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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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Second millennium BC: The formation of Assyria (in the north of Mesopotamia) with the foundation of a powerful kingdom, which later became an empire. In the seventh and eighth centuries BC Assyria controls an area covering the whole or part of several modern countries, namely, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Turkey. The Assyrian Empire was succeeded by the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626–539 BC) and by the Achaemenian Persian Empire (c. 559–330 BC), which was conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC and which was succeeded in turn by the Greek Seleucids (311–64 BC)

247 BC–224 AD: The Parthian Persian Empire

c. 135–130 BC to 216 AD: The small independent kingdom of Osrhoene with its capital at Edessa, where the language spoken was Syriac

27 BC: Beginning of the Roman Empire

First century AD: The foundation of Christianity with the first Christian communities arising in the regions between Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome

c. 52 AD: The Apostle Thomas (d. c. 68) arrives in India and founds churches

224–637: The Sasanian Persian Empire with its capital at Ctesiphon, also the place of the first episcopal see of the Church of the East

309–79: In Persia, the reign of Shapur II and persecutions of the Christians

313: The Edict of Milan promulgated by the emperor Constantine (306–37) officially recognizes the Christian religion in the Roman Empire...

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