Thursday, January 31, 2008

The big church row in California
A bishop, on the outs with his parent denomination, with nearly all of his diocese following him, wants to switch jurisdictions

Of course I’m talking about the Assyrian Church (Church of the East, in the West commonly called Nestorian which they probably weren’t, the native Catholic church of what’s now Iraq — their traditional vernacular and liturgical language is Aramaic): the curious case of Mar Bawai Soro (more here and here), well-known in apostolic churches’ ecumenical circles for at least 10 years. This ex-Assyrian and his diocese, now the Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese, want to go under Rome. The diocese’s territory includes the land in this Anglican one. (Is there something in the water?)

The numbers like in the local Episcopal row are small but the reason for the split is nothing chi-chi/upper-middle-class American and nothing to do with sex so the mainstream media don’t care: the bishop pushed very hard for union with Rome and Assyrian Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV in Chicago, sympathetic up to a point, baulked.

That’s right, a real Eastern church is based in the US — have you met the patriarch in your ecumenical doings, Tripp?

(There’s also an Ancient Assyrian Church of the East that’s not ecumenical: like Rome, the Orthodox and the Oriental communion — Copts, Ethiopians, Armenians and Syrians including Indians — they believe they alone are the one true church.)

I wonder if they’ve got diocesan or local ownership of churches because I’ve not heard of any threat of lawsuits from the patriarch. Update: ACAD handed all the property back to the Assyrians.

Nor have I heard of any ‘Remain Assyrian’ minority webcasting protest rallies and church services.

Of some interest are these photos apparently of one of Mar Bawai’s parishes but I imagine what Chaldæan Catholic (under Rome — ACAD wants to join them) practice in Iraq (they’re the country’s No. 1 church, outnumbering the Assyrians, making them unique among Eastern churches under the Pope) is like: heavily latinised with modern influences. (Arab Christians, mostly Catholic, stick together so this crossover isn’t odd.) Update: it is a Chaldæan Catholic church!

I understand that pure Assyrian Rite practice is like Armenian: an Eastern liturgy with the standard rich vestments (the Assyrian Rite cleric pictured here is wearing more or less the Eastern gear common to several rites, only the chasuble is cut all the way up the front so it looks like a Western cope) and tapestries (with crosses on them) but in a bare, nearly imageless church with plain crosses (Protestant missionaries have sometimes mistaken them for long-lost ancient brethren) either because the Muslims who took over their land banned images or their tradition is older than Christian use of them. They don’t oppose images in principle.

As for their rite they use the oldest anaphora (Eucharistic prayer, canon, consecration prayer) still in use (older than the venerable Roman Canon!), that of St Mari and St Addai, which in the form handed down has no institution narrative! (The latinised ACAD under Mar Bawai has added one, like latinised Chaldæan Catholic practice.)

Here’s something on Assyrian Church customs from Samer al-Batal (a Melkite from Syria).

Christians of Iraq
In Baathist Iraq, a secular state (not ‘Muslim terrorists’) whose political party was co-founded by a Christian based upon the radical notion that Arabs not Americans or Britons ought to profit from Arab oil (still the ruling party in Syria), one could practise Christianity, which is becoming less and less true in the Shia-Sunni civil war

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