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The Holy Apostolic and Catholic
Assyrian Church of the East is a Christian church that traces
its origins to the See of Babylon, said to be founded by Saint
Thomas the Apostle. In India, it is known as the Chaldean Syrian
Church. In the West it is often known, inaccurately, as the
Nestorian Church. The Assyrian Church is the original Christian
church in what was once Parthia; today Iraq and western Iran.
Geographically it stretched in the medieval period to China and
India: a monument found in Xi'an (Hsi-an), the Tang-period
capital of China (originally Chang'an), in Chinese and Syriac
described the activities of the church in the 7th and 8th
century, while half a millennium later the Chinese monk Rabban
Bar Sauma went from Beijing to Paris and Rome to call for a
crusade with the Mongols against the Mamelukes. Prior to the
Portuguese arrival in India in 1498, it provided "East Syrian"
bishops to the Saint Thomas Christians.
Mar Aprem Mooken, is the Assyrian Church of the East
Metropolitan of India. Mar Aprem (formerly George Mooken) was
born in Trichur, Kerala, India, in June 1940. Educated in India,
England and America, he specialised in Church History. He was
the President of the Church History Association of India in
He holds two master's degrees in Church History, one from the
United Theological College, Bangalore (M. Th, of Serampore,
1966) and the other from the Union Theological Seminary, New
York (S.T.M. degree, 1967). He was a candidate for Doctor of
Theology (Th.D.) degree at Princeton Theological Seminary,
U.S.A., when he was consecrated Bishop in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968.
Later he earned his D.Th. degree from Serampore University, near
Calcutta. Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam granted a Ph.D.
degree in Syriac Studies to him in 2002.
Ordained a deacon on June 25, 1961, he became a priest on the
day he completed twenty five years of age on 13 June, 1965. He
was consecrated Bishop on 21st September, 1968 and promoted as a
Metropolitan eight days later in Baghdad. In 1995 he was
instrumental in healing the rift that had developed in the
church over the question of hereditary appointments since the
1960s. He is the author of 65 books on church history, theology,
social issues, and even humour.
In the 15th century, the church decreed that the title of
Patriarch could pass only to relatives of then-patriarch Mar
Shimun IV. This upset many in the church's hierarchy, and in
1552 a rival Patriarch, Mar Yohanan Soulaqa VIII was elected.
This rival Patriarch met with the Pope and entered into
communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Assyrian Church
now had two rival leaders, a hereditary patriarch in Alqosh (in
modern-day northern Iraq), and a Papal-appointed patriarch in
Diyarbakır (in modern-day eastern Turkey). This situation lasted
until 1662 when the Patriarch in Diyarbakır, Mar Shimun XIII
Denha, broke communion with Rome, resumed relations with the
line at Alqosh, and moved his seat to the village of Qochanis in
the Turkish mountains. The Vatican responded by appointing a new
patriarch to Diyarbakır to govern the Assyrians who stayed loyal
to the Holy See. This latter group became known as the Chaldean
Catholic Church. In 1804 the hereditary line of Patriarchs in
Alqosh died out, and that church's hierarchy decided to accept
the authority of the Chaldean patriarchs. The line of patriarchs
at Qochanis remained independent.
Assyrians faced reprisals under the Hashemite monarchy for
co-operating with the British during the years after World War
I, and most fled to the West. The Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun
XXIII, though born into the line of Patriarchs at Qochanis, was
educated in Britain. For a time he sought a homeland for the
Assyrians in Iraq but was forced to take refuge in Cyprus in
1933, later moving to Chicago, Illinois, and finally settling
near San Francisco, California. The present Patriarch of Babylon
is based in Chicago, and less than 1 million of the world's 4.5
million Assyrians remain in Iraq.
The Chaldean community was less numerous at the time of the
British Mandate of Palestine, and did not play a major role in
the British rule of the country. However with the exodus of
Church of the East members, the Chaldean Catholic Church became
the largest non-Muslim group in Iraq, and some later rose to
power in the Ba'ath Party government, the most prominent being
Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
In 1964, the issue of hereditary succession again caused a
schism, with the subsequent election of Mar Thoma Darmo as a
rival to the hereditary Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. Shortly
thereafter the patriarch became convinced that nothing in the
canon law of the Church of the East prohibited the patriarch
from marrying. He therefore married in August 1973. Mar Shimun
announced his resignation in 1973, but was asked to stay in
He was later allowed to continue in office, but was assassinated
in 1975 while negotiations were being carried out over the
conditions of his reinstatement. Mar Dinkha IV was elected as
Shimun's successor, and announced the permanent end of the
hereditary succession. While this removes the underlying
dispute, the rift between the rival Patriarchs still exists,
with Mar Addai II as the successor to Mar Thomas Darmo at the
head of a group called the Ancient Church of the East.
On November 11, 1994, a historic meeting of Mar Dinkha IV and
Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II took place in the Vatican and a
Common Christological Declaration was signed. One side effect of
this meeting was that the Assyrian Church's relationship to the
Chaldean Catholic Church was improved.
In September 2006, Mar Dinkha IV paid a historic visit to
Northern Iraq to give oversight to the churches there and to
encourage the governor of the Kurdish region to open a Christian
school as well as a library in Arbil.