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Antioch & Seleucia-Ctesiphon

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Antioch & Seleucia-Ctesiphon

May-11-2001 at 04:24 PM (UTC+3 Nineveh, Assyria)

The "Church of the East" did not split from the "Church of Antioch".

Few claim that the Church of the East split from the Church of Antioch. To prove such claim, a person must show that the two churches were one to start with and then indicate a split. If A and B were two separate bodies, we cannot say that A split from B or vise versa. The Chaldean Catholic Church, for example, split from the Church of the East, because few bishops of the Church of the East did not approve of the selection of a patriarch in 1551 and demanded elections. They sent a monk Sulaqa, a clergy among the same Church, i.e. Church of the East, to Rome and Sulaqa started the move which resulted later the establishment of the Chaldean Catholic Church in 1830, hence the concept of split applies here. Such concept does not apply to the Church of the East and the Church of Antioch. If we can prove that both Churches were individual churches and both were established independently and directly from Jerusalem, we can prove then that they were not originally one church, which let to the split of one from the other.

The foundation of the Church of the East is in reality attributed to the Person of Jesus himself who granted the disciples all authority in heaven and on earth. He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:9 tells us how the Good News of the Risen Lord carried to the East by the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, therefore, the Church of the East was established directly from Jerusalem by the apostles.

Historical accounts by Flavius Josephus tell us how the Assyrian Queen Helena of Adiabene (Arbil) and her son Izates converted to Judaism in AD 30. History tell us how she traveled to Jerusalem in AD 46 and helped to relieve the Jews of famine, by sending people to Alexandria to buy great quantities of corn, and others to Cyprus to bring a cargo of dried figs and distributed these to those starving Jews. These accounts inform us too about how she enriched the temple of Jerusalem. Queen Helena left excellent memorial behind her of this benefaction, which she bestowed on the whole Jewish Nation. Her son, Izates meanwhile sent great sums of money to the principle men in Jerusalem. This explains why she and her son were honored after their death by sending their bones to Jerusalem where they were buried along with the Tombs of Kings at North Gate, a site that attracts visitors till this very date. This connection built stronger ties between the Jews of Jerusalem and Adiabene (Arbil) and large numbers of the Jewish community of Arbil began to travel to Jerusalem to do their Eastern duties. The important point here is that it was these Jews who learned about Christianity and brought it back with them to Arbil. (Read The Works of Josephus translated by William Whiston p. 526)

When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70, many Jews, who have learned about and converted to Christianity by then, escaped to the region associated with the queen who has been good to them, Arbil. In Arbil they were welcomed by the Assyrian royal house of Monobazus, Helenas other son, hence further strengthening Christianity in Arbil. Other biblical accounts indicate how through the missionary efforts of Thomas, Christianity began in Assyria, and how Addai evangelized the city of Edessa. Addais disciple, Mari, carried the missionary work to other Persian territories. In AD 100 Mar Addai arrived in Arbil and converted Pqida to Christianity and later in AD 105 consecrated Pqida as bishop, hence establishing the foundation of the Church of the East in Arbil, the first step in the later establishment of the Patriarchate at Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Here are two quotes attesting to this fact:

1. A History of Christianity in Asia by Samuel Moffett: The first bishop which the country of Adiabene (Arbil) had was, according to the doctor, Habel, Mar Pkidha on whom the apostle Addai personally laid his hands. He was the son of a poor man named Beri, who was in the service of a Magi. (p. 45)

2. History of the Assyrian Church by W.A. Wigram:
Mshikha-Zkha plainly acknowledges Addai as the apostle of Adiabene and Assyria, and states that he ordained his disciple, Pqida, as first bishop of that district, in the year AD 104. (p. 27)

Edessa and Arbil continued to play an important role in the development of the Persian Church for some time; we have to keep in mind that Edessa in the early days was not under Roman control. John Stewart says: Osrhoene , was a sort of buffer state between Parthia and Rome, maintained a semi-independence under the suzerainty of Parthia until AD 216, when the Romans took possession and made it a Roman colony. (John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: A Church of Fire, p. 2)
Stewart adds: By the middle of the second century, the church of Edessa possessed the four gospels in Aramaic, and it is a fair conjecture that each of its missionary preachers would carry with him a gospel at least, if not Tatians harmony of the four, the so-called Diatessaron (The Syriac Old Testament, probably the work of Jews, may be older than the Gospels). It is possible that even then there existed a school of the prophets in Edessa, and that from it a constant succession of itinerant missionaries went forth to the remotest provinces of the Persian Empire, Arabia and other neighboring countries. One thing is certain, that in the following century (AD 363), when Nisibis, the great military fort on the frontier, and five provinces were ceded by the Romans to Persia, the theological school then at Nisibis was transferred to Edessa. (John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise: A Church of Fire, p. 6)

The above proves that the early missionary work and theological teachings were not influenced by Antioch, rather by the independent Edessa. The region of Osrhoene (Edessa) during the 1st century AD, J. P. Asmussen tells us, fell, and for a short period, under the rule of Adiabene (Arbil) as the chronicles of Arbil indicates. (J. P. Asmussen, The Early Spread of Christianity in the Iranian Empire (Mesopotamia and Iran))

Therefore, we have shown that the Church of the East was established directly from Jerusalem and separately from any influence of Antioch and the first bishop in what became known later as the Church of the East was not from Antioch, neither were those who appointed him. So why should we consider that the Church of the East was part of or split from the Church of Antioch?
Here are two scholarly quotes proving that the Church of the East (Persian Church) was not influenced by Antioch.

1. The Church of the Easterns was the daughter, NOT of Antioch, but of Edessa, and was never included in the Patriarchate of the former city. (W.A. Wigram, History of the Assyrian Church, pp. 25-26)

2. What kind of relationship existed between the Church in the Roman and the Church in the Persian empire in the third and fourth centuries is unclear. No reliable sources indicate that the Persians have ever been dependent on the patriarchate of Antioch, whereas the Roman-Persian wars and the persecutions during the reign of Shapur II (309-379) make it unlikely that bishops could travel frequently between the two empires. (H.L. Murre-Van Den Berg, "From a Spoken to a Written Language", p. 31)

The two Christian communities were indeed and sadly in non-friendly relations, not only because they were under two different powers, Roman and Persian, but even when they got together, they showed such non-Christian feelings towards each others. In AD 256-260, when Shapour entered Antioch, he deported many of its Christians and the neighboring towns to Persian regions like "Beth Lapat" (Jundi-Shapour) and "Beth Aramayeh", among these were Church officials. In "Beth Lapat" a struggle erupted between the two Christian groups, those deported from Antioch, speaking Greek and the local Christians who spoke Aramaic, because of the presence of two bishops one for each group. None of the two groups recognized, or accepted to be a subordinate, of the other.
J. de Menasce writes: Those Greek speaking Christians 'Marcionites' called themselves exclusively 'Christianeh' a different term than the Syriac terms of the local Christians known as 'Nasrayeh' or 'Msheekhayeh'. Need to note that the local Christians used the term Christianeh too. (J. P. Asmussen, "The Early Spread of Christianity: In the Iranian Empire (Mesopotamia & Iran)")

Few claim that because Seleucia-Ctesiphon was not considered as a Patriarchate as was Antioch, therefore, Antioch must be regarded the Mother Church and the Church of the East has split from it. It is true that the Council of Constantinople in 381 regarded only four cities Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch as Patriarchates, with Rome was to be reckoned the first. But what does that prove really? It is well known that early Ecumenical Councils were held in regions of the Roman Empire that was in war with the Persian Empire. It is well known too that the Roman Emperor had noticeable influence in these Councils. Accordingly, the way those Councils looked at the Church of the East (Persian Church) were non-favorable. The Church of the East (Persian Church) was always left in the shadows and forgotten by the west. It was only logical that Seleucia-Ctesiphon would not be regarded in the level of those other four cities in the Roman territory. Moffett attests to this political situation where he states: The unity of the Roman Empire was as much of an issue in it as the unity of the church. It revolved around the powers, political and ecclesiastical, of the Roman cities of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. (Samuel Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, p. 186)

Jerusalem, in my opinion, must be considered the real Mother Church since in it Jesus was born, in it Jesus spread His heavenly mission and in it people were first evangelized. This is much powerful than having the word Christians being used for the first time in Antioch and I am not down playing the role of Antioch here. We know that Jerusalem was not made a Patriarchate until later in the Council of Chalcedon of 451. Now, at the same token and according to the claim of those few Jerusalem split from Antioch because Antioch was a Patriarchate before Jerusalem! How could any logical person accept such claim? Therefore, to claim that Seleucia-Ctesiphon and Church of the East split from Antioch because Antioch has a Patriarch before Seleucia-Ctesiphon is unacceptable.

One final note, the word Patriarch was not something known to the early church, the situation was not like the Church of Antioch was born with a Patriarch by some heavenly power while the Church of the East was deprived of it! The fact that the title was given to certain cities by mankind does not constitute any special authority to those who have the position earlier than others. In the beginning, churches were small centers of the Christian faith and each center developed and began to have its own bishop. As the centers grow and bishops increased, Metropolitans, Catholicos and then the title Patriarchs were created. Worth mentioning as Assemani tells us in Bibliotheca Orientalis, Vol. III, ii, p. 415 that : The first to be designated Catholicos was Papa, metropolitan of Seleucia from AD 280 to 328. The title was conceded to Papa by the Council held in AD 315 Assemani, in addition speaks of him as: primate of Seleucia at the time of the Nicene Council. The title of Patriarch as already stated dates officially from the council held in AD 424, but had been in use for some time prior to that. Nowhere do we find any indication of the subordination of any one patriarch to another.
In the Council of Dadisho in 424 the independence of the Patriarchate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was announced officially because of the continuous wars between the Roman and Persia Empires, which contributed further to the already separated two communities.

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