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The Assyrian Church of the East

History and Geography

Christine Chaillot

The cradle of the Church of the East was in Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and the Euphrates), where it developed its first centre at Seleucia-Ctesiphon, then the capital of the great Persian Empire and today an archaeological site to the south of Baghdad. From the very beginnings of Christianity until the fourteenth century, this Church experienced a remarkable expansion in Asia, its missionaries carrying the Gospel from Persia to India, via the Persian Gulf, and even as far as China. The Church of the East reached China as early as the seventh century via Central Asia and the celebrated Silk Road that linked China to the Mediterranean world. Much later, in the late fourteenth century, the invasions of the Mongol conqueror, Timur Lang (Tamerlane), across Asia brought about a great decline of the Church of the East. Eventually, after the genocide suffered by Christians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and the massacres that followed in Persia, the Church of the East and its people were on the verge of extinction. In 1940 the patriarchal seat was moved to Chicago (in the United States) and then in September 2015 to Erbil (in northern Iraq). Many of the faithful have left the Middle East and have formed diaspora communities throughout the world. The history of Christianity in the Middle East and well beyond, in Central and Eastern Asia, is very little known. In this book, the reader is invited to travel in time and space and undertake the fascinating discovery of a very ancient apostolic Church, the Church of the East, whose two-thousand year history constitutes an indispensable chapter in the history of the universal Church.
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Preface by Dr Sebastian Brock



When Eusebius of Caesarea wrote the first History of the Christian Church at the beginning of the fourth century he unwittingly set a precedent for writing about the History of the Church which has had some very unfortunate consequences. What Eusebius wrote was in fact a history of the Church within the confines of the Roman Empire, leaving out its history in the adjacent Persian Empire, further to the east. This was perfectly understandable from Eusebius’ own perspective: what is most unfortunate, however, is that this limitation of the history of the early Church to the confines of the Roman Empire has all too often been followed, right up to the present day. As a consequence the fascinating history of the Church that sprung up to the east of the Roman Empire, and which is represented today by the Church of the East, is very little known to the wider public. In view of this situation, Christine Chaillot’s new book is most timely and greatly to be welcomed.

The tradition of the Church of the East is in fact represented today by three separate Churches: the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church. While the roots of the last of these go back to the mid-sixteenth century, the break between the first two only came in the last half of the twentieth century, primarily over the issue of the calendar, with the Assyrian Church of the...

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