Eager to restore the unity of the church and extend the influence of the papacy, Dominicans and Franciscans worked among the eastern Mediterranean’s Eastern churches, many of which embraced the Latin friars as brothers. In 1445, the Chaldeans of Cyprus (as island members of the Church of the East were then called) entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. The association of the region’s Eastern Christians with Europeans have had lasting affects, which continue to be felt to this day.
The near deathblow for the Eastern churches came, not from the West, but from the East. At the end of the 14th century, Timur the Lame and his army invaded the Middle East, sacked its cities, massacred the inhabitants and leveled what remained. Timur did not single out Christians, who were nearly annihilated. Nominally a Muslim, Timur’s bloodthirsty devastation of Aleppo, Damascus and Baghdad earned him condemnation from Islamic leaders, who labeled him an enemy of Islam.
Those Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains near Edessa, hunkering down in remote monasteries and mountainside villages. Isolation intensified, poverty set in and generation after generation of Christians of all denominations either abjured their Christian faith and embraced Islam or entered into full communion with Rome as contact with the Latin Church increased in the mid-16th century.
For more than two centuries, anti-Catholic and pro-Catholic parties within the Church of the East competed for prominence and position. Though the papacy grew frustrated as parties and families switched loyalties, Rome eventually recognized a Catholic patriarch in 1830, confirming Archbishop Yuhannan Hormizdas of Mosul as patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. With his profession of faith, the Catholic Chaldean Church stabilized and for the next 85 years it strengthened its position at the expense of the Church of the East. And while the two churches continued to share the same rites and traditions inherited from Edessa and Nisibis, all references to Nestorius and his alleged unorthodox Christology were wiped out of the liturgical books of the Chaldeans.
Disaster. Europe’s colonial quests and the gradual decline of the Ottoman Turkish Empire (which governed the eastern Mediterranean, including Mesopotamia, since the 15th century) coincided with the rise of nationalism among its peoples. In 1895-96, some 25,000 Christians — Armenian, Assyro- Chaldean and Syriac — were murdered for suspected separatist sentiments.
During World War I, the sultan’s Christian subjects found themselves caught further between two opposing cultures at war — their Sunni Muslim rulers and the “Christian” powers of Great Britain, France and Russia. Encouraged by the Allies, who offered vague promises of independence, Christian subjects of the Ottoman sultan turned against his government. Consequences were grave.
In what is described in Syriac as the Year of the Sword, up to a third of those who belonged to the Church of the East (or Assyrians, a term coined then by the British) perished between 1914 and 1918. In a report issued after the war, the Assyro-Chaldean National Council estimated that up to 250,000 people died. Survivors fled to the British-held cities of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.
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Tags: Christianity Church history Chaldean Church Church of the East