Assyrian Church of the East

I have a friend who is part of the “Assyrian Church of the East”. She speaks Aramaic and is from Iraq.

What is the Oriental Catholic counterpart of this Church?

Is this the same rite as the Chaldean Catholics?

Yes on both counts.

Any tips for talking to her about “full communion”?

Is the relationship between Assyrian Church of the East as politicized as the relationship say between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholics?

Anything I should know?

A really large portion of the Assyrian Church of the East just reunited with the Catholic Church last year… essentially an entire diocese and its bishop in California… several thousand members. Relations between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church are really good right now, arguably, the best among any branch of orthodoxy.

Even before Mar Bawai’s movement towards reunion with the Chaldean Church Rome issued a document allowing intercommunion between Chaldeans and the ACOE.

More importantly, the Assyrian Church also issued the same decree allowing Assyrians to practice in the Chaldean Church, and Chaldeans to receive in the Assyrian Church.

Essentially, they are in limited communion.
(The Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox have similar agreements with their Catholic counterparts.)

Please do not forget my friends, the terrible tribulation that our Assyrian & Chaldean brothers & sisters are suffering in Iraq. Pray that God will grant them relief, freedom & deliverance, and the hearts of their persecutors will be converted.

Although their numbers in Iraq are somewhat smaller, let’s not forget the Syriacs (both CC and OC) who share the same plight.

Yes, and also the Copts in Egypt. Much of the Eastern Church is still in terrible tribulation. Let us pray for our suffering brothers & sisters!

And check this out:

A Forgotten Golden Age

Just a word of caution when approaching the Mar Bawai situation, many Assyrian Church of the East members are not too thrilled with his leaving their Church to join the Chaldean Catholic Church of the East, the hurt seems to be a bit too soon to discuss rationally.

These Churches have some deep, intermingled history. Ironically, the Assyrian non-Catholic group is actually of the lineage of the patriarch who accepted Catholicism, while the Catholic group is from the lineage of the patriarch who rejected union with Rome.

Just to clarify matters for some of you, the Assyrian church (which is in fact the last remnant of the original Church of Persia) is not considered Orthodox by the actual Eastern Orthodox Church. The Persian Church had fallen away by the end of the first millennium after succumbing to the Nestorian heresy. They have never recanted this heresy, which makes the current move to restore communion with them highly peculiar.
An interesting note: during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, some of these Nestorian Christians were received into the Russian Orthodox Church while being permitted to retain the Syrian rites and language, after agreeing to accept Orthodoxy. I don’t know what became of these after the Revolution in 1917.

One thing: the ACoE is NOT, and never has been, “Persian.” It was and remains Assyrian. In its earliest days, it developed in the “East” which meant east of the boundary between the Roman and Persian Empires, but that is political and has no bearing on the ethnicity of its members.

OTOH, it does perhaps have a bearing on the acceptance of the teachings of Nestorius which was encouraged by the Persian Empire solely for the reason that it was contrary to the orthodox teachings of the Church in the Roman Empire. BTW, I believe it was in the 5 century.

Whether or not ACoE theology actually embraced Nestorianism after a certain point in history (for arguments sake, let’s say with its decline from the 13th century) remains a question. That it’s teachings in the present do not has been is far less of a question.

I believe there was a Russian-sponsored splinter group but whether or not it still exists, I’m not sure. If it does, it’s certainly not part of the ACoE.

The use of the title Persian does not imply anything about ethnicity, but that, as you say, this Local Church was confined to the borders of the Persian empire. The ancient tradition of ecclesiastical organization has always been territorial, not ethnic.
Nestorianism was certainly making headway by the 5th c in the East, but the Persian Church remained in communion with the Roman church much longer. For example, the Syrian bishop Isaac of Nineveh, who lived in the 7th c, is venerated as a saint by the Orthodox.

Probably not a good idea to suggest to an Assyrian that the Church was ever “Persian.” The fact that it developed within in boundaries of the Persian Empire is immaterial. The Assyrians have a proud tradition of their own and were never exactly thrilled with having been subjugated by Persia.

And to my knowledge, there’s no explicit evidence that Mar Ishaq himself actually embraced Nestorianiam.

Hi malphono,

Most respectfully, I don’t think that this is a completely objective assessment of the Church of the East.

It was, if anything, multicultural and very widespread.

It was protected within the borders of the Persian state from anything the Roman state might have tried to depose it’s bishops and return it to Orthodoxy and we know that the church did make converts among the Iranian people, so in that sense it was Persian as well as Assyrian. But it definitely goes much further than that.

The evidence is hard to catalog, but the church’s missions spread all the way to Cathay/China and points in between by the seventh century. The Assyrian liturgical language was maintained. There has been some claim (I can’t verify) that it penetrated Tibet successfully before Buddhism was able to. (Tibet was a very violent place pre-Buddhism, and the intermediate presence of Christian missioners may have mitigated that somewhat). The church spread among some Turkish people in central Asia and eventually reached some Mongol/Tatar peoples. One will read of Mongol princes with Nestorian Christian brides. And perhaps most notably it reached southern India, Kerala and surrounding precincts, although the churches there were stripped from it’s control later.

At it’s height, it has been speculated to have had 80 million adherents. This was very many centuries ago, before the Islamic and Mongol disasters that overswept Asia.

So I think that stating the Church of the East is, and always has been Assyrian is something like reading the current state of affairs back into history. It definitely survived in India as well as Mesopotamia well into the sixteenth century.

It might be worth noting that gnostic forms of Christianity also survived in central Asia for a long time, and the ACofE had to challenge those heresies where it found them.

There has always been a question about how much influence Nestorius’ teaching actually had on the church, I think not a great deal. His views were tolerated but not promoted. I also think that some modern Christians are these days actually harboring Nestorian notions of Christology without realizing it. But that’s a different subject. :slight_smile:

Your brother,

Oh, I’m not arguing that at all. I’m familiar with its history. But it’s roots were Assyrian, and it survives today as basically Assyrian. My main point was simply that calling the ACoE “Persian” is a lot of hooey. :wink:

Just to clarify matters for some of you, the Assyrian church (which is in fact the last remnant of the original Church of Persia) is not considered Orthodox by the actual Eastern Orthodox Church. The Persian Church had fallen away by the end of the first millennium after succumbing to the Nestorian heresy. They have never recanted this heresy, which makes the current move to restore communion with them highly peculiar.

I don’t think the Assyrian Church can be said to be “Nestorian” now, even if it ever was.

In 1995 or so, its Patriarch Mar Dinkha and Pope John Paul II signed a declaration of common Christology, which was ratified by the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church.

Furthermore, back in the 800’s or so, one of their theologians wrote this, which sounds like the definition of Chalcedon to me:

One is Christ the Son of God,
Worshiped 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.

OK, I see your point. I agree that you are correct but I have another perspective to share.

Really all of these labels are inadequate. I am afraid they imply too much.

For instance, stating that it is Assyrian (a perfectly valid expression) could imply in some persons minds that it is NOT Iranian/Persian or NOT Indian. It mainly survives among certain people in Iraq today where it got it’s marching orders originally (hence, two reasons for calling it Assyrian). The old patriarchal synod, with bishops from all over east Asia, had unfortunately collapsed. But remnants of the church did survive for a long time and the church itself in it’s very nature remains international.

It can be comparable to stating that the Latin Catholic church is, well, Latin…and people taking that to mean it is not Swedish, which of course we know cannot be. There definitely are Swedish Roman Catholics even today.

I have to speculate that at least some of the members of the ACofE diocese of Tehran think of themselves as Iranian Christians (the church having been present for at least 1600 continuous years) as opposed to an Assyrian ethnic minority within Iran. I sure would like to know more about that community. :shrug:


I don’t mean to offend anyone by using the term Persian. As I said, it is to be understood in its territorial, not its ethnic sense. Similarly, in ancient times one spoke of the Roman church, or the churches of Rome, New Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, etc but never a Hellenic church, or a Latin church (although the Orthodox began referring to the heretical Western Church as the Latin church after the schism). The use of these ethnic terms is not part of the church’s original understanding of itself, since ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek…but all are one in Christ’.

That Syrian theologian you cited says something which sounds very close to Orthodoxy, but if this church really is Orthodox, they would accept the decrees of the seven ecumenical councils, including Ephesus and Chalcedon. Since they do not, you can’t say they believe in them. One hears similar things about the Monophysite churches. Yet if they do not oppose Chalcedon, they must accept it explicitly to be counted as Orthodox.

A sign of the correct teaching on Christ’s two natures in one person is the veneration of the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God. Does the Assyrian church do this, or do they instead call her Christotokos, Mother of Christ, along with Nestorius?

Just so. :thumbsup:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit