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The Theology of the Church – Lecture 2

The Chaldean Church and the See of Babylon

St. Peter Diocesan Theology Course 2014:
Ecclesiology: The Theology of the Church

Wednesday; November 12, 2014 

The Chaldean Church and the See of Babylon

Lecture by Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo


The Apostle Mari in Babylonia

            The Acts of Mar Mari the Apostle is a book written in Chaldean, exposing the mission of the apostle Mari in upper Mesopotamia, descending toward Arbela, then to Babylonia, where he founded the first church, up to the Persian Sea. A scholar analysis can show different historic layers of the narrative reaching some data that are reflective of the sixth century; but also, through the same analysis, we can identify elements that point to a historic core that describes the factual apostolate of Mar Mari with data which must be considered an authentic witness.  The description of the city of Seleucia, with its particular civil assemblies, where Mar Mari will make his first disciples, is in consistent continuity with the Babylonian/Akkadian city assemblies, therefore indicating the authentic historicity of that data (See Amir Harrak, The Acts of Mar Mari the Apostle, Introduction, pp. xxii-xxvi).


Being able to show that the See of Babylon is established by one of the apostles directly, it makes this church Apostolic in the full sense, which implies that the See of Babylon is not dependant of Antioch, or any other apostolic see, but equal to them in dignity,  and autonomous in canonicity, since the beginning of the Church. Furthermore, it has to be clarified that Thomas had his leadership role in the evangelization of peoples east of Euphrates, Thaddeus headed the missionary station in Edessa in support of the penetration in depth of Mesopotamia to its heart in Babylon. The apostle Mari effectively crowned the apostolic effort by establishing the church with its center in Kokhe, Babylonia, with all of its required equipments, including priestly ministry and liturgical rituals.

According to the Acts,  and to many other references, Mar Mari died in a the city he made his headquarters, AD 82,  and was buried in Beth Qoni, which became a monastery and Patriarchal cemetery. His achievement is of immense and perpetual value for the Chaldean Church of the East.

The Assembly of the elders:  “They came down to the city of Seleucia, which was located on the Tigris. Because Christianity did not exist in the region, nor could they find anyone who would receive them in his house for God’s sake, the blessed one and those who were with him rented a house and settled in it. The people of Seleucia were evil pagans. Mar Mari passed through the whole of Seleucia, but no one followed him. He realized that they had no concern other than eating, drinking, and getting drunk. As soon as the wine of the day before lost its effects, they hastened to drink the wine of the following day. He could not tell them God’s word because they were found drunken at all times.”

“When he realized that no one followed him, he wrote a letter and sent it to the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia, to his colleagues the apostles. Thus he wrote: “The land to which you have sent me is evil and full of thorns. Its people are arrogant and hard. I am not able to work them and sow in them. And now if you order me, I would come to you or I would go to another place.” The apostles took counsel among themselves and made the right decision, concerned about the lives of (Seleucia’s) citizens, lest they perish. They wrote letter to the holy Mar Mari, which contained the following: “You have no right to come here or to go elsewhere before you go up the summits of those mountains and the top of high places, breaking them up, tilling them, and sowing them to bring plentiful yield!” When the blessed Mar Mari realized that he had nowhere to go, he pondered about what he would do.”

“Now there were three assemblies in Seleucia, one the elders, one for the young people, and one for the children, for this is how they organized their assemblies. The blessed one thought to stir up controversy at the assembly of the elders: if it would be possible, I would hunt their souls starting from this place! He went to them, and they placed him below all of them, for they were saying: this man is a foreigner. And he joined them in singing and in merriment every day.”

“After a time, came Mar Mari’s turn among them to do his (banquet) service, and those who had converted said to him: “It is your service now, and therefore you should take care of the food and of the wine.” For there was a custom in Seleucia according to which the one who did the service had to bring food, wine, perfume, and musicians from his house. So give the food and the wine now, and we will provide and musicians and the perfume.” … So he wrote a letter to the apostles, his colleagues, which he sent to the city of Edessa… they rejoiced and sent him gold as he requested from them, along with fragrant herbs, tambourines, harps, cymbals, and all kinds of instruments that had no equal in Seleucia, and they reached Mar Mari in Babylonia.” (Amir Harrak, Ibid, Sections 19 & 22).

Another major argument, with a convincing evidence for the historicity of Mar Mari’s mission to Babylonia and his establishment of the first church in it, is provided by a book called “Book of the Tower”, written in Arabic, exposing the list of the Patriarchs of the Church of the East with their biography up to the middle of the twelve century; this list begins with Mar Addai, followed by Mar Mari. The author, Mari Ben Suleiman, is evidently knowledgeable of the Book of the Acts of Mar Mari, but he furnish us some extra details not found in the text of the Acts available today to us. The detail concerns the location of the property given to Mar Mari by the City Assembly on which he built a church. The detail indicates that: 1) Both cities, Seleucia and Ctesiphon were close to each other, separated by Tigris river and united by a bridge, to become known as the Twin-cities, Seleucia to the east, Ctesiphon to the west. 2) Kokhe, the huts, where Mar Mari built a church, was in the proximity of Ctesiphon.

The relevance of this information is based on the fact that since 79 AD Tigris changed the bed of its course in the vicinity of the Twin-cities, causing a different regional typography, where Kokhe will sit in the vicinity of Seleucia, not anymore on the side Ctesiphon. Thus, a text describing the location of Kokhe in the proximity of Ctesiphon must belong to an era prior to the year 79 AD; this specific description is what we find in the text of the Book of the Tower, as you may observe:

Building a church on the bank of Tigris: “Mar Mari the apostle… one of the Seventy… Christianized the people in Babylonia, Ahwaz, and the towns around Tigris, Pharis, Kashkar, and Rizaya… He went to Seleucia, which is to the east of the Twin-cities while Ctesiphon is to the west… He descended to the plain of Mayshan up to the Persian Sea… The reason why the church of the Twin-cities is called Kokhe is because it was huts of the workers of Mardinshah, the chief of Ctesiphon; when Mar Mari healed his daughter, he (Mardinshah) endowed it to him…” (Liber Turris, Arabic text, pp. 3 & 4).