Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
9 August 2017
Patricia L. Guilfoyle, Catholic News Service

Bishop Jacob Angadiath of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago, center, prays at St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., during the church’s dedication Mass on 22 July. Also pictured is Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte and the Rev. Johnykutty George Puleessery, eparchial chancellor. (photo: CNS/Patricia Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)

Hundreds of people filled a spacious, brightly lit building in south Charlotte in July for an occasion years in the making: the consecration of a permanent church for the Indian Catholic community in the Queen City.

St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was dedicated 22 July by Bishop Jacob Angadiath during Holy Qurbana, or Mass, celebrated mostly in the Malayalam language.

It is the first permanent home for Charlotte’s Indian Catholic community — comprised of about 45 registered families and growing — and only the second Syro-Malabar Catholic church in North Carolina.

“We have consecrated this church for the public worship of God. It is a gift of God, and let us give thanks to God,” said Bishop Jacob, who shepherds the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy, which is based in Chicago and encompasses all Syro-Malabar Catholics in the U.S.

Auxiliary Bishop Joy Alappatt, of the Chicago eparchy, and Bishop Peter J. Jugis, who heads the Latin-rite Diocese of Charlotte, concelebrated the four-hour liturgy, along with several other priests.

Bishop Jacob thanked local clergy including Bishop Jugis and Msgr. John McSweeney, retired pastor of St. Matthew Church in Charlotte and a concelebrant, for being a “great source of inspiration and help and support to our community.”

He also acknowledged the hard work of the faithful, as well as Father Paul Chalissery, pastor of the new church, and the other Indian priests who minister to the community, and the local Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and Missionaries of Charity for their prayers and support.

“It’s not an easy task” to build a church, he said, smiling as he expressed gratitude to everyone from the building committee members to the choir. “Every eucharistic celebration is the greatest thanksgiving.”

“As we celebrate the Holy Qurbana, the Holy Mass, here in the church,” he continued, “we give the greatest thanksgiving to God Almighty for all the blessings we receive every day, and especially the wonderful gift of this particular church. So let us keep in our hearts this gratitude to God Almighty, with all our love, with all our gratitude.”

During the rite of consecration, Bishop Jacob blessed the walls of the church, marked by four small crosses, as well as everyone gathered for the Mass, with holy water and incense. He also anointed the crosses and the altars in the sanctuary with sacred chrism, and lit the flower-adorned paschal candle.

At the end of Mass, Bishop Jacob officially elevated St. Mary’s from its mission status to that of a parish, and he appointed Father Chalissery as pastor.

“The Syro-Malabar Catholic community by nature is a missionary community,” Father Chalissery noted. “The consecration is a fulfillment of our dream and our responsibility to hand down the Syro-Malabar Catholic tradition to our next generation and to the people of Charlotte.”

St. Matthew Church in Charlotte, under the leadership of its former pastor, Msgr. McSweeney, was instrumental in supporting the Indian Catholic community and building the church. Parishioners from the diocese’s largest parish were on hand for the celebration, and the parish’s new pastor, Father Pat Hoare, was among the concelebrants of the Mass.

Msgr. McSweeney recalled that plans for a Syro-Malabar church named in honor of St. Mary began 30 years ago, then said with a smile, “For the first time in western (North) Carolina today, we're all part of the establishment of St. Mary Syro-Malabar Parish, and this is truly a day for us to rejoice.”

Two years of planning, led by Father Chalissery and a 16-member building committee, went into the $1.4 million project, which included the purchase of five acres in south Charlotte as well as construction of the church.

The 10,000-square-foot church, which seats approximately 500 people, features a brightly-lit nave, or “haykla,” and spacious sanctuary, or “madbaha,” that contains the altar of sacrifice as well as a little altar and two elaborately carved wooden lecterns.

A striking apse mural frames a statue of Christ ascending to heaven, with Mary and St. Thomas among the witnesses watching him in amazement. Ginto Pottackal of Baltimore painted the scene from Chapter 1, Verses 6-11. The high altar features a carved wood diorama of the Last Supper.

The building also has 10 classrooms and other office facilities.

In his homily at the 22 July Mass, Bishop Jugis noted that just as the church is consecrated to God, the growing community of Indian Catholic faithful are similarly consecrated — and they must take what they receive in church out into the wider community.

“This new church is a sign of the amazing growth of our Catholic community in this area, and we give thanks to Almighty God for this blessing — this growth of the Catholic faithful — and the many opportunities that the Lord therefore gives us to serve Him as our community grows,” Bishop Jugis said.

Consecrating a church sets it apart from other places, dedicating it exclusively for the worship of God through the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, he explained. Through worship and reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the faithful are “transformed by the power of God’s grace, to grow in holiness.”

That transformation does not end at the church door, he emphasized.

“This church is a center of evangelization. From this place we want Christ’s message to go out to the whole world. We want the love of Christ, which you celebrate here at this altar, to be taken beyond the confines of this physical building — into your homes, your neighborhoods, your workplaces, every place.”

The mission of every Catholic church around the world is to share the good news of the Gospel, which flows from the Eucharist and transforms and purifies the faithful so that they can bring that Gospel message to others, he said.

With about 4.6 million members, the Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest church among the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the pope. It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Both Indian churches trace their roots to St. Thomas the Apostles arriving there in A.D. 52.

9 August 2017
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis has named Bishop Frank Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based near Detroit, as administrator of Eparchy of Addai of Toronto.
(photo: CNS/Bob Roller)

Pope appoints bishops to serve two Chaldean eparchies (CNS) Pope Francis has named Bishop Emmanuel Challita of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Addai of Toronto as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter to Apostle in San Diego. The pope also named Bishop Frank Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based near Detroit, as administrator of Eparchy of Addai of Toronto. The appointments were announced in Washington 9 August by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the apostolic nunciature in the United States...

Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy gets new auxiliary (CNS) Pope Francis has named Father Andriy Rabiy as auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Bishop-designate Rabiy, 41, currently serves as vicar general of the archeparchy and as pastor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Reading, Pennsylvania...

Israel held secret talks with Russia, U.S. over Syria (Haaretz) Israel, the United States and Russia held a series of secret meetings early last month in Amman and in a European capital regarding the cease-fire in southern Syria. The parties focused in part on the establishment of “safe zones” on the Syrian-Israeli and Syrian-Jordanian borders, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats...

Archeologists think they’ve unearthed hometown of three apostles (CNS) After decades of searching, Israeli archaeologists working on the shores of the Sea of Galilee believe they have uncovered the lost Roman city of Julias, home of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip...

Priest preserves Iraqi culture in historic manuscripts (CNA) As Iraq and surrounding areas face the destruction of many of the region’s archaeological treasures, one priest and his fellow Dominicans are preserving the area’s history and culture through an archive of Christian and other religious manuscripts...

Religious sister from India wins nursing award (UCANIndia) A Catholic religious sister from India has won a prestigious global award in HIV nursing from an international association. The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) selected Sister Lourdu Mary Nagothu for developing and implementing the world’s first masters’ curriculum in HIV/AIDS...

8 August 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro

Rachelle Beaini, a social worker at the Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Zahleh, plays with 2-year-old Michael, the Lebanese-Syrian son of Eli Yassin and Lina Barakat, during a visit at their home in Zahleh — a large Christian town in the Bekaa Valley. To learn more about how Lebanese citizens are living alongside Syrian refugees, read Hardship and Hospitality, from the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)

Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees

8 August 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro

Amir, an Iraqi Christian craftsman, center, and his family pose in their house on 4 August in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The family, who fled ISIS occupation, has returned home to rebuild their house and their lives. (photo: CNS/AVSI Foundation)

With help from church groups, Iraqis begin return to Nineveh Plain (Crux) Although Iraqi forces recaptured Qaraqosh, about nine miles from the edge of Mosul, from ISIS last October, it took many months before Christians felt comfortable enough to return, and their numbers are not huge. So far, 200 houses have been rebuilt in Qaraqosh, with another 111 on the way. Qaraqosh once had 50,000 people…

Indian Christians alarmed over violence against minorities (Vatican Radio) More than 100 prominent Indian Christians have written an open letter to the heads of all churches and Christian communities, spurring them to action in support of civil society in its struggle to safeguard India’s secular credentials and cultural and religious diversity. In the letter released on 4 August, the signatories noted a dangerous shift in the country “from a pluralist, secular, democracy to a Hindu Rashtra…”

Israeli archaeologists think they found lost Roman city of Julias (CNS) After decades of searching, Israeli archaeologists working on the shores of the Sea of Galilee believe they have uncovered the lost Roman city of Julias, home of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip…

Tiny Arizona parish hosts leader of world’s Ukrainian Catholics (CNS) When Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, visited the parish of St. Michael Church in Tucson in July, “it was an amazing experience,” said the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, 61, pastor of the 50-member parish…

Jordan’s king visits West Bank: A rare trip seen as message to Israel (Christian Science Monitor) Jordan’s king flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday — a rare and brief visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as a contested Jerusalem shrine…

Egypt cuts cultivation of water-intensive crops (Al Monitor) In anticipation of a water crisis following the construction of the Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s government is preparing a draft law to impose harsher sanctions on the cultivation of water-intensive crops, but some say farmers must first be offered alternatives…

West Bank priests stress nonviolence as youths protest Israeli occupation (CNS) With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, Father Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began. For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation…

Tags: India Iraq Egypt Jordan West Bank

7 August 2017
CNEWA staff

In this image from last summer, Dominican Sister St. Elene kisses a 4-year-old headed to a church-run preschool in a camp for displaced Christians in Erbil. The sisters and some families have recently begun to return to Christian towns that have been liberated. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)

Editor’s note: Our partners in Iraq, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, sent the following letter to their friends around the world on Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It offers an update on recent developments in Iraq.

Dear brothers, sisters and friends,

It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On 6 August 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light. Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.

That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.

When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.

Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wandered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “to endure the days of turmoil. ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” and we found ourselves answering him “‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’” (Ezekiel 37:3) Inspired by the stories and experiences of Biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.

Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqosh, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week. There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqosh. Although in Qaraqosh the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have offered to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqosh and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. There are 116 houses completely destroyed. The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September but, of course, there is a problem with the funding. So far, only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.

Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqosh. Since our convent in Qaraqosh is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move to in Qaraqosh.

As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God. Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is — if ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people; and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.

We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.

Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena Erbil-Iraq


‘God Wants Me Here’: Christians Keep Hope Alive in Iraq
Grace: Meet the Sisters Bringing Hope to Displaced Iraqis
Remembrance: Iraq, Two Years After the Exodus

7 August 2017
Greg Kandra

Lara Yussif Zara made history last week, becoming the first Christian woman elected mayor in Iraq. She is pictured here with local leaders, including Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Read more about this historic election at this link. (photo: Twitter/iraqchristians)

7 August 2017
Greg Kandra

The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada. (photo: CNS/Mary Iapalucci, Long Island Catholic)

Syro-Malankara bishop from U.S. will head new eparchy in India (CNS) The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada...

For first time, Christian woman elected mayor of Iraqi town (Catholic Herald) A Catholic woman has been elected as the new mayor of Alqosh, a small town on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Lara Yussif Zara was the unanimous choice of the municipal council last Thursday, defeating another candidate. The first woman to be mayor of Alqosh, she replaces another Chaldean Christian, Abdul Micha, who was dismissed after charges of corruption...

How long can Gaza survive with no water? (Al Monitor) The water crisis caused by ongoing power outages of more than 20 hours a day has pushed Gaza Strip residents to dig unlicensed wells, disregarding the ensuing serious threats to the already scarce aquifer water stock...

India’s ‘Black Day’ for Dalit Christians (Vatican Radio) Dalit Christians and Muslims of India will once again observe ‘Black Day’ on 10 August this year to highlight the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims have been facing for 67 years. India’s Catholic bishops want to remind the people that the country bears a constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity...

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox celebrate start of Virgin Mary fast ( The Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church celebrated on Monday the start of the fast of the Virgin Mary that will end on 22 August, MENA news agency reported. This fast is 15 days long and precedes the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Dormition of the Theotokos). The celebration will be held at the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Drunka, Assuit...

4 August 2017
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service

An Israeli policeman throws a stun grenade in Jerusalem’s Old City on 27 July. Weeks of violence have raised tensions in the Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, the Rev. Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began.

“There were many [Israeli] police and soldiers, closing many roads,” Father Aridah told Catholic News Service in a phone interview once he was back in Jifna’s St. Joseph Parish 28 July.

Friday afternoon prayer in Muslim tradition is considered especially significant and is required of all Muslim men. Often during volatile periods, prayers at the contested Al Aqsa Mosque compound have been followed by demonstrations. Sometimes the tensions spread to other sections of Jerusalem, or even to the West Bank.

For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation.

Father Aridah said he counsels young people not even to throw stones at the young Israeli soldiers who sometimes come near their village on patrols or in search of men wanted by the army.

“The problem is with the [Israeli] government, not with the soldiers,” he said. “Violence is not acceptable from either side. With this conflict, Israel is losing its image as a democratic state. I tell the young men that we are not with this violence. If we do not accept for Israel to behave this way, then how can we accept it from our side? Wherever God is represented in our life, we should have no violence.”

If word that someone might be considering taking part in a violent demonstration reaches him, the priest makes a beeline to that home for a conversation. The way to best serve their society, he advises them, is to get an education, to bring a new vision to Palestinian life.

“I don’t want to see blood in my parish,” Father Aridah said. “If we want to see [real] results, I tell [the young people] to be educated. I [tell them] to serve your people well, do well in the university, then go get a job in society and tell the world [about our situation], but do nothing with violence. If we want to resist, we resist with education.”

As he prepared to leave for a new parish in northern Israel, Father Aktham Hijazin of the Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala spent his last Sunday with his parish saying his good-byes. He said the majority of Palestinians, including his parishioners, are proponents of nonviolent opposition to the Israeli occupation. His parishioners did not take part in the clashes in neighboring Bethlehem, he said.

Following the tenants of their Catholic faith, he said, “They are not interested to take part in any violent act.”

In Ramallah, West Bank, Father Ibrahim Shomali noted that though he did not take part, members of his parish as well as clergy from the Melkite and Greek Orthodox churches did participate in peaceful demonstrations in Ramallah, away from the flashpoints with Israeli soldiers.

He said he has made it clear to his parishioners that, even while under Israeli occupation, violent confrontation is not acceptable. Even if Israel settlers attack Palestinian farmers and villagers, violence is not justified, he added.

As Christians, he said, people must respect all holy places and respect the holiness of Al Aqsa for Muslims.

“We resist with our prayers and with our Bible and with respect of the human person,” Father Shomali said. “If you can love your enemy, you can have more power over them and get stronger to ask for your rights.”

The Al Aqsa mosque compound has been the focal point of Palestinian-Israel confrontation for decades. To Muslims it is Haram al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary where, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. To Jews it is holy as the Temple Mount, where, according to Jewish tradition, the two biblical temples stood. In the Gospels, this is where Jesus lashed out against the money-changers when he came to Jerusalem on Passover.

On 14 July outside one of the compound gates, two Israeli policemen were murdered by three men from an Israeli Arab town. The men had smuggled guns into the compound; Israeli police shot and killed them. Israel responded by erecting metal detectors and other security measures outside the compound, sparking protests — some violent — by Muslims.

A week later, a Palestinian snuck into the Israeli settlement of Halamish and killed three members of an Israeli family during their Shabbat dinner. An off-duty soldier shot and injured the attacker.

Israel eventually removed the metal detectors at the Al Aqsa compound and replaced cameras with “smart cameras” that have face recognition capabilities and can detect weapons.

“The place is holy for the three religions, Muslims, Christians and Jews, so we should [all] be able to raise our praise to God,” said a Catholic priest, who asked not to be named. “This may be possible when a peace agreement is reached.”

Tags: Jerusalem Palestine Israel Israeli-Palestinian conflict

4 August 2017
Greg Kandra

The video above shows the challenges families are facing as they return to what is left of Mosul, Iraq. (video: SkyNews/YouTube)

Families return to booby-trapped homes in Mosul (SkyNews) The city of Mosul spreads out along the banks of the Tigris River. It is a formidable, if scenic, obstacle and five bridges were built to overcome it. After months of vicious warfare however, there is only one way for residents to cross. The Iraqi generals call it “Victory Bridge,” but this single-lane, floating structure looks a little less grand…

How climate change could affect the Nile (The Economist) To the untrained eye, the satellite photos of northwest Ethiopia on 10 July may have seemed benign. They showed a relatively small pool of water next to an enormous building site on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile. But the project under construction is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is more than halfway complete. And the water is why it is so controversial…

Jordan: 10,000 babies born as refugees (Doctors Without Borders) A maternity hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Jordan’s Irbid governorate has witnessed the births of 10,000 babies — most of them Syrian — in just four years. These babies are part of a generation of Syrian children who have never seen their homeland and may face challenges of identity and integration in the future…

Armenia’s population continues to decline (Azernews) The population of Armenia continues decreasing in number, thus further worsening the demographic crisis in the country, which is caused by social and economic problems that the Armenian government fails to solve…

Orthodox monasteries prepare for pilgrimages ( The word “pilgrimage” means “a journey of spiritual significance.” And every year, the month of August proves to be significant for three monastic communities of the Orthodox Church in America observing their annual pilgrimages in conjunction with their patronal feast days…

Tags: Iraq Egypt Ethiopia Armenia United States

3 August 2017
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

This pagoda in Shaanxi, China, dates to the seventh century. Scholars believe it was originally part of a monastery for the Church of the East — offering evidence of Christianity's deep roots in Asia. (photo: J. Coster/Wikipedia)

While all the ancient churches traditionally trace their roots back to one of the Apostles — or one of the 72 disciples who are mentioned without names in Luke’s Gospel — it is often difficult to verify these traditions in way which would be acceptable to modern historians.

The New Testament offers little help. It has Peter traveling to Antioch, although there is no mention in the Bible that Peter went to Rome. We also know from Acts 8:4-8 that Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, travelled and preached in Samaria, which was not far from Jerusalem. There is more evidence in the Bible about Paul desiring to go to Rome and ultimately going there as a prisoner. Paul is also known to have founded several churches. However, although he insists that he is an “apostle” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9 and elsewhere), Paul was not a member of the original Twelve Apostles.

While traditions about the apostolic origins of some churches may be hard to verify, they do have deep roots. Early on, traditions arose according to which of the Twelve evangelized a particular area — Thomas in India, Andrew in Byzantium, and so on.

Nearly 200 years later, we find — as in India and parts of Armenia — that church institutions developed. The traditions were beginning to flourish. Shrines and memorials recording the presence of one of the Twelve, even many decades later, also indicate a longer tradition. So, when churches trace their roots back to apostolic times, there is very often an historical core to those traditions.

But before long, several forces — mostly political, theological, linguistic and cultural — led to isolation between the churches of the East and those of the Latin and Greek-speaking West.

The Church of the East, sometimes inaccurately called the Nestorian Church, was a church separated from the Western churches in many ways. First, it existed politically in the Persian Empire, which was almost in a constant state of war with Byzantium, the political center of Western Christianity. Secondly, its theology found the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon unacceptable. This actually was to its advantage because “orthodox” Christianity was — sometimes correctly — seen by the Persians as the faith of the Byzantine enemies. Lastly, members of the Church of the East spoke Syriac and different dialects of Aramaic, in contrast to the Greek and Latin of the churches in the West.

But it was, in many ways, ahead of its time. It might surprise people to learn that the Church of the East developed schools of theology in Edessa and Nisibis (both in modern Turkey) some 500 years before the opening of the first great European universities. Also, for the first five centuries of the church, most Christians lived east of the Mediterranean; by the time of the Muslim conquests in the mid-seventh century, Christians formed a slight majority of the population of the Persian Empire.

One reason for its growth is that the Church of the East was renowned for its missionary activities. By the eighth century it had metropolitan sees (archdioceses) in several places in China and across Central Asia. The Church of the East brought Christianity to China before it arrived in Denmark and the Slavic countries of Europe and almost 1,000 years before St. Francis Xavier arrived in the region.

Although the Church of the East remains widely unknown in the West, for centuries it was one of the most vital forces for theology and missionary activity in the Christian world.


2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Introduction

Tags: Christianity Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Church of the East

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