The long term effect of the conversion of Constantine and the "Peace of the Church" was to divide Christendom into three blocks, according to the relationship of each with the Byzantine Empire.
Firstly, there were the "Orthodox" who lived in territories at peace with the Byzantine Empire or, after its fall, hoped that the Russian Tsar would replace the emperor as his natural successor. This block lived in the most stable environment where Christianity had the upper hand. They could continue to rely on the emperor to unify the Church within his domain and had little temptation to find an alternative. For them, the emperor (or Tsar) served as the centre of administrative unity. At certain times they showed a respect toward and acceptance of the Roman see as successor of St Peter, especially when emperors adopted heresies or when they needed western intervention; but, in general, the pope lived too far away to be constantly in their thoughts, and the emperor was very much nearer. Because they had no need to change, they suffered the illusion that they alone remained faithful to the Gospel and all churches were to be judged according to their distance or nearness to Orthodoxy.
From very early on in the West, the Byzantine Empire was too weak to fulfil even the basic functions of government. It could neither keep order nor defend the West against its enemies, let alone guarentee the unity of either church or state. The saga of King Arthur and the Round Table has its origins in the retreat of the Empire and the defence of the Romanized Celts against the barbarian hoards from Germany. Historical accident left Gregory the Great as the only person capable of organizing the people of a large part of Italy in such a way that they could live in relative peace and be protected from the invaders. The representative of the Byzantine Emperor could do nothing except look pretty. In contrast to the Byzantine empire, it became the function of the Church to impose order; and it was Rome that made sure that the ecclesiatical and civil orders did not disintegrate. Because the Empire did not function, the Catholic Church of the West had to find a means to unify the Church within its own constitution; and the Bishop of Rome, accepted by all as successor of St Peter, was the obvious candidate. It must be emphasized that this was a question of survival in the west. The fact that, where Roman unity became the norm, there was a flourishing of new religious communities and many saints, and that where it was resisted it was normally for the very worst of reasons, led Rome to believe that, wherever the centralizing power of Rome was resisted, even in the Byzantine Empire, it was for the same corrupt reasons, by bishops who were in the pockets of the civil authority, were doing very nicely and were resisting the rigours of the Gospel. Rome, like the Orthodox East, interpreted the differences from its own limited experience and perspective. Add to the problem this Frankish Empire that resented its Eastern counterpart and wanted to use any method to discredit it, and the way was open to schism.
The third block could be called the "Semitic" block. Its liturgical language was neither Greek nor Latin, but a semitic language. It retained a far stronger Judeao-Christian influence than in the other two blocks (worshipping with head covered, for instance. Again, the division was along political lines and can be divided between the Assyrian Church of the East that lived outside the Byzantine Empire and hence did not attend the historic ecumenical councils, and the Coptic Church with Ethiopia and the Syrian Orthodox Church that lived within the Empire but wanted to be free from its yoke. The Assyrian Church, the Syrian Orthodox and the Catholic Maronites had Aramaic, the language of Christ, as their liturgical language - indeed they spoke a more current version of the language in their everyday life and were Syrians by race, while the Copts and Ethiopians celebrated the liturgy in Ge'ez, another Semitic language. It is out of that aprt of the Church that had a strong semitic influence that monasticism sprang. In Syrian Christianity, there was the strange phenomenon of the "Sons and Daughter of the Covenant" who only baptized celebates and who shared a strictly communal life; and it was from the Church of Alexandria that was a centre of Jewish spiritual and intellectual life even before Christianity arrived, that the first monks went into the desert. The words "Abbot", "Aba", "Abuna" come neither from Egyptian, Greek or Latin, but from Aramaic.
History of the “Church of the East”, also know as
“East Syrian Church”,
“Chaldean Syrian Church” in India only,
“Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East”,
“Assyrian Church of the East”
The Assyrian Church of the East was established in Edessa in the first century of the Christian era. It is from Edessa that the message of the Gospels spread. Edessa was a small kingdom, a buffer state between Roman and Parthean Empires. Mar Mary was sent to Persia by his fellow workers in Edessa. In the second century this church began to be organized. The church in Edessa had four Gospels in Aramaic. The teaching was spread to the Persian Empire. In the third century, the church in the Persian Empire had to take refugees from the Roman Empire where Christians were not welcomed. Streams of refugees turned toward Persia to escape persecution in the Eastern Roman Empire. A great multitude of Christians in all Roman provinces were put off by various punishments, torture professed to renounce Christianity.
From about 280 A.D. Mar Papa organized this church, thus Metropolitan seat of Seleucia became the headquarters. Now the city is in ruins, known as SalmanPark, 30 miles from Baghdad.
Mar Aprim the Assyrian, the representative of the Church in the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325A.D., played a great role in the literary and religious life of all Christians until today. That is the reason he is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church which declared Saint Aprim as the doctor of the Universal Church
In the fifth century, the Nestorian controversy concerning the unity of the divine and human nature in Christ had far reaching consequences. At this time, the Church of the East was not involved in this controversy. It was a theological dispute within the Roman Empire.
John Nestorius was not an Assyrian nor did he know Syriac language. He was a native of Antioch and Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431 A.D. His rival Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria. Therefore, the members of the Church say that they do not have anything to do with the Nestorian controversy. It was several years later and even after the death of Nestorius in 451 A.D. that the Christians of the Persian Empire heard about the controversy. They decreed that the stand taken by Nestorius was in agreement with the view always maintained by the Church of the East.
As a result of the persecution of the followers of Nestorius, many Christians had to flee from the now Christian Roman Empire and found refuge among the followers of this Church.
The headquarters of the Church, Selucia-Ctesphon, was at a strategic place on both banks of the River Tigris, the center of travel between Europe and Asia. By the middle of the sixth century, the Church had spread into Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Ceylon, China, and Mongolia.
Professor P.Y. Saeki stated that the leaven of Nestorianism has penetrated the whole of Chinese literature. This church had great missionaries. They expanded rapidly. Asia was widely covered by the missionaries. They had no fund to support their mission stations financially; there were no mission boards to direct their activities like Western missionaries of those days who followed the colonial Empires. It is time to hear from our long-forgotten past the thrilling story of our missionary enterprise during the early centuries of the Christian era. These Christians did not have great material means nor were they able to engage in planning great missionary strategies, computerized and perfected in world conferences, to win the world in our time. Yet they carried the torch of the Gospel all across the vast Asian continent, at the cost of great personal suffering and often martyrdom, for untold numbers of laymen and clergy alike were led by the Holy Spirit to push the frontiers of the Kingdom of God far and wide.
Wherever they went, it was to preach, to teach and cure. At the end of the eleventh century, this church was the single largest Christian denomination at that time. John Stewart writes:
Whole peoples with their rulers had become Christians and it seems certain that there were few places in the whole Asia that were not reached at some time or other as the outcome of the marvelous activity of that wonderful church which extended from China to Jerusalem and Cyprus, and in the eleventh century is said to have outnumbered the Greek and Roman churches combined
From the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Mediterranean in the West; from the Black Sea and Siberia to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, Assyrian missions were working. Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Manchuria, and Turkistan—all hand missions where the gospel was taught by zealous workers of the Assyrian Church of the East.
The Assyrian Church missionaries included bishops, priests, monks, deacons. It is said about these men—the messengers of the King of kings—that they were as gently as lambs and unassuming, but courageous and fearless with the hearts of lions. They sacrificed life and health in the unknown land and did their work among the heathen with faith and trust in God.
They went out from Mesopotamia, the birthplace of Abraham, the father of all the believers.
The missionaries traveled on foot; they had sandals on their feet, and a staff in their hands, and carried a basket on their backs, and in the basket were the Holy Writ and the Cross.
They took the road over deep rivers and high mountains, thousands of miles. On their way they met many heathen nations and preached to them gospel of Christ. The heathen who worshipped idols were told about the Savior, who would take their sins upon himself and save them. They sowed the good seed in the field, worked zealously and won many souls among the heathen nations.
The work of the mission became a blessing to the nations, and the missionaries influenced greatly those among whom they worked; they brought many from sin and idol worship to God; they went to the palaces of the kings and to the cottages of the poor. Kings and princes heard the words about the love of Christ, and they believed; the subjects followed their princes, and with their own hands they destroyed the temples of their idols; those that they heretofore had worshipped and hoped to get help and comfort from. Great gifts were given to the missionaries, but they distributed everything given them in the best way to serve the spreading of the words of Christ, and many souls were won.
Around the fourteenth century, this missionary enterprise started to decline. There was persecution, deception, extermination by Mongols. The remnant which escaped the persecution of Tamerlane finally found refuge in the mountains of Kurdistan. The split caused by Sulaqa who took refuge with the Roman Catholic Church, persecuted by the Kurds and Turks, and during the First World War further weakened this church.
THE ASSYRIAN CHURCH AT PRESENT TIME
At the turn of the century, and during the outbreak of the world war, Assyrians entered an era of new hostilities. Villages were burned, churches plundered. Hundreds of precious old Christological books, looted, and destroyed with few reaching the worlds famous museums.
The act of heroism that these few fierce fighters the Assyrian mountaineers exhibited is seldom seen in history, fighting their way through savages and fanatics. The shocking horror stories of mass murders are still remembered by every Assyrian family.
The impact of twentieth century fell heavy upon these Christians, depriving them from their ancestral land and leaving them now scattered more than ever before. Wherever they went they clustered to each other, and found communities still adhering to their old faith, in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Russia, U.S.A., Canada and Australia.
This general decadence of the Church made her forget its past missionary heritage. The decline of the monastic movement also contributed to the total annihilation of the missionary movement in this “most missionary church the world has ever seen,” the church that almost converted Mongols to Christianity. Still signs to hope are becoming visible recently among the young men who feel in their blood the call for work. The church continues to have a new expansion with goals to teach Assyrian rising generations the messianic teaching on the customs and traditions of our forefathers and to keep alive Aramaic (Syriac) a language which our Lord Jesus Christ offered his first sacrifice of Eucharist.
It is certain that these people comprise the world’s most ancient churches and maintained many of their old traditions. They remained isolated throughout the centuries thus preserving the once famous Aramaic language, and lived as if in Biblical times in their picturesque villages, they worship very much the same way as was done two thousand years ago. The ceremonies in churches and monasteries are exceedingly impressive.
The Church of the East received the scriptures from the hands of the blessed Apostles themselves in Aramaic original the language of Palestine at the time of our Lord Jesus Christ and that Aramaic Bible “Peshitta” is the text of the church of the East which has come from Biblical times without any change or revision. We hope that the imperishable memory of the innumerable company of martyrs of the Church of the East who lived and died in the light of eternity will provide an incentive to all churches toady and to the members of this ancient church, the heirs of this great tradition
FAITH AND DOCTRINE
The Theology of the Church of the East is strictly based on the Bible and has remained unchanged throughout the centuries of the messianic faith. Christ said, “Examine the scriptures; in them you trust that you have eternal life; it is they that testify concerning me.” (St. John 5:39).
Doctrinally, it is Apostolic and Catholic and holds firmly to the Apostolic Succession. Its priesthood is based upon the petrine promise. “To thee I will give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Its completion and perfection in the commission given by our Lord to His Apostles; “He breathed upon them and said, receive ye the Holy Spirit, if you forgive a man his sins they shall be forgiven and if you hold a man his sins they shall be held.” Its attribute is therefore intermediary between God and man without authority to forgive and hold sins.
Upon this foundation the Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East has based its nine orders of the church, as it received them from the hands of the Holy Apostolic (St. Thomas); Mar Addai (St. Thaddeus); Mar Bar-Tulmai (St. Bartholomew) and Mar Man of the seventy.
It holds that, without the Apostolic Succession, there are no sacraments of the church and without the sacraments there is no church, and therefore, no operation of the Holy Spirit. To quote Chapter 8, Verses 14-17 of the Acts of the Apostles: “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the Samaritan people had accepted the word of God, they sent to them Simon, Peter and John. Who, when they went down, prayed over them that only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
The Church of the East faithful to the command of our Lord, and the teaching and practice of the early church, has maintained this Apostolic Succession throughout the trials and tribulations of its nearly twenty centuries-long history.
Its theology is Apostolic and Catholic, and has remained unchanged throughout its history. Its doctrine of the Holy Trinity is in conformity with that of the Council of Nicea, at which it was represented.
As regards the mystery of the dispensation of Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, it professes Him in two natures; namely, divine and human in two Qnume; namely, hypostasis, or underlying substances, in one person of the Son of God. One will, one authority. These two natures are united eternally and inseparably. It rejects the term “theotokos” or “Mother of God” used for the Blessed Virgin. It holds that the term has no Scriptural authority, is liable to misunderstanding, and therefore can lead to error. It maintains that while the One Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church is the guardian of the Faith, and has full authority granted it by its Lord and Master through the power of the Holy Spirit, to preach the gospel to all mankind and to interpret the meaning of the Scriptures to the faithful; yet has no right to teach any doctrine that has no Scriptural authority.
In words of St. Paul the Apostle, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be ‘khrim’ (anathema).”
The theology of the Church of the East has been stated briefly and clearly in the following hymn of praise, written by Mar-Babai the great, a noted theologian of the Church, and which is:
“One is Christ, the Son of God,
Worshipped 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.”
The Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, however, to this day is commonly known to our Western Christian Brethren as the “Nestorian” Church. This misnomer has led them generally to think that this Church has established by Saint Nestorius, and that it received its teaching from his followers. The so-called Nestorian doctrine has been erroneously or deliberately interpreted by its opponents to mean the belief of two persons in Christ. These allegations, of course, have their origin in the Council of Ephesus. This issue, however, has since been much clarified by various Protestant and also some Roman Catholic scholars.
The Encyclopedia Britannica says: “So far as Nestorius himself is concerned, however, it is certain that he never formulated such doctrine, nor does any recorded utterance of his, however casual, come so near the heresy called by his name.
As to the Assyrian Church of the East, however, because they would not change their true faith, but kept it as they received it from the Apostles, they were unjustly styled “Nestorians,” since Nestorius was not their Patriarch, neither did they understand his language; but when they heard that he taught the doctrine of the two Natures and two Qnume, one will, one Son of God, one Christ, and that he confessed the orthodox faith, they bore witness to him, because they themselves held the same faith. Nestorius, then, followed them, and not they him, and that more especially in the matter of the appellation “Mother of Christ.” Therefore when called upon to excommunicate him, they refused, maintaining that their excommunication of Nestorius would be equivalent to their excommunication of the Sacred Scriptures and the Holy Apostles, from which they received what they professed, and for which we are censured together with Nestorius.
The Assyrian Church never was part of the Byzantine Empire; so their vestments are usually rather western in style. Like all the Syrian rites, the priest wears a cope rather than a chasuble, but it tends to look like a Latin vestment rather than a Byzantine one. This is in contrast to the Syrian Orthodox who used to be reluctant members of the Empire and hence are more obviously Byzantine in style. However, as in all Eastern Christianity, the word "altar" means the whole sanctuary, while what we call "the altar", they call "the throne" (the mercy seat in the Jerusalem temple where God was present, sitting among his people). Another thing the Assyrians have in common with other churches of the Syrian tradition is that, instead of the Byzantine iconstasis, there is a curtain; but I don't know how it is used. If anyone can tell me, I would be grateful.
There was a liturgical and theological obstacle to this growing unity, one of immense importance, not only within this context, but for our understanding of the Mass in any context. The Assyrians have several eucharistic prayers or "anaphoras"; but their main one is called "The Anaphora of the holy apostles Addai and Mari". The problem is that there are no words of institution, no "This is my body....this is the chalice of my blood". In ordinary Catholic parlance, there are no "words of consecration"!! The Cardinal Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church consulted Rome about the problem. Is the Assyrian Church Mass valid that his faithful are attending if it lacks the "words of consecration. Before we continue, here is the Anaphora of SS Addain and Mari. Where it says that the words of institution are inserted "here", we must remember that the Assyrians normally leave it out.
The Chaldean Patriarch consulted the Vatican about the problem; and, in its turn, the Vatican consulted a number of theologians who are also liturgists. Their reply was unanimous: many of the earliest anaphoras were without the words of institutiton; that the original idea was that the whole prayer was consecratory and not just a few words within it;hence, that the words of institution consecrate in the Latin Rite does not mean that the same is true in other rites; that the Roman Church has always recognized the validity of the sacraments in the Assyrian Church; and that the Anaphora of SS Addai and Mari was composed around the year 200AD and is thus probably the oldest anaphora in use at the present time. On the basis of these findings, the Vatican published the following document. Its conclusions are important and highly authoritative: it was signed by the Cardinals in charge of various Vatican departments, including Cardinal Ratzinger, and was initialled by Pope John Paul II. Here it is:
PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY
GUIDELINES FOR ADMISSION TO THE EUCHARIST
BETWEEN THE CHALDEAN CHURCH
AND THE ASSYRIAN CHURCH OF THE EAST
It is not necessary to give a commentary on the whole document. The key text that certainly needs a commentary is this one:
Secondly, the Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession. The Assyrian Church of the East has also preserved full Eucharistic faith in the presence of our Lord under the species of bread and wine and in the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. In the Assyrian Church of the East, though not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are thus to be found "true sacraments, and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist" (U.R., n. 15). Secondly, the Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession. The Assyrian Church of the East has also preserved full Eucharistic faith in the presence of our Lord under the species of bread and wine and in the sacrificial character of the Eucharist. In the Assyrian Church of the East, though not in full communion with the Catholic Church, are thus to be found "true sacraments, and above all, by apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist" (U.R., n. 15)
"The Catholic Church recognises the Assyrian Church of the East as a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession." It does not accept the councils of Ephesus or Chalcedon, even though the joint Christological Declaration says that there is no difference in our belief in the Incarnation, in spite of the historical controversies. Whether the fundamental agreement always existed and the Assyrians and the Catholic Church simply misunderstood each other, as some claim, or whether the action of the Holy Spirit invoked in the Liturgy gradually cleansed the Assyrian Church of heresy, I simply do not know enough to hazard an opinion. What I do know is that we are in agreement now. Nevertheless, there remains the question, How can a Church which does not accept those two councils be called "a true particular Church, built upon orthodox faith and apostolic succession". Also, how can a Church be true when it is separated from the Holy See and rejects its authority? If communion with Rome and accepting the teaching of general councils are not part of the essence of what makes up a "true Particular Church", what is essential?
In Pope Benedict's words, the Eucharist is the constitution of the Church. It is exactly the same Eucharist throughout time since the Apostles first celebrated until now, and well into the future, and in every place.. Every Eucharist is the act of the whole Church and not just of the group that is celebrating and unites them to Christians everywhere by organic ties so that it is possible to say that the body of Christ is everywhere and from the times of the apostles to the end of time; and it can be said, equally truly, that the body of Christ exists in each local eucharistic assembly. Where the Mass is, there is Christ; and where Christ is, there is the fullness of Catholicism: he is its fulness.
The Holy Spirit, invoked at the epiclesis, is sent by the Father at the prayer of his Son, to turn the bread and wine into yhe body and blood of Christ; and the same Spirit makes us capable of receiving Christ and leading us to all truth. The Holy Spirit is always with the Church; and hence there is no particular time when the Spirit is more with the Church than other times, since the time of the apostles. This truth is contained and expressed in the liturgy which springs out of the apostilic preaching and understanding of the faith and which bears the marks of the history of Catholic understanding down the ages from the time of the Apostles until now. In each and all generations, it is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church. From early times, the liturgy has taken different forms according to the history of the churches that celebrate it; but each form has a continous history from apostolic times, and all celebrate the same Mystery of Christ. A Catholic understanding of a liturgical tradition must, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, be reached by the "hermeneutic of continuity".
To understand this, we can make a comparison between the ecumenical task with the Assyrians and the Anglicans. The Assyrian Church has kept its liturgical tradition intact, in spite of the schism; and its liturgy has always been recognised as a Catholic liturgy of orthodox faith. The Christological Declaration was made because we recognise that their faith is in accordance with their liturgy and with Catholic understanding. They are still separated; so there is a contradiction between the organic unity they achieve with the Catholic Church by celebrating the Eucharist, and the lack of organic ties with the Catholic Church in their ecclesial life. Who is to be blamed for that is a totally different question and probably has more than one answer. However, their gradual re-integration into the mainstream is the way forward, while keeping their liturgical life intact. In contrast, the Anglican Church abolished the Roman Rite to which they belonged and wrote a liturgy that expressed their own insights into the nature of Christian life, following their own way. By so doing they unchurched themselves. The ecumenical task here is to re-integrate them into the Roman Rite from which they were untimely ripped, but in such a way that the life of grace which the Spirit has given them in their separation should also be integrated. This is what is happening with the Ordiariates.
The Catholic Church considers all the Churhes, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and others as true particular Churches, built on Orthodox faith and apostolic succession. Hence each and all are identical with Catholic Churches at the altar, each celebration including all the others, each finding in the eucharistic Christ and in their liturgical celebration the fullness of Catholicism; but they are unable by schism from fully participating in the organic unity they celebrate in the Liturgy. This has nothing to do with who is to blame. The truth is that only the universal Primacy of Rome enables us to act worldwide as a single unit.
Hey i think my last post didn't go through so i'm trying again:
Hey, my name is John. I read a lot of blogs on religion and prayer and I've i feel like I've ended up here once before. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this prayer exchange website PrayerMarket.com I thought it was an interesting idea and would be curious to hear what you (or other christians) think about it
I'll check back here in the next day or two, thanks & God bless
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