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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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Chapter 2 In Arabia and the Persian Gulf

Extract

CHAPTER 2

In Arabia and the Persian Gulf

In the North of the Region of Arabia and in the Yemen

Before the Arab conquest (which began in 635), the missionary activity of the Church of the East was orientated in the following two directions: towards the south in the direction of modern Saudi Arabia (the birthplace of Islam) and the Yemen, and towards the south-east in the direction of the Persian Gulf (or Arabo-Persian Gulf) and India.

In Arabia the oldest Christian sources mention Christian missionary activities before the rise of Islam. The region of Arabia consisted of independent kingdoms, of which Hirta (its name in Syriac – Al-Hira in Arabic) lay on the direct route between Persia and Arabia. Hirta was also the ancient capital of the Arab tribe of the Lakhmids, among whom numerous notables in particular had converted to Christianity probably from the fourth century. The city lay to the south-west of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, in the south-west of Mesopotamia bordering the Great Arabian Desert (to the south-east of the modern town of Najaf in Iraq). The Lakhmids were vassal-affiliates of the Sassanid monarchs of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The city of Hirta was also the seat of a diocese of the Church of the East whose bishop was also responsible for a certain number of Christian communities living in the south of Arabia and in the kingdom of Himyar, in what is today Yemen. To date, very little...

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