Out of "Ur of the Chaldees" he came, at the command of God, and with his family and flocks he wandered into the Land of Canaan. We call him Abraham, father of nations, for it is he who begot two of the nations of the Middle East, namely the Israelites, later called Jews, and the Ishmaelites, also called Arabs.
The homeland of Abraham, Ur of the Chaldees, an ancient city of Sumeria and later Babylonia, was located in the lower Tigris-Euphrates River Valley in the region known historically as Mesopotamia. This formed the eastern arm of the Fertile Crescent stretching from the Persian Gulf northwestward through the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley toward Syria and then southwestward along the Mediterranean to Egypt and southward along the Nile River Valley. In pre-historic times Semitic tribes settled in the Mesopotamian region to farm, to tend flocks, and eventually to create the great empires of Babylonia and Assyria.
In the first century AD St. Thomas the Apostle brought the Gospel of Christ to Mesopotamia. He was assisted by St. Addai who preached from 37 to 65 AD. After the latter's martyrdom, his work was carried on by his disciples, St. Aggai (65 - 87 AD) and St. Mari (88-121 AD). The Church of the East, also called the East Syriac Church, because it lay east of the Roman Empire, grew rapidly in the following centuries, spreading the faith to Persia, China and India. The competition between the Byzantine Empire and Persia caused the Church of the East to sever its ties to the Patriarchate of Antioch in 424 AD. At that time the Nestorian heresy (1) was raging throughout the Middle East. The Church of the East eventually succumbed to this heresy in large part due to its aversion to the influence of the Church of Constantinople. In rejecting the orthodox resolutions of the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church of the East separated itself from the Universal Church and was thereafter known as the Nestorian Church.
In 634 Arabs bearing the religion of Muhammad appeared in Mesopotamia and brought the entire region under the heel of Islam where it remains today. In the early centuries of Islamic rule, the Church of the East continued to prosper. Thereafter, under growing Islamic persecution and repression the Church declined. In the 16th century portions of the Church of the East sought relief by establishing relations with the Church of Rome. Thereafter, those Christians in union with Rome were known as Chaldeans whereas the remaining Christians were called Assyrians.
The Chaldean Church, like some other autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches, is under the jurisdiction of its own patriarch and hierarchs in peace and communion with Rome and retains its own distinctive theological, liturgical and canonical traditions. Unlike the Byzantine, Roman and Coptic Churches, the Chaldean Church has no distinctive liturgical arts traditions in decorating its churches, but borrows heavily from the Byzantine and Roman traditions. The Assyrian Christians, however, eschew all representational art in their churches, possibly under the negative influence of Islam. The Chaldean and Assyrian Churches have similar liturgies of the same East Syriac origin, however, the Chaldean has been altered to conform to the theology of Ephesus and later Councils. (2) Its version of the Nicene Creed, like that of the Armenian Church, is in the formulation which emerged from the Council of Nicea unamended by the later Council of Constantinople. The liturgical language of both Churches is Aramaic.
The Christian minorities in Iraq today are among the oldest in Christendom. They make up about 6% of the population numbering fewer than one million out of a population of 17 million. They consist of two main groups:
1. The Catholics (650,000)
2. The Other Christians (200,000)
The above figures are derived from CHALDEANS PAST AND PRESENT by Fr. Michael Bazzi (1993)
The Chaldean Church in the United States is divided into two dioceses, the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle located in Detroit, MI consisting of 31 states with about 100,000 members in seven parishes and the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle located in El Cajon, CA consisting of 19 states with about 35,000 members in seven parishes. The Eparchy in Detroit is headed by Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim and the Eparchy of El Cajon is under Mar Sarhad-Yawsip Jammo.
At the time of the preparation of this page, the liberation of Iraq is drawing to a close. No information is available about the fate of the Iraqi Christians during the last days of the Baath regime. It must be admitted in all candor that Christians were not persecuted by the Baathist regime, however, they were subjected to random acts of violence from the Muslim majority. Whatever comes out of the war, the fate of the Christian communities in Iraq may be in doubt. The Christian Churches in the Middle East have endured fourteen centuries of Islamic domination, at times harsh and at others less so. The history of Islamic conquest and domination in the Middle East and the relations between the dominant Muslims and the now minority Christians are defined by the Quran, as amplified in the Hadith, and codified in the Sharia (Muslim law code). Muslims believe that the Quran is the eternal, literal, unalterable and final word of their Allah. It defines Muslims in Surah III, 110 as "the best of nations". Surah VIII, 55 defines "kufr" (infidels including Christians) as "the vilest of animals". Even as "people of the Book" Christians were and are relegated to an inferior and humiliating status as a despised caste in Muslim societies, obligated to assent to the alleged superiority of Muslims, to acknowledge their own inferiority, and to pay the humiliation tax known as the "jisya". See Surah IX, 29 and the page, ISLAM - JIHAD elsewhere in this Web site.
Islam does not recognize human or civil rights, only religious rights as set forth in its foundation documents which place Muslims in a dominant position in society and all others below that. All others enjoy whatever may be accorded them by way of privilege and at the sufferance of the Muslims and their leaders. This arrangement is sanctioned by religion, law and custom. The Christian populations of the Middle East, once dominant, have either vanished altogether or have been reduced to small minorities by forced conversions, persecutions and emigration. In recent decades the Christian communities in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East have been eroding at an accelerating rate through emigration due to increased pressure from militant Islam. Europe, North America and Australia have all experienced increased immigration by Middle Eastern Christians seeking to escape discrimination and persecution at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. In the United States about 74% of the Arabs are Christians and the remainder Muslims. If current trends continue, the remnants of the ancient Christian Churches in Iraq and the Middle East will vanish. No longer will the chants of the ancient liturgies be heard. Then the wail of the muezzin will sound from the towers of the desecrated churches. Thus the final solution to the Christian presence in the Middle East will be achieved. (3) & (4) See CHRISTIAN FLIGHT FROM THE MIDDLE EAST at: http://www.byzantines.net/byzcathculture/christflight.html
We dedicate the above image of OUR LADY OF IRAQ as a continuing prayer for the welfare of the Chaldean parishioners of Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church and of their families in Iraq as well as for all Christians in Iraq, Catholics and others with the plea that their homeland may be liberated soon from the cruel tyranny of its oppressor and that they may enjoy peace and freedom.
Since we published this page, Mission "Iraqi Freedom" appears to be emerging as a civil war between the minority, formerly dominant, Sunni Muslims who seek through violence to prevent the inevitable emergence of the majority Shia Muslims to the position of power and control of the state and its oil and gas reserves. As for the Christian minorities in Iraq, their situation as infidels in a Muslim country grows ever more precarious. Christians are publicly harassed; their women are insulted for not dressing as Muslims; their businesses destroyed; and their churches are bombed, with the result that many are fleeing abroad. (see Christian Flight from the Middle East at: http://www.byzantines.net/byzcathculture/christflight.html) Recently elections were held in Iraq resulting in the unquestionable ascendancy of the Shia to power. Already their clerics have made it clear that they want a new constitution based on the Quran and governed by the sharia (Muslim law code). Accordingly it appears to us highly likely that in the future Iraq will resemble the Islamic Republic of Iran. America's misadventure in Iraq is bearing bitter fruit.
As of the first quarter of 2008 the status of Christians in Iraq remains unchanged and grim. Under Saddam Hussein the Christians in Iraq , Chaldean and Assyrian, remnants of the ancient Churches of Mesopotamia going back to the Apostles, were protected by the Baathist state and not harmed. Accordingly they were allowed to live, work and practice their religion free of official harassment subject only to the same constraints imposed by law on all Iraqis. All that changed with the unprovoked American attack on and invasion and occupation of Iraq , the destruction of the Baathist state and the subsequent empowerment of the Muslims, Sunni and Shia, to attack, kill, expel, and kidnap for ransom the powerless Christians. The churches, businesses, homes and persons of Iraqi Christians were randomly attacked and many people were scattered about in exile throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Threats to convert to Islam or suffer death could not be taken lightly and were often enforced by violence. Consequently the Christian population of Iraq is down to about a fourth of what it was before the American invasion.
Even under the best of circumstances, the Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are treated as infidels, tolerated only at the sufferance of the Muslim population but never as a matter of human right. The rage of Muslims against infidels is always near the surface and quick to erupt whenever there is civil disorder. With all of the restraints now removed the Muslims of Iraq are free to return to their ancient evil inclinations and to deal with Christians consistent with the mandate of the Quran as augmented by the Ahadith and codified in the Sharia. See the page, ISLAM VIOLENT RELIGION, at http://www.byzantines.net/byzcathculture/islamworldview.html
The photographs of Iraqi bombed churches below are courtesy of the site, CHRISTIANS OF IRAQ, found at: http://www.christiansofiraq.com which we commend to our readers.
1) NESTORIAN HERESY In the fifth century, the theological conflict shifted from Trinitarian to Christological doctrines concerning the nature of Christ. One school separated the divine nature of Christ from His human nature, teaching that the two natures, human and divine, are separated in essence, but united in love. A necessary corollary of this doctrine was the denial of the divine maternity of Mary, for if there are two distinct persons in Christ, Mary is the mother of the human person only. Accordingly it would be inappropriate to refer to Mary as Theotokos (Mother of God). Rather, she would be the mother of Jesus, i. e. of His human nature only. Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, took up this cause. He was opposed in this by St. Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Celestine I. To resolve the issue, Emperor Theodosius convoked a council at Ephesus in June 431. Eventually the Council of Ephesus resolved the matter by holding that there is in Christ a union of two natures, human and divine, in the one person of Jesus Christ and that the Holy Virgin is, accordingly, the Theotokos (Mother of God). Nestorius was condemned and his doctrine found refuge in Persia and Mesopotamia in the Church of the East. For more information, see NESTORIANISM and COUNCIL OF EPHESUS in the Catholic Encyclopedia, www.newadvent.org/cathen and, further, the page, THEOTOKOS, elsewhere in this site.
2) In November 1994, His Holiness, Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, and Pope John Paul II entered into a Common Christological Declaration which stated in part as follows: "…Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in His divinity and perfect in His humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and His humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. In Him has been preserved the difference of the natures of divinity and humanity with all their properties and operations. … this divinity and humanity are united in one person of the same unique Son of God and Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of a single adoration." Moreover, the Assyrian Church acknowledged the Holy Virgin as Mother of God. Thus, it appears that the Christological heresies of the Church of the East have been extinguished.
3) It is indeed a sad anomaly that some Middle Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, have succumbed to and adopted the anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish rhetoric of their Muslim neighbors in the vain attempt to deflect the latter's rage. Anti-Jewish agitation and propaganda by some Christians on behalf of their Muslim neighbors have earned them nothing but the latter's continuing contempt. The debilitating consequence of the Muslim sense of superiority toward people of other religions was and remains the source of unending conflict between Muslims and the rest of mankind. This has weighed heavily upon the Jews in the modern period and increasing upon Christians and others, exacerbating the conflicts of the presence. How the Christians in Iraq will fare in the post-war period is presently unknown, but if past is prologue then it is likely that the Christians of Iraq may find themselves once again the scapegoat for whatever misfortunes and humiliation the Iraqis and other Muslims may suffer as the result of Iraq's defeat. Already the Shi'ites are moving quickly to replace the despots of the Baath Party with the turbaned tyrants of Islam. For more information about the Chaldeans, see THE RITES OF EASTERN CHRISTENDOM by Archdale King, 1948; and the Web site at: www.chaldeansonline.net/church.html.
4) For more information about the decline of the Church in the Middle East and other information about the menace of Islam we recommend to our readers the following: THE DECLINE OF EASTERN CHRISTIANITY UNDER ISLAM, ISBN: 0838636888, and ISLAM AND DHIMMITUDE, ISBN: 0838639437, both by Bat Ye'or. See also bibliography in footnote 16 in the page, ISLAM - JIHAD elsewhere in this site.