropolitan, a native of Trichur (former name C.C. Thimothy) was consecrated Metropolitan in October 1972 by Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun in Baghdad, Iraq. He took charge in India on 23 January 1973. He died on 6 August 2001
Poulose Mar Poulose Episcopa arrived in India on 1 January 1976 after his Th.D. studies in USA. He died on 24 March 1998. He was well known for his activities in favour of the poor. He was Chairman of WSCF ( WORLD STUDENT CHRISTIAN FEDERATION) in Geneva.
After long litigations and negotiations both groups were united in November 1995 under the headship of His Holiness Catholicos Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV who is temporarily residing in Chicago.
The Church of the East known as the Chaldean Syrian Church based in Trichur has only 30 thousand members out of the estimated 7 and a half million Syrian Christians (or Christians of St. Thomas) of India. The world population of this Church under Catholicos Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV is around 4 lakhs.
In India this Church has 30 parishes and 75 clergy (54 priests, 21 deacons). There are 3 nuns and 3 deaconesses. In 2005 Mar Aprem Metropolitan inaugurated a Gulf parish in UAE and Qatar. It is now worshipping every Friday morning in St. Philip’s Chapel in the St. Martin Anglican Church in Sharjah. There are two young priests from Trichur doing part time priestly duties. In addition to the members of our Church from Trichur, we have members of the Assyrian Church from Iraq, Iran, Syrian, Lebanon working in UAE attend these services.
Mar Timotheus memorial Orphanage started in 1962 in Kalathode, Trichur is taking care of about 70 boys and girls from Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities. The Mar Timotheus Charitable Society (Hospital & Santhosham Home for the Aged) is doing humble work in that field.
This Church has a Seminary in Mulangunnathukavu (10 kilometers from Trichur) started in 1956. This Church is a member of Kerala Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, CASA (Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action, Delhi, Christian Medical College, Vellore.
After The Unity of two Calendar Groups under Catholicos Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV in November 1995 this Church is making good progress in many fields.
By H.H. Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII
Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East (1920 – 1975)
The history of the Church of the East, which over many centuries comprised the major portion of Christianity, remained until recently almost unknown to the West, except for occasional accounts, such as that of Marco Polo, who traversed Asia in search of adventure and wealth. This was primarily due to the complete isolation which existed between the two branches of Christianity, Eastern and Western, both of which originated in the same source, namely, the Aramaic, a language of the Semitic group.
Inevitable historic and geographical reasons were partly to blame for this isolation. But the most in important factor in the total ignorance of Western Christianity as to the history and accomplishments of this Church of Asia, was the cruel and selfish policy adopted toward it by the Roman-Byzantine emperors and their successors, whose imperialist religion the Church of the East refused to follow, and who therefore branded it with the misnomer “Nestorian.‘’ This, together with the eclipse prevailing over Europe during the Dark and Middle Ages, completed the picture of separation.
It is only during the last century or so, especially in this generation through the writings of various Protestant missionaries, travellers and secular historians, that the West has finally become aware of the existence of the Church of Asia. Arnold J. Toynbee, in his outstanding work, “The History of Civilization,” has shed further light on the amazing achievements of the Church of the East, not only because of its missionary enterprise and great contributions in the scientific field, but especially as the bearer of the torch of the Syriac civilization, and champion against the Hellenistic onslaught. That torch, which the oppressed and persecuted Church of the East was unable to bear any longer, with the rise of Mohammed was taken over by Islam and carried on to a victorious end with the final expulsion of Hellenistic influence from the Middle East. Thus, in this special field, where the Church of the East had failed, because of its lack of political support, Islam had succeeded. Nevertheless, it is one of the mysteries of the Divine Providence that the descendants of the heathen Assyrians, from whom the Greeks Largely borrowed their civilization and culture, would now as Christians stand in the gap against Hellenistic cultural encroachment.
The beginning of the Church of the East is coincident with the earthly ministry of our Lord. King Abgar, sovereign of the little state of Oshroene, with its capital known as Orhai or Edessa, in the northwest of Mesopotamia, believed in Christ and His mission. The Assyrian people, therefore, speaking the Aramaic language (the language spoken by Jesus and His apostles, and in which the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament were written), can rightly claim the honour of being immediately next to the small band of Galileans as followers of our Lord, in their conversion to the “Haymanutha Mshikhayta,” the faith of the Anointed One.
This common bond, and the exchange of ideas, traditions and customs between the ancient Assyrians and the Hebrews, enabled the Assyrians to accept and appreciate the Christian Faith in a manner that was not possible by non-Aramaic speaking peoples. Because of this, the unequalled zeal and missionary expansion this Church of Asia, which to this day has preserved in its purity the Apostolic Faith and traditions of the early Church, can be readily under stood.
The Church of the East, as this branch of Aramaic speaking Christianity came to be known, was officially founded by the Apostles, Mar Patros (St. Peter), Mar Toma (St. Thomas), Mar Addai (St. Thaddeus) and Mar Mari of the seventy disciples. St. Thaddeus was sent by St. Thomas to the City of Edessa immediately after the resurrection, thereby fulfilling the promise made to King Abgar by our Lord himself.
The City of Arbil (Erbella) in Assyria also shares the glory with Edessa as the starting point of Eastern Christianity. Among its early Patriarchs, three of them were related to Mart Maryam (The Lady Mary) the Holy Virgin, and Mar Yosip (St. Joseph), her righteous spouse. It was the Church within the Persian Empire and therefore remained unaffected by the many theological disputes, schisms and heresies that in later centuries arose within the imperial Christianity of the Roman Empire, and which, for the most part, were dictated by personal ambitions and animosities among the various prelates and unceasing struggle for power between the Latin and Greek Churches.
However, the endless persecutions this ancient Church suffered, first from the heathens, and later under various Islamic rulers, reduced it greatly in numbers and finally scattered its children into many lands. It must, however, be said in fairness to both the Persians and Islamic rule that at various periods the Church enjoyed a great measure of tolerance, both under the rule of the Sapors and Arab Khalifs; perhaps more so than any of those other religions could have enjoyed in a reversed role under the Byzantine Emperors or the Western Christian rule of the Middle Ages. The following charter, given to the Church of the East in Arabia by Mohammed himself, is an example of the fact. The heads of the Christians of Najran, in Arabia, led by their ruler, Saeed, along with their Bishop, Eshoyab (“Given by Jesus”), paid an official visit to Mohammed (whom they refer to as “the prophet of Tayaye, a leading Arab tribe) and on the occasion Mohammed gave the Church in Arabia the following charter of Protection:
“He commanded the Tayaye (Arab) that they must protect the Mshikhaye (Christians) from all harm, and must not oblige them to go out with them to fight, nor must they try to change their customs and their laws. He moreover, exhorted his followers to help the Christians repair their churches whenever such a need may arise; and if any of his followers has a Christian wife, he should not oblige her to leave her faith and that he should not prevent her from fasting and prayer and all other obligations of her faith, these and many other similar rules or protection…” Assemani Z. 13.05 XCIV
Similar charters of protection were given from time to time by the Khalifs to the Church of the East.
The persecutions which did occur were in fact for the most part caused by the political ambitions of Constantine and his successors, and the later by the various Crusaders, who in the name of the Cross of Christ, carved out their ambitious territorial expansions and plundered the Middle East. At the same time a covetous eye was constantly directed at the great Christian Church of the East, and no means was spared by these Roman Emperors and their successors to agitate the heathen and the Islamic rulers against its followers.
The Faith of the Church
The purity of the Apostolic Faith of this most ancient Church can be seen throughout the prayers and praises of its worship, which express the theological point of view of the Church. Little is known of the fact that all the fathers of the Latin Church of the first and second centuries, such as Tatian Yostino (Justin Martyr), Organon (Origen). Melito, lrenaeus, and others who followed St. Paul the apostle to Rome, were all Assyrians or Syrians, Aramaic speaking people, missionaries of the Catholic Church of the East.
The Faith of the Church of the East in relation to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is that of the Council of Nicea, at which it was represented. As regards the Christological doctrine, it holds firmly to the teachings of the Bible. It professes in Christ, two natures and two Qnumai, namely, human and divine ( “Qnumai” is an Aramaic word which is very difficult to define in other languages. The nearest equivalent is the Greek Hypostasis, “in Latin “substance“ and in English “substance.“). It believes firmly in the Godhead and the humanity of Christ. The Church of the East repudiates the non-scriptural title “Mother of God,” given to the Virgin Mary, in that the term “God” implies God the Spirit, and spirit cannot be subject to birth or suffering. It calls the Virgin Mary “Mother of Jesus,’’ ‘’Mother of Christ,” ‘’Mother of our Lord.’’ “Mother of our Redeemer;’’ namely, mother of His humanity, but not of His Godhead. In the words of Mar Babai the Great, in the Tishbukhta ‘’Brikh Khannana,‘’ “In His Godhead, begotten of the Father without beginning before all time; In His manhood born of Mary, in the fullness of time, in a united body.”
It holds strictly to the teaching of the Bible, and will recognize no doctrine that is contrary to these Scriptures. In the words of St. Paul: ‘’But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be “Khrim” (Anathema).”
Looking to the Future
Individual Assyrians started coming to the United States of America some time during the middle of the Eighteenth century, but it was only after the First World War that they began coming in as immigrants. The tragedies and untold sufferings that forced them out of their homes of origin in the Middle East, in Kurdistan and Iran, have already passed into history, and is therefore neither necessary or appropriate to deal with these events and the causes lying behind them here.
Today, many thousand Assyrians live as happy and contented citizens of the United States of America. A considerable number of these Assyrians on their arrival in this country identified themselves with their respective co-religionists, and they are already on the way to being absorbed into these larger bodies. These Assyrians were the fruits of missions, which, during the past four centuries, proselytized in India and the Middle East. The Roman Catholic, the Russian Orthodox and the Presbyterians were the most prominent of these missions, the latter two working chiefly among the Assyrians of Iran.
The Church of the East on the other hand had no counter part in this country. Assyrians therefore, who were its members, had to depend completely upon such means as they themselves could provide, in order to maintain their Church in a country, and amid circumstances, totally alien to them. The insufficient number of priests and deacons available maintained the services of the Church of the East to the best of their ability. Services were conducted in private homes, basements, or churches hired for special occasions. In some instances the Protestant Episcopal Church occasionally allowed them the use of its edifices, a gracious act which has been much appreciated. The situation in the United States was rendered more difficult because the Mother Church in the Middle East had been uprooted from its centuries old home and made destitute as a result of World War I, so that it was not possible to meet even the meagre needs of this new struggling branch of the Holy Church.
Except for a short visit of one of the Bishops of the Church, and a second by the Metropolitan of India, who was delegated by the Patriarch to visit the Church of the East in the United States, the Church existed without any episcopal supervision, and the seriousness of this fact, for a Church whose foundation is based upon Apostolic succession and close episcopal supervision, cannot be overestimated.
This was the situation on the Patriarch’s arrival in this country in the year 1940. Since then, several priests and deacons have been ordained, new churches built, properties purchased for the use of the various parishes, and a competent administration established. Within the last few years a totally non-Assyrian, English speaking parish has been founded in Seattle, Washington, the first such in the history of the Church of the East. Even more recently a small number of these new members of the Church have founded a monastic order, and are in the process of establishing a monastery for the Church of the East in this country.
By H.B. Mar Meelis Zaia, A.M.
Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East
Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand
In the Old Testament
Throughout the ages the Christian Church has always believed in God as three in ONE, and this belief is based on the Bible. Although the main evidence for the doctrine of the trinity is to be found in the New Testament, we need to start with the Old Testament. We must never forget that the New Testament is based on the Old. No statement of belief is complete, unless it is seen within the context of the whole Bible, including the Old Testament.
When we study the Old Testament, one thing immediately stands out: the main emphasis is on the unity of God. As far as His Godhead is concerned He is alone, unique. The oneness of God is the central confession of all Christians, as we recite in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD,”We believe in One God”.
Careful reading of the Old Testament shows no indication of the trinity itself. Yet there are several remarkable aspects, which definitely have to be taken into account, if we want to see the full picture of the Old Testament understanding of God.
As we said before, in the Old Testament, the first imperative was to declare the existence of the ONE living and true God. And to this task the Old Testament is principally dedicated. And this principal is the fundamental faith of the Christian religion.
Hear, O! Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! (Deuteronomy:6:4)
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
But there are also passages where God speaks of himself in the Plural, especially in the opening pages of the Old Testament. Based on this, Christians are taught to attribute the existence and persistence of all things to a threefold source. For example, there are passages where the Lord God, his Word and his Spirit are brought together as in the narrative of the creation where God is seen to create by means of his Word and Spirit:
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “ Let there be light“; and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)
Also, the next passages points in the same direction:
Then God said, “ Let us make man in our image according to Our likeness” (Genesis I :26).
Then the Lord God said, “ Behold, the man has become one of Us” (Genesis 3:22)
Other references to the same is Genesis 2:7
“Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8)
The above references are a striking case of plural and singular interchanged, suggesting plurality in unity. In Genesis 18:1-17 we read “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when
he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground… “
The above incident is a striking one and the language is too, that God should manifest himself in the form of three.
There are many other passages where God and his Word and the Spirit are brought together as co-causes of effects. In Isaiah 63:8-10 we read, “For He said, “Surely they are My people, children who will not lie. “So He became their Saviour. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and grieved His Holy Spirit: so He turned Himself against them as an enemy, and He fought against them”.
Here we have the three speakers, the covenant God of Israel (v.8), the angel of the presence (v.9) and the Spirit ‘grieved’ by their rebellion (v.10). both the creative activity of God and his government are, at a later stage, associated with the Word personified as “Wisdom” where St. Paul said in his first epistle to the Corinthians
“Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24). As this verse of St Paul is derived from these verses in Proverb:
The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
As well as with the Spirit as the Dispenser of all blessings and the source of physical strength, courage, culture and government, as we learn from Exodus:
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.
And in Numbers he added: And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon
them, they prophesied, and did not cease.
Also, in Judges he said “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.” (Judges 3:10)
The threefold source revealed in creation becomes still more evident in the unfolding of redemption. At an early stage there are the remarkable phenomena connected with the angel of the Lord who receives and accepts divine honour (Genesis 16:2-13) as in the story of Hagar and Ishmael. And also, in (Genesis 22:11-16) the story of Abraham’s sacrifice on the mountaintop in the land of Moriah.
In other passages the angel of the Lord not only bears the divine name, but also has divine dignity and power, dispenses divine deliverance, and accepts homage and adoration proper only to GOD. The Messiah has deity ascribed to him, even when he is regarded as a person distinct from God “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
And also in (Isaiah 9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. “
And of the Son we hear King David in his Psalms “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool. (Psalm 110:1)
The Spirit of God is also given prominence in connection with revelation and redemption, and is assigned his office in the equipment of the Messiah for his work (Isaiah 11 :2) “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
And in (Isaiah 42: I) Behold! My Servant, whom I uphold; My Elect, One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him: He bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
And in (Isaiah 61:1) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;”
Thus the God who revealed himself objectively through the Angel Messenger revealed himself subjectively in and through the Spirit, the Dispenser of all blessings and gifts within the sphere of redemption. The threefold Aaronic blessing in (Numbers 6:24) must also be noted as the prototype of the New Testament apostolic blessing.
“The LORD bless you, and keep you: The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
In the New Testament:
Every Old Testament incident yields some New Testament truth.
By way of contrast it must be remembered that the Old Testament was written before the revelation of the doctrine of the Trinity was clearly given, and the New Testament after it. In the New Testament it was given particularly in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But however dim the light in old dispensation; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the New Testament are the same as in the Old Testament.
Before the advent of Christ, the Holy Spirit came into the consciousness of God-fearing men in a degree that was not known since the close of Malachi ‘s prophetic ministry, more especially John the Baptist. He called for repentance toward God, faith in the coming Messiah, and spoke of baptism of the Holy Spirit, of which his baptism with water was a symbol (Matthew 3:11).
“ I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry, He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
So where do we find the epochs of Trinitarian revelation in the New Testament?
1: The Annunciation: The agency of the Trinity in the incarnation was disclosed to Mary in the angelic annunciation that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, the power of the Most High would overshadow her and the child born of her would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Thus the Father and the Spirit were disclosed as operating in the incarnation of the Son.
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
2: In the baptism of Christ: Trinity can be clearly distinguished, the Son is being baptised, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Spirit descending in the objective symbol of a dove. “And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3: 16-17)
3: The teaching of Jesus: the teaching of Jesus Christ is Trinitarian throughout. He spoke of the Father who sent him. Of himself as the One who reveals the Father, and the Spirit as the One by whom He and the Father work. We find many references to the latter in (John 14:7-9). In this indicates Christ deity, his pre-existence and the unity of the three underlying characteristic of the divine in one nature of God Almighty.
If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also: and from now on you have known Him, and have seen Him. Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficient for us. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father? “ Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves”
And of the Holy Spirit He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that may abide with you forever.” (John 14:15-16)
The Helper here indicates to the Holy Spirit which was poured upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost: “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place, And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
4: The commission of the Risen Lord . Christ instructs his disciples to go into the whole world with his message and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is significant the name “Baptism” is one but within the bounds of the one name there is three distinct persons.
The Christian Church is founded on the doctrine of the Trinity. This evident, as said before, in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. This outpouring brought the personality of the Spirit into a greater prominence and at the same time shed light anew from the Spirit upon the Son,
Therefore, in the universal Church we find the apostolic benediction interpreting the deeper meaning of the Trinity in Christian experience “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
The doctrine of Trinity in the Christian Church is understood to refer to God to be ONE God in his essential being, but that in his being there are three Persons, yet so as not to form separate and distinct individuals. They are three modes or forms in which the divine essence exists.
‘Person’ is, however, an imperfect expression of the truth inasmuch as the term denotes to us a separate rational and moral individual. But in the being of God there are not three individuals, but three personal self distinctions within the ONE divine essence. Then again, personality in man implies independence of will, actions and feelings leading to behaviour peculiar to the person. This cannot be thought of in connection with the Trinity. In the Trinity, each person is self-conscious and self directing, yet never acting independently or in opposition.
When we say that God is a Unity we mean that, though God is in himself a threefold centre of life, his life is not split into three. He is ONE in essence, in personality and in will. When we say that God is a Trinity in Unity, we mean that there is a unity in diversity, and that the diversity manifests itself in persons, in characteristics and in operations. In them there is perfect equality in nature, honour and dignity.
Fatherhood belongs to the very essence of the first Person and it was so from all eternity. It is personal property of God ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:15)
The Son is called the ‘only begotten’ to suggest uniqueness. Christ always claimed for himself a unique relationship to God as Father. (John 5:19)
“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in himself’’
As in Genesis 18:2-17, the story suggests the Trinity of the Godhead. Here we learn that the whole Trinity is interested and exercised in seeking to bless and save man. “And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground…”
The Father loved, and sent His Son; the Son loved, and gave Himself up to the death to redeem; the Spirit loved, and came to make His abode in the believing hearts. This threefold salvation is summed up in the benediction. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
The Spirit is revealed as the One who alone knows the depths of God’s nature: For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God … no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God
(1 Corinthians 2:10).
This is saying that the Spirit is just God himself in the innermost essence of His being.
The doctrine of Trinity arose as the spontaneous expression of the Christian experience. The early Christians, knew themselves to be reconciled to God the father, and that the reconciliation was and is secured for them by atoning work of the Son, and that it was mediated to them as an experience by the Holy Spirit. Thus the Trinity was and still is a fact before it was a doctrine, but in order to preserve it in the creedal faith of the Church the doctrine had to be formulated.
It is true that Christianity speaks of the Father as the First Person, and of the Son as the Second Person, and of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person; but “first,” “second,” “third” here do not represent a time order-rather the order of necessary relationship.
From the above we learnt that God is Wise and Living. Now, he who is wise discerns because of his wisdom; and he who is living is living because he has life. This is the mystery of the Trinity, which Christians confess of that Adorable Nature, Mind, Wisdom and Life. Three co-essential properties in One, and One who is glorified in three properties. The Mind has called Father and Begetter, because He is the Cause of all, and First. The Son has called Wisdom and Begotten, because He is begotten of the Mind, and by Him everything was made and created. The Life has called, the Holy Spirit and Proceeding, because there is no other Holy Spirit but He. He who is Holy is unchangeable. Thus, these three properties are consubstantial.
Therefore, the implications of the doctrine of Trinity are vitally important not only for Christian theology, but for Christian experience and life.
Acts 15:11 – But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will
John 16:30 – Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God.
In one God:
Malachi 2:10 – Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?
Ephesians 4:6 – one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
The Father Almighty:
Ephesians 6:23 – Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Genesis 35:11 – And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.
Maker of all things:
Genesis 14:22 – But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker of heaven and earth.
Hebrews 11:10 – For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Isaiah 44:24 – Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth–Who was with me?
Ephesians 3:9 – and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.
Visible and Invisible:
Colossians 1:16 – for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
And (we believe) in one Lord Jesus Christ:
Acts 11:17 – If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?
Corinthians 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
The Son of God:
Matthew 14:33 – And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.
1 John 4:15 – Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
The Only Begotten:
Psalms 2:7 – I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.
Hebrews 1:5 – For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
The First Born of all created:
Colossians 1:15 – He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
Hebrews 1:6 – And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.
Begotten of His Father before all worlds and not made:
Hebrews 5:5 – So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee.”
Matthew 16:27 – For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.
John 1:10 – He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
Mark 14:58 – “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”
Very God of Very God:
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
1 John 5:20 – And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
John 20:28 – Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!
Of one essence with His Father:
Revelation 1:8 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Isaiah 44:6 – Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
Revelation 1:17 – When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,
Philippians 2:6 – who, though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
Colossians 2:9 – For in him (Jesus) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
John 10:38 – but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
By whose hands the worlds were was established and everything was created:
John 1:3 – all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
John 1:10 – He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
Revelation 4:11 – “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.
Who for us men and for our salvation came down form heaven:
John 6:38 – For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
John 6:41 – The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.
John 3:13 – No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.
John 6:42 – They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?
Titus 2:11 – For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men
Luke 1:77 – to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.
Timothy 2:10 – Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
And was incarnated by the Holy Spirit:
Matthew 1:18 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20 – But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
And became man and was conceived and born of Virgin Mary:
Isaiah 7:14 – Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman’u-el.
Matthew 1:16 – and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Luke 1:27 – to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
He suffered and was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate:
Acts 4:27 – for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
Matthew 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Matthew 27:26 – Then he released for them Barab’bas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Acts 2:36 – Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
He was buried and He rose again on the third day (first day of the week – Sunday):
Mark 15:46 – And he bought a linen shroud, and taking Him (Jesus) down, wrapped Him in the linen shroud, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Mark 16:9 – Now when He (Jesus) rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.
Luke 24:5-8 – and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Matthew 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Matthew 28:1 – Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag’dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher.
As it is written and ascended into Heaven and sat on the right hand of His Father:
John 20:17 – Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Mark 16:19 – So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
And He shall come again to judge the dead and the living:
John 5:22 – The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.
Acts 10:42 – And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he (Jesus) is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
And (we believe) in one Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth:
Luke 12:12 – for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
Acts 1:5 – for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Titus 3:5 – he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
John 14:17 – even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
Who proceedeth from the Father, the life-giving Spirit:
Luke 11:13 – If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
John 15:26 – But when the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me;
Corinthians 15:45 – Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
And (we believe) in one Holy Apostolic and Catholic (universal) Church:
Ephesians 2:20 – built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
Ephesians 5:25-27 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Matthew 28:19 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
And we confess one Baptism for the remission of sins:
Mark 1:4 – John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Ephesians 4:5 – one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Peter 3:21 – Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts 2:38 – And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And the resurrection of our bodies and the life for ever and ever:
Romans 6:3-5 – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Corinthians 15:12-14 – Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Corinthians 15:21 – For as by a man (Adam) came death, by a man (Jesus) has come also the resurrection of the dead.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 6:47 – Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
Romans 6:22 – But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.
Jude 1:21 – keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
In the sixth century AD, Mar Babai wrote the Teshbokhta or (Hymn of Praise) explaining the theology of the Assyrian Church. He Writes:
The Theology of the Church of the East has been stated briefly and clearly in the following “Hymn of Praise (TESHBOKHTA)” Composed by Mar Babai the Great in the sixth century A.D., a noted theologian of the Church
One is Christ the Son of God,
Worshiped by all in two natures;
In His Godhead begotten of the Father,
Without beginning before all time;
In His humanity born of Mary,
In the fullness of time, in a body united;
Neither His Godhead is of the nature of the mother,
Nor His humanity of the nature of the Father;
The natures are preserved in their Qnumas*,
In one person of one Sonship.
And as the Godhead is three substances in one nature,
Likewise the Sonship of the Son is in two natures, one person.
So the Holy Church has taught.
By H.B. Mar Meelis Zaia, A.M.
Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East
Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon
A lot of ink has been spilled over our good land in the past, and still does today over the issue of addressing the presence of the Oriental Christians in their home land. As such, a less gloomy dream of tomorrow for Christians has become an even more difficult matter.
As a result of the relentless indulgence savoured by the terrorist’s in the bombing and mass murder of innocent spiritual devotees at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, our people worldwide declared their condemnation of the abhorrent ritual and its corollary of accusing and killing Christians as “infidels”. They further deprecated the practice of hoarding this acrimony in private circles that shattered the society’s fraternal values and Iraqis’ national unity.
The ritual of slaughtering Christians as reprobation for being “infidels” is a clear and flagrant truth in the modus operandi of the terrorists persecuting our people. We have witnessed how the terrorists endorse the killing of Christians as “sacred duty” and a legitimate religious expression, delighting in the hideous mass murders at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation.
Discussions on eradicating terrorism through the application of security band-aids and a show of force, coiled temporarily around the churches and in Christian areas, seems incomplete unless fraternity ignorance is exposed and the “infidel-killing” ideologies disposed of. Security forces can reduce the level of terrorism around the churches and community centers, but the task of eradicating the incubators of terrorism can not be isolated and accomplished through military and security solutions alone
As individuals, confronting society’s inferior level of harmony and shattered national unity is every Iraqi citizen’s responsibility. Official force alone is not enough to face the arsenal of the “infidel-killing” ideology. The captivation of the “infidel” mania does not spawn overnight but is preceded early by various stages of nurturing intellectual fallacies and prejudices. Without instilling corrective values against them such as tolerance, brotherhood and coexistence in a multi- cultured society, we cannot reap the fruits of peace even if the banner of security protection is raised and imposed.
Community educational processes must exist for those more impressionable individuals deprived of coexistence awareness. When we nurture and build a peaceful individual and community frame of reference, society as a whole, will be prepared to take the required initiatives to confront, challenge and defy the deadly desecrating ideas that have devoured even the innocence of children. Given that the disguise of terrorism is religious, without the involvement of religious institutions, eradication efforts will be deemed unsuccessful. Religious leaders can play a crucial role in thwarting the proposals of instigators of hostility by pre-emptive purification of religious misconceptions and by bringing about the values of dialogue and religious tolerance. The religious treatment to this “trend” would be to strip the religious facade from the terrorists, who build their glory on sectarian hatred, and prevent diluting the religious values by these mercenaries of “infidel-killing” ideology.
The combat style of the killing violence is the offspring of verbal violence which was unleashed in private circles in a holy framework. This urged listeners for militancy, extremism and religiously justified the blood shedding of all that fell under the label “other”, whether Christian or Muslim.
Distancing and shielding of Christians or other persons from the term “House of War” is, first and foremost, the mission of the religious and humanitarian groups to save them from the fire of “infidel-killing” perpetrators, who find religious fulfilments in the killing of the different “other” the only way to divine satisfaction. The killings in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation were based on hatred and religious classification of Christians as “infidels” more than the defence principle of “detention of Muslim women in Coptic monasteries,” as claimed. The concealing motive of the perpetrators has been exposed in this murderous act that in their rational, the slaughter was a short cut for drawing closer to God.
What we want from each individual Muslim, everywhere, is to realize that the attack on Christians is an attack on himself, as it is a reflection on Islam. We did not forget, nor will we deny the consolations extended by the Muslims that were with us in the events of Our Lady of Salvation. But our security and peace does not depend and should not be limited to a serving of solace only. What transpired in the Church of Our Lady of Salvation was not an extreme act of terrorism. It was the ritual of ‘infidel-killing’ for those on the inside, and a blatant threat of deportation for those on the outside.
This matter is far greater than consolation of broken hearts and the issuance of denouncement letters and condemnations.
Addressing the above concerns requires the abolition of hatred and the dismantling of the talisman of extremisms to revive the ever lasting peace from its permanent setbacks. Iraq needs to stand accountable against those who glorify hatred and inspire extreme views in order to uncover deceiving practices. To guarantee the nation’s triumph, the government must storm into the sources and incubators of terrorism and flood the streams of ignorance of the “other” through educational and intellectual enlightenment and not by military force alone.
Hidden among the shelves of the libraries, worldwide, is the story of our ancestors’ faith, the greatness of our Christian history and, our greatest pride, the apostolic heritage of the Church of the East, also known as the Church of Kokheh. As a reflection of its spiritual and intellectual richness and enlightenment to its readers, the Assyrian Church of the East in Sydney issues its magazine; The Church of Beth Kokheh echoing the faithful message of the Church of the East.
From Kokheh, we went to all mankind.
- Voice of the East
- Volume 1 (2012)
- Volume 10 (2022)
- Volume 11 (2023)
- Volume 2 (2013-2014)
- Volume 4 (2016)
- Volume 5 (2017)
- Volume 6 (2018)
- Volume 7 (2019)
- Volume 8 (2020)
- Volume 8 (2020)
- Volume 9 (2021)
- أدب وثقافة
- التاريخ والتراث
- الكنيسة والاسرة
- مفاهيم كتابية
- نوافذ مضيئة
- ܟܘܬܐ ܢܗܝܪܬܐ
- ܡܐܡܪܐ ܕܣܝܘܡܘܬܐ