Big News from the Far East
Saturday May 31st 2008, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Patristics

Light of the East, the newsletter of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, sends us to the following post from the blog Rorate Caeli.

3,000 Assyrians Received into the Catholic Church

The Chaldean Catholic Diocese of St. Peter and Paul has formally received into its fold, those members of the Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese who, under the leadership of Mar Bawai Soro (pictured above), had asked to be reconciled with the Catholic Church last January 17, 2008.

One bishop (Mar Bawai himself), six priests, 30+ deacons and subdeacons and an estimated 3,000 faithful were received into full communion during liturgical celebrations for the Feast of Pentecost. The announcement by the Chaldean Catholic Church can be found here.

Mar Bawai Soro has long advocated the Primacy of the See of Rome. On November 2, 2005, he presented to the Synod of Bishops of the Assyrian Church of the East (of which he was a bishop at that time) a paper entitled “The Position of the Church of the East Theological Tradition on the Questions of Church Unity and Full Communion ” in which, among other things, he stated that

The Church of the East attributes a prominent role to Saint Peter and a significant place for the Church of Rome in her liturgical, canonical and Patristic thoughts. There are more than 50 liturgical, canonical and Patristic citations that explicitly express such a conviction. The question before us therefore is, why there must be a primacy attributed to Saint Peter in the Church? If there is no primacy in the universal church, we shall not be able to legitimize a primacy of all the Catholicos-Patriarchs in the other apostolic churches. If the patriarchs of the apostolic churches have legitimate authority over their own respective bishops it is so because there is a principle of primacy in the universal Church. If the principle of primacy is valid for a local Church (for example, the Assyrian Church of the East), it is so because it is already valid for the universal church. If there is no Peter for the universal church there could not be Peter for the local Church. If all the apostles are equal in authority by virtue of the gift of the Spirit, and if the bishops are the successors of the Apostles, based on what then one of these bishops (i.e., the Catholicos-Patriarchs) has authority over the other bishops?

The Church of the East possesses a theological, liturgical and canonical tradition in which she clearly values the primacy of Peter among the rest of the Apostles and their churches and the relationship Peter has with his successors in the Church of Rome. The official organ of our Church of the East, Mar Abdisho of Soba, the last theologian in our Church before its fall, based himself on such an understanding when he collected his famous Nomocanon in which he clearly states the following: “To the Great Rome [authority] was given because the two pillars are laid [in the grave] there, Peter, I say, the head of the Apostles, and Paul, the teacher of the nations. [Rome] is the first see and the head of the patriarchs.” (Memra 9; Risha 1) Furthermore, Abdisho asserts “…And as the patriarch has authority to do all he wishes in a fitting manner in such things as are beneath his authority, so the patriarch of Rome has authority over all patriarchs, like the blessed Peter over all the community, for he who is in Rome also keeps the office of Peter in all the church. He who transgresses against these things the ecumenical synod places under anathema.” (Memra 9; Risha 8). I would like to ask here the following: who among us would dare to think that he or she is more learned than Abdisho of Soba, or that they are more sincere to the church of our forefather than Mar Abdisho himself? This is true especially since we the members of the Holy Synod have in 2004 affirmed Mar Abdisho’s List of Seven Sacraments as the official list of the Assyrian Church of the East. How much more then we ought to consider examining and receiving Abdisho’s Synodical legislation in his Nomocanon?

Five days later, Mar Bawai was suspended by the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church. The story behind this, as well as the full text of the paper on papal primacy that Mar Bawai had presented to the Synod, can be found here.

Following upon his suspension, Mar Bawai and the clergy and faithful who had remained loyal to him formed the Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese, then proceeded to draw ever closer to the Catholic Church through the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate. How fitting that they finally came home on Pentecost Sunday. Deo Gratias!

The Assyrians split from the Church Catholic as a result of the Nestorian schism in 431 after the Council of Ephesus — though they have distanced themselves from the problematic christology of Nestorius. In fact, in 1994 the patriarch Mar Dinkha signed a common christological declaration with Pope John Paul II; and in 2001 the Vatican and the Assyrians came to agreement on sacramental sharing. I cover these matters in my book The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, & the Hope for Tomorrow.


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