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The Assyrian Church of the East

This international theological dialogue between the Assyrians and the Catholic Church as a whole has been accompanied by an improvement in relations between the Assyrian Church of the East and its Catholic counterpart, the Chaldean Catholic Church. In November 1996 Mar Dinkha IV and Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid met in Southfield, Michigan, and signed a Joint Patriarchal Statement that committed their two churches to working towards reintegration and pledged cooperation on pastoral questions such as the drafting of a common catechism, the setting up of a common seminary in the Chicago-Detroit area, the preservation of the Aramaic language, and other common pastoral programs between parishes and dioceses around the world.

On August 15, 1997, the two Patriarchs met again, in Roselle, Illinois, and ratified a “Joint Synodal Decree for Promoting Unity,” that had been signed by the members of both Holy Synods. It restated the areas of pastoral cooperation envisaged in the Joint Patriarchal Statement, recognized that Assyrians and Chaldeans should come to accept each other’s diverse practices as legitimate, formally implemented the establishment of an Assyrian-Chaldean “Joint Commission for Unity,” and declared that each side recognized the apostolic succession, sacraments and Christian witness of the other. The text also spelled out the central concerns of both sides in the dialogue. While both churches wanted to preserve the Aramaic language and culture, the Assyrians were intent on retaining their freedom and self-governance, and the Chaldeans affirmed the necessity of maintaining full communion with Rome.

In mid-1997 it was announced that the Assyrian Church of the East and the Syrian Orthodox Church had agreed to establish a bilateral theological dialogue. As a gesture to foster better relations with the Oriental Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Holy Synod decided in 1997 to remove from the liturgy all anathemata directed against others.

Although the Assyrians accept only the first two ecumenical councils, recent ecumenical discussions held under the auspices of the Pro Oriente foundation have concluded that in substance the faith of the Assyrian Church is consistent with the christological teaching of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Officially the church adheres to extreme Antiochian christological terminology, according to which in Christ there are two natures and two qnoma (a Syriac term with no Greek equivalent that refers to an individual but never personalized concrete nature) in one person. The synod of bishops has requested that their church not be called nestorian, since this term has been used in the past to insult them. The Assyrians are not in communion with any other church.

The East Syrian rite of the Assyrian Church appears to have been an independent development from the ancient Syriac liturgy of Edessa. It may also preserve elements of an ancient Persian rite that has been lost. Services are still held predominantly in Syriac.

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