The first Assyrian religion was Ashurism derived from Ashur, the Assyrian supreme god. In the first century A.D. under King Abgar V of Edessa, Assyrians were the first to collectively as a nation convert to Christianity.
Considered as the first Patriarchs, Thaddeus, Thomas and Bartholomew lay the foundation for the Church of the East in 33 A.D. Today, the church’s official name is the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East with Mar Dinkha IV as its Patriarch with his See in Chicago.
By 451 A.D. in the Council of Chalcedon, a conflict arose over the belief of whether or not Christ’s single inseparable nature was both human and divine, leading to the split of the Church of the East thus giving birth to the Syriac Orthodox Church (Jacobite). Presently, Mor Ignatius Zakka I is the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East with his See in Damascus.
By 780 A.D. the Syriac Orthodox Church witnessed a division when Mar Maron lead his followers from Syria to Mount Lebanon and founded the Maronite Church, named after its founder. The church is now a Roman Catholic Uniate and its Patriarch is Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir with his See in Bkirki, near Beirut.
When in 1552, election vs. hereditary became the main source of dispute in choosing a Patriarch in the Church of the East, the election faction split off, establishing allegiances with the Catholic Church of Rome. Pope Julius III named this new church, the Chaldean Church of Babylon to distinguish it from the Church of the East. Emmanual-Karim Dally is its Patriarch with his See in Baghdad.
Today Assyrians are also members of other Christian denominations of Assyrian churches, including Presbyterian, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Baptist. And of course there are Assyrians who have no religious following and those who have been forced into Islamization.
Leading to WWI, almost all Assyrians continued to live in their ancestral homelands of Northern Iraq, Southeast Turkey, Northwest Iran and Northeast Syria. The Assyrian Genocide of WWI, the Semele Massacre, continuous persecution and policies of Arabization, Turkification and most recently Kurdification, forced many Assyrians to leave their ancestral homelands. During the gulf war of 1991 and the 2003 U.S, lead invasion of Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Assyrians were forced to flee Iraq. Additionally, the 1979 Iranian Revolution also witnessed a huge migration of the Assyrian population from Iran.
The recent mass exodus and forced migration of Assyrians from the Middle-East has dispersed the four million population to live in diaspora in their adopted countries across the globe.
Regardless of religious denomination, regional dialects and geographic setting, Assyrians are of one common ancestry sharing the same history and struggles.
© 2009 Rosie Malek-Yonan. All Rights Reserved