Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category.

1+1 = 3 and more in this case: the Assyrian Church re-unification talks and what it means

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

It is finally happening: the two Assyrian churches are talking reunification and what this means for Assyrians in general!

It is finally happening: the two Assyrian churches are talking reunification and what this means for Assyrians in general!

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.

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Will the upcoming Chaldean synod divide the church into ‘east vs. west’?

“On June 5 the first Synod of the Chaldean Church convened by the new Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, who was elected last January 31 will begin in Baghdad. The agenda of the synodal assembly is more than challenging. Several points on the agenda: the appointment of bishops in several Chaldean bishoprics left vacant in Iraq, the Middle East and in Western Countries; the formation of priests; the final draft of a “law” of the Chaldean Church to be submitted to the consent of the Apostolic See; updating and harmonization of the liturgical rites celebrated unevenly in the various dioceses; the study of concrete measures to curb the phenomenon of migration and encourage Christians to remain in their homeland or to make return.”

Agenzia Fides

 

The Chaldean Catholic Church Synod Starts today in Baghdad, Iraq. In addition to the official items on the agenda, as outlined above, this synod will face several other challenges and questions.

chaldean synod

Will the Chaldean synod further divide the church?

Some are so vital to the church’s future and depending on how they are addressed, it could mean the difference between a strong church or one that is divided on itself. Here are some of these challenges and questions. Interestingly, the Chaldean National Conferences, held a few weeks ago (and I wrote about it here kinda set the tone for this synod. Yes, you read that right: a national political conference setting the tone for an upcoming synod  That tells you why this synod is in a bit of a controversy, created from the outside.

1-Dealing with the emerging and powerful trio

there is an emerging and increasingly powerful trio in the chaldean church. Well, more like two and a half, because the third is not yet a full member of the chaldean church. I am talking about Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim (chaldean bishop in Detroit) , Mar Sarhad Jamo (chaldean bishop in San Diego) and their beloved and charming friend, Mr. Ashur Soro (the former, and now excommunicated Assyrian church of the East bishop) The two chaldean bishops (and joint by Ashur Soro) are growing in power and influence within the Chaldean church. Their two dioceses combined-located in areas with the largest chaldean concentration outside of Iraq-are very wealthy and probably more than the rest of the chaldean dioceses combined. This increasing power is enabling these two bishops to take matters into their own hands at times, independent of the chaldean church’s central authority in Iraq. In fact, and this is evidenced and chronicled by chaldean writers too, it is starting to become an east vs. west battle within the chaldean church, or nationalists (west) vs. religious (east)

2-Accepting Ashur Soro into the chaldean church in a full scale

as mentioned already, Ashur Soro is starting to become a headache for the chaldean church more than it was for the Assyrian church in his last few days. He may have good intentions for his new church but he is starting to divide it into two camps. Those who want him officially accepted as a new chaldean bishop into their church and those who don’t. The latter are those who think such a move would harm relations with the Assyrian church and compromise any chances for a future unity dialogue. But even the status quo wouldn’t be ideal for the church. As long as the name ‘Ashur Soro’ is associated with the chaldean church, officially or not, problems will exist. Expect his name and future to be a hot issue at this and upcoming synods.

3-Should the church take a political stand?
This is a debate that we have discussed at length in our recent article.  There is a growing pressure on the chaldean church, from some ultra and rogue national elements, to take a political stand on issues. The church on the other hand, or at least its patriarch Mar Louis Sako, has asserted his position and made it clear that the church is a church first and is not to get involved in non-religious matters. But not everyone is on the same page as the patriarch. Even within the church itself, some bishops and members of the clergy want to go all out and start mixing politics with religion. They use different excuses and pretenses for this and try to lobby the chaldean people on their side. But this is starting to drive a wedge in the church. Mar Louis Sako can only tolerate this clear rebellion within his church for so long. It is known that during the reign of the former patriarch, the now retired Mar Emmanuel III Delly, he had a loose control over how things were running, especially in the US dioceses, which enabled some bishops to gain more influence. For Mar. Louis Sako, things have looked a lot different from the start. He has shown that he means business and will steer his church in the right direction, not letting anyone take it in the wrong direction, even if it means excommunicating members from the church. But will the two powerful bishops in the US and their friend (the powerful trio) listen to him?

4-The unity with the Assyrian church

how can there be a chaldean synod without going over the issue of going back and uniting with the native eastern church, the one that started it all. It is not an easy topic for both churches but it is an essential one that must be given more effort and attention. But given the issues within the chaldean church, I suspect and worry that they will need more time to fix and unite the chaldean church itself first before looking into the union with the Assyrian church.

 

This synod is more important that almost any other chaldean synod in the last few decades. The way it will address and find answers to the questions posed above will spell the difference between a church that is united and strong for the future-our hope-or one that is divided and weak. In fact, should these differences amongst the clergy persist and get stronger, I wouldn’t be surprised if the worst was to happen: a church that is officially divided. The main and original camp is the one based out of Iraq and headed by Mar Louis Sako. The other, the rebellious one, based out of the US and headed by the trio of Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim, Mar Sarhad Jamo and Ashur Soro.

Ironically, the rebellious elements within the chaldean church, those who want the church to adopt a more political and tougher tone, are the ones that are not even in Iraq, where the real action is. While those that want to keep the church on a strictly religious path, are those that chose to stay in Iraq, the motherland.

It it time Mar Louis Sako took over the steering wheel to guide the ship in right direction. At the same time, he should rein in any attempts by certain elements to take the church in a direction that will spell the end of it.

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Is the Chaldean Catholic Church on a collision course with chaldean nationalists?

Attended by representatives and delegates from North America, Europe and other parts of the world, the 3rd ‘Chaldean

Mar. Louis Sako

Mar. Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church

National Conference’ was held in Detroit last week (May 15-19)

Meanwhile, and as the conference was still on-going, the patriarch of the Chaldean church, his holiness Mar Louis Sako published his message to the clergy of the church (May 19). His first in his new role.

Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

In this message to the clergy, he explained the importance of faith and unity to tackle the challenges that the church is facing now and in the future.

Furthermore, he went on to clarify the church’s stand in relation to national matters. He basically reiterated his and the church’s evangelical and missionary statement and stressed the need for it to stay this way and not to deviate into political matters. It is a ‘red line’ for the church which can’t be crossed. Though he did make it clear that he encourages others to get engaged, build schools to teach the language,  create political parties to defend citizens’ rights etc. But the church and its clergy simply can’t interfere or be part of those non-religious activities, even if they are to further and develop the national chaldean identity.

His letter takes an interesting twist while discussing the role of the church in relation to politics and national matters. The church and its clergy, though very proud of the church’s history and identity, will continue to carry its mission as a church and not a political entity. He also hinted and pointed to certain writers on community websites who have tried their best to get the church to declare its agreement and support of certain political agendas, which the church has refused due to it being unrelated to the church’s mission and role. In fact, Mar Louis Sako narrowed it down by pointing out that this website belongs to a church congregation (probably somewhere in the United Stated) . The letter delves deeper to address claims by a certain chaldean deacon that the patriarch has denied his national identity. So not only are nationalists attacking his national motives, you have a man from the church itself questioning the patriarch’s national motives and identity. Talk about blasphemy!

This letter doesn’t seem to sit well with certain individuals and online authors, especially the so-called chaldean nationalists, a lot of whom were present at this conference. It hit the wrong note. They are not pleased that the patriarch didn’t come out and declare his full and unconditional support and allegiance to the chaldean nation, as if he is a president or the secretary of a political party. He is a religious man and his duty is to be the head of a church and not a national movement. In fact, he made it quiet clear that he has pride and encourages others to pursue political and cultural endeavors that benefit the people and their rights.  What more could he have called for?

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” comes to mind…

To be fair, similar ideological clashes and misunderstandings are not exclusive to the chaldean church and their nationalists. It has happened in Assyrian politics as well, where the Patriarch (HH Mar Dinkha) was at times in a lose-lose situation with Assyrian nationalists. But Mar Dinkha has been on the scene long enough and is seasoned and wise enough to know how to deal with these ‘politics vs. religion’ dilemmas. But what does make the chaldean experience an interesting one is the fact that the patriarch of the church is new, having only been in his position for a few months. This could set a tone for future exchanges between the church and the nationalists.

If picking sides was required in this situation, it would be wise to be on the side of the patriarch in this case. For simple reasons.  The patriarch is doing what he is required to do, while still showing limited support for the nationalists and their aspirations. On the other hand, the nationalists want to impose their will on the patriarch, to step outside of his religious boundaries and into political ones. And make no mistake about it, should he cross that ‘red line’ , nationalists will be up in arms about his meddling into their issues.

Not only can this get more serious in the future, the nationalists’ can compromise any future unity with Assyrians. Mar Louis Sako has already repeatedly expressed his desires to unite our eastern churches (Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac.) In his own words: “As for unity, that is a bigger challenge, as we will have no future without it…” . So seems like the so-called chaldean nationalists have a second bone to pick with the patriarch: the unity he is calling for, which most are probably not in favor.

Let the man do his job or at least give him some more time before you are down his throat, judging his motives and intentions for his nation. Or at least let us seperate church and state for a moment, while his holiness settles in his seat.

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