By Ashur Sada
In math, 1+1 is the easiest arithmetic question you will come across and the answer is always 2 of course. But in the context of this artile, 1+1 will probably equal to 3, 4 or maybe even more. We are talking about Assyrian church unity and how the byproduct will be a lot more than two churches being combined. It will be multiples and multiples of that.
The Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) and the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East (AACOE) recently
met to discuss uniting the two churches once again. This represents the most serious meeting between the two sides for a shot at unification, probably ever. Seeing pictures of the bishops from the two churches together was a very pleasant thing for Assyrians to see. It gave us hope for a brighter future ahead.
For those not familiar with this split in the Assyrian church of the east, the two churches used to be one not too long ago (prior to 1968 to be exact) and then split into two different branches, when the patriarch at the time decided to adopt the Gregorian calendar. Another group decided to keep the old calendar tradition, thus splitting in its own church (AACOE). Ever since, it has been a dream for so many on both sides to reunite the two churches once again. But no real effort had been made in the last few decades at starting any talks. That all changed with the recent meeting (and others follow-up meetings that are to take place in the near future)
The talks couldn’t have come at a more critical time, especially for the ACOE, as t is happening amidst their own synod and conclave to elect a new catholicos-patriarch who will replace the late Mar Dinkha. Essentially, the church is talking unity while it’s in the middle of its most important conclave in a generation and that tells you they are serious about this. In fact, as I am writing this article, we get a final press release from the Assyrian Church of the East synod, stating that no new patriarch has been elected and that this has been put off till mid September, to allow for more time for negotiation between the two churches.
Of course, no negotiation is without difficulties and the readiness of each side to give up something or more. But considering that the two churches are like two brothers who left each other, uniting them once more is worth every sacrifice and effort that the two are willing to make. By uniting the two churches, you are instantly boosting the power, influence and member population of the Church of the East, which at one time, was the most popular church in the entire world. The two churches combined would number close to 750,000 (some online figures put the number for the two churches at a lower figure which is very disputable)
On a positive note, the members of the respective churches have only their churches to separate them. Ethnically, culturally and from many other aspects, they see each other as one and the same. Assyrian. Period.
And as mentioned earlier, no negotiation are smooth and with no concessions. Major issues will have to be ironed out before official, full re-unity is achieved once again. For examples, the two have to negotiate on such important questions about who the new patriarch will be, location of the patriarchy, church dates, administrative matters etc.
If and when the two churches manage to unite once again, it should be a big psychological boost and a starting point to try and push for the other and more difficult unification effort: that with the sister Chaldean Catholic Church (CCC). A schism that is close to 500 years old, and makes the current discussions between the two churches of the east like a family discussion about which restaurant to order food from. In other words-though not impossible-the current unification discussions are easy compared to the more important unification discussion between the ACOE and CCC. You not only have to overcome close to 500 years of schism, you also have to deal with generations of people who have grown up to treat their church not just as a religious or place of worship but one that also gives them a separate ethnicity altogether (CCC) . Though any future unity discussions between the ACOE and CCC will center around uniting the churches first and foremost, it will be inevitable to avoid discussing other issues relating to identity, ethnicity and culture. Which is why, as I indicated before, the current discussions between the ACOE and AACOE are a lot easier and straightforward in comparison. But again, nothing is impossible, especially when you put Christ and your church and its prestigious history first.
Give the extremely challenging times Assyrians in Iraq and Syria have been going through of late, unity is the least thing we can do to be stronger and defiant. Considering the big role the church still plays in the lives of most Assyrians, when they see unity between their churches, ethnic and cultural unity will follow naturally. It gives people a bit more hope for the future. It may even encourage more people to stay in the homeland and not seek to migrate to another country. This template for church and cultural unity between the two Assyrian churches of the east can then be applied to any future negotiation with the Chaldean Catholic Church. In other words, to run a marathon, you first have to run one simple lap.