Lecture 5 – Second Hour
Particularities of the Mesopotamian Christianity
- Land and people of Scriptural background: For the Apostles, Mesopotamia, especially Babylonia, is a land and people that have been shaped and defined by a specific geography and history, with an intimate impact in the history of redemption. Christianity is but the climax of that endeavor. The presence of sizeable Jewish communities, mostly in Babylon and Erbil, is a visible show of that legacy. Thus, Christian Liturgy and many social costumes will reflect the historic fact of the religious heritage shared by these children of the Covenant. Nevertheless, we have to expect the Jews of Mesopotamia to vehemently oppose the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, in solidarity with their hierarchs.
- Linguistic medium, Aramaic culture: At the dawn of Christianity in Mesopotamia, though several languages were in use in Parthia at large, Persian, Greek, and Arabic, in addition to Aramaic, what remains of the ancient Christian heritage is only in Mesopotamian Aramaic. Scholastic Aramaic as established in Edessa became the standard language of literary compositions in the churches and monasteries of Mesopotamia.
- Jerusalem the main and direct reference: The Apostolic team, of Thomas with Addai and Mari, coming from Jerusalem, they stationed in Edessa, as a springboard for Mesopotamia and Parthia; indeed, both Thomas and Mari dedicated their apostolate to evangelize that vast empire. Certainly, they did not branch from any other apostolic central mission, including Antioch. We assert emphatically that there is no historic foundation to any claim, which attempts to branch the Patriarchal See of Babylon from Antioch, though understandably Antioch may have assisted the emerging Christianity East of Euphrates as sisters neighboring churches.
Christian Jerusalem of the Constantine era will become again a liturgical reference for the Church of the East. Therefore, with the maturing of time, only the Patriarchal See of Rome was recognized by the canonical legislation of the Church of the East as alone the final ecclesiastic reference for the Church universal.
Furthermore, Antioch of the early Christianity is dominated by the Greek culture; no Syriac heritage is found at all in it the first three centuries; suburb villages of Antioch is where Syriac was popular, and did produced in the 5th and 6th century what became the Antiochian “Syrian Rite”. The Chaldean Rite has its own independent apostolic origin stemming directly from Jerusalem before its destruction AD 70; iwhile the Syrian Rite has originated from Antiochian Greek heritage, translated to Syriac, quite different from the scriptural Aramaic culture of Mesopotamia.
- With no Constantine, a Church purified by fire: Among the apostolic Churches, the Church of the East, with Patriarchate in Babylon, is the only ancient Church with no Christian king or state, at all! It has seen the worst situations all over: Pagan Persians, Muslim Arabs, Barbarian Mongols, Turkmans and Turks; no Christian ruler of any kind for two thousand years! If you look for genuine understanding of the Gospel and the power of the Spirit, you certainly may find it in that church!
- Composing cultural and ecclesiastic identity from all the above: From all the above, we may compose the Chaldean identity: Primordial Scriptural history, Aramaic culture, genuine Apostolic heritage, purified by the fire of persecutions and nourished from the fountain of the divine Spirit.