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Development. By the fourth century, Syriac Christianity flourished within Roman- and Persian-controlled Mesopotamia. For centuries, these archrivals clashed, jockeying for control of the Fertile Crescent. Home to two of the greatest intellectual centers in late antiquity, the Mesopotamian cities of Edessa and Nisibis nurtured scholars and monks, hermits and poets. Among them is the great theologian, St. Ephrem the Syrian.

From Edessa developed a family of liturgies — celebrated in Syriac — that is used today in a number of forms by more than 15 million Christians of the Syriac tradition in as many as 10 different churches. One form, the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, includes elements of the Jewish tradition, such as its eucharistic prayer, which stems from the Jewish prayer of thanksgiving after meals. Curiously, this eucharistic prayer does not include the institution narrative.

While Syriac Christians within the eastern Roman Empire participated in the great Christological debates of the fourth through seventh centuries, Persia’s Syriac Christians developed independently. By the year 410, the bishop of the Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon emerged as the senior hierarch of the Persian church, assuming the title of catholicos then patriarch.

Commonly referred to as the Church of the East, this community at first remained in communion with the churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Yet, it grew under the watchful eyes of the Sassanid Persians — followers of the prophet Zoroaster — who suspected the church of harboring loyalties to Byzantium.

Long after Christianity received state support in Armenia and Byzantium, Persian Christians suffered bouts of persecution, forcing them to look away from the world of Christian Byzantium and its ecumenical councils.

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Tags: Christianity Chaldean Church Church history Church of the East