October 10, 2007
The Chaldean Church of the East (1st – 4th) Century
PART ONE: The 1st Century
By: Fr. Felix Shabi
(a- Dawn of Christianity; b- Christianity in Mesopotamia and the Land East of Euphrates)
- A) Dawn of Christianity: The first people who believed in Jesus Christ were Jews; they were expelled fromthe Jewish synagogues because of their belief and faith. They met at homes to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, which was re-presented in the breaking of the Bread. Jewish-Christians remained a sect within Judaism until the year 70 AD when the war against the Romans was lost and the Temple destroyed. The Pharisees met in Jamnia1 in order to decide the future of Judaism, and one of their decisions was to expel the Jewish Christians from the synagogues. The apostles, obeying the command of the Lord “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” (Mt 28:19) after receiving the Holy Spirit, began evangelizing and proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord, first in Israel, then in all over the world. Moving from Jerusalem to Antioch (Antakya, Turkey), where Jewish Christians were known for the first time in history as “Christians” (Act 11:26).
A.1. Mesopotamia in the New Testament: Although Christians continued to read the Old Testament, a written document about the life and teaching of Jesus became essential! The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were written between the years 70-100 AD. The letters of St Paul were written earlier between the years 50-62 AD. All New Testament writings were set down so that people might believe in Jesus. Although these writings deal mainly with what happened in Jerusalem, Syria, Asia Minor and westwards to Rome; Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia are mentioned as well (Acts 2:5-11).
- B) Church of the East-(brief summary): The Church that was born in the land of the “Twin Rivers” (the Tigers and Euphrates) is known as the “Church of the East.” This Church has suffered a lot of persecutions throughout the history, from different reigns, and religions as well. Persecutions began with the Persian Empire (1-6 century), followed by the Islamic and Arabic Empire (7-12 C), then the Mongol conquest (13-15 C), and finally with the Ottoman Empire (16-19 C). Along with all these persecutions this Church survived and expanded, spreading the message of Christ from Babylon to China and Japan to the East, to Russia and Siberia in the north, to India and Tibet in the south, and to Egypt in the west! The “Church of the East” was as largely expanded and well-known in the ancient world as the Catholic Church is known today.
B.1. When did Christianity enter Mesopotamia?
This issue still under discussion and no opinion prevails because of the lack of historic evidence. From a general understanding of the complicated political situation in that place of the world – until these days – we can mention some connection between Christianity and Mesopotamia in the first century:
B.1.1. The Magi: The Persian kings who came to visit Jesus in Bethlehem (Mathew 2:1-16). Some historians say that these Magi may have pronounced the Good News to their people of Persia and Mesopotamia upon their return from Jerusalem. Sulaiman of Basra says: “the Magi became Apostles for Jesus; they announce the marvels that happened when they came back to their homelands, after taking some pieces of cloth of the infant Jesus as a blessing for them.2”
B.1.2. People of Mesopotamia and others (Acts 2:5-11): The of Act of Apostles remembers few ethnicities presented in Jerusalem on the Pentecost day (feast of the 50th day), among them we see people from our ancestors land “…We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia …” (Acts 2:9). So, after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, it is possible also that those Mesopotamians were inspired by the speeches made by the apostles! It is possible that those Mesopotamians made the first nucleus of the Christian community in their home country, and later on the apostles and their disciples arrived to Mesopotamia, making that small bush grow up in faith, nourishing it with their holy words and blood!
B.2. Who were the Apostles who spread Christianity in our homelands?
According to a church history from the 4th century, four men evangelized Mesopotamia, who are: St. Thomas the Apostle (the patron saint of the Church of the East), Addai, Ajjai, and Mari. They evangelized Mesopotamia and all the surrounding area, and thus they are the founders of the Apostolic See of Seleucia–Ctesiphon, “the Patriarchal See of Babylon.” Now let us have a glimpse over each one of these apostles:
B.2.1. St. Thomas the Apostle: One of Jesus’ twelve Apostles. He is known to Chaldeans in Aramaic language as “Toma” or “Tyoma” (the Twin of the Lord). He might looked like the Lord Jesus, or might be one of His closest relatives in order to have this privileged name (or nickname). Almost all the church historians consider St. Thomas as the founder and first preacher of Christianity in Mesopotamia! It is confirmed that Thomas preached in India and he became a martyr there too. Eusebius (4th C) says “Thomas evangelized Persia on his way to India”.
|“The Cross -on the left- sculptured on the famous Monument of the “Church of the East” -at Hsi-an-fu. It stands in the middle of a dense cloud which is symbolic of Islam, and upon a lotus, which symbolizes Buddhism; its position indicates the triumph of the Luminous Religion of Christ over the religions of Muhammad and the Buddha. The sprays of flowers, one on each side, are said to indicate rebirth and joy.”|
B.2.1.1. Acts of Thomas (3rd – 4th century): This book tells us the story about St. Thomas mission in Persia 3 andIndia and his death. St. Thomas, as the other Apostles, was ready to start the evangelization. The territory of missions was chosen by lottery. Thus, India was the destination of St. Thomas. From this book we know that he was a carpenter and architect, he went to India to build a palace for the king. He promised the king to build it during the winter -which nobody does- he took a lot of money and gave it to the poor instead, when then king came to see the palace he found nothing! Meanwhile, Thomas was able to baptize and convert the whole staff in the king’s palace and many people. Nevertheless, Thomas was sentenced to death; he converted to Christianity also some of the solders who went to kill him… at the end a spearman lanced him in his heart! Later on, one of the king’s sons became seriously sick, and the king tried to take some relics –bones – from St. Thomas’ tomb but he found nothing, because one of the “brothers” had stolen the relics and took them back to the EAST. This tells us the real connection between St. Thomas and the Mesopotamian Church! The king then took only the dust of the tomb and his son was healed.
B.2.2. St. Addai: according to the church history he is one of the 70 disciples of Jesus. He was sent by St. Thomas to the East and St. Mari followed him after 30 years after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ (around the year 65 AD). Eusebius bishop of Caesarea (4th C) considers him as one of the group of 12 Apostles saying in his “Ecclesiastical History” that ADDAI is the same THADDEUS, he is known in this name in two gospels (Mt 10:2-4, and Mk 3:16-19), while Luke calls him “Judas son of James” (Lk 6:13-16, Acts 1:13).4
B.2.2.1. “Teaching of Addai”: this book belongs to the 4th – 5th century. It contains much more than what bishop Eusebius tells us about our Church. The book says: “The king of Eddessa Abgar 5th Ucama -the dark- was sick, he heard about the miracles that Jesus was performing in Israel, he was unable to go to Jesus to ask for healing (either because of sickness or for political reasons). Thus, he invited Jesus to come to cure him and he promised to give half of his kingdom to him. Jesus was glad to receive this letter, but he excused himself from going to Edessa because his mission was dedicated to Israel and to Jews only, but he promised the king to send one of his 70 disciples to cure him – after the resurrection. This duty was given to ADDAI one of the 70 (or 72) he went to Edessa after Pentecost to preach the gospel and perform miracles. The king called to see ADDAI he received and honored him greatly. ADDAI also cured the king and baptized him with his family and lots of Jews and pagans. Before his death, ADDAI appointed his successor St. AJJAI as bishop on the Diocese of Edessa, he died and was buried in royal cemetery.”5
B.2.3. St. Ajjai: He was a royal tailor, accepted the ordination and succession from ADDAI. One king from Abgar’s sons asked him to make a golden garment for him, but he refused because he was busy with his spiritual service of the faithful! The king sent some solders for him who broke his legs while he was explaining the Bible in the church! The tradition says that he preached the gospel in the other part of the eastern side of Euphrates such as Parthia, Assyria, Armenia, Babylon, Georgia (close to Russia) and others.
B.2.4. St. Mari: Another disciple of St. ADDAI. He was sent to the East branch of Euphrates after receiving ordination from ADDAI. He preached in Babylon. The Acts of Mari, a book about his mission says: “Mari went to the Babylon area and baptized all the region surrounding Babylon, Ahwaz, the Tigris delta, Persia, and Kashkar…then he headed toward Seleucia–Ctesiphon where he established the church of Kokhi –meaning “the cottages”-, because MARI cured the daughter of the mayor of Ctestipon, the last donated his cottages to MARI as recognition to his favour.”
B.2.4.1 Quddasha of Addai and Mari: One of the magnificent treasures of the Chaldean Church of the East. The rite of the Divine Liturgy that the Chaldean Church uses until this moment comes from Jesus’ Apostles Addai and Mari. It is the most ancient and original Rite of Holy Liturgy in the entire world from the 1stCentury.
 After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Yavne/Jamnia and founded a school of Jewish law there, becoming a major source for the later Mishna. His school is often understood as a wellspring of Rabbinic Judaism. The Council of Yavne or Council of Jamnia refers to a hypothetical Proto-Rabbinic council under Rabbi Yohanan’s leadership, that was responsible for defining the canon of the Hebrew Bible (Wikipedia).
 Sulaiman Al Basri, born in the end of 12 century in a city on the west shore of “Lake Van” in Armenia (today in Turkey), became bishop of Basra and died in the 13th century. See his book “Dibboreetha”: the Bee, chapter 39.
 Persian Empire was from Euphrates River into India, and from Persian Gulf to Caspian Sea.
 SUHA Rassam, Christianity in Iraq, Gracewing-UK 2006, pp 24-34.
 ABOONA Albert, History of the Church of the East, part 1, Beirut 1999, pp 9-10.