Baghdad (Agenzia Fides) - The Ancient Church of the East mourns the death of its Patriarch Mar Addai II, who died on February 11, at the age of 74. With the death of its Patriarch, a new season opens and not without uncertainties for the small but not insignificant ecclesial structure of Eastern Syriac tradition, which has around 70,000 baptized but has its roots in primitive Christianity, having been born from a split within the Assyrian Church of the East. With the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, the Church hitherto led by Mar Addai II draws on the heritage of the first ancient Church of the East, the one that brought Christianity to Persia, India and China. The schism that led to the formation of the Ancient Church of the East occurred in 1964, in reaction to certain liturgical reforms introduced by Patriarch Shimun XXII, then head of the Assyrian Church of the East. At that time, Patriarch Shimun was living in exile in the United States, having been expelled from Iraq in 1933. As a child, he had received a British education under the auspices of the Primate of the Church of England. His decision to shorten the Lenten fast and adopt the Gregorian calendar for the celebration of major liturgical solemnities provoked a backlash in Iraq from church sectors that had long challenged the then practice of hereditary patriarchal succession (that the office of patriarch was transmitted from uncle to nephew), and who opposed further "innovations" imposed from abroad, in spite of the centuries-old practice in force in the lands of his original roots. The part of the clergy that came into conflict with Patriarch Shimun XXII came under the jurisdiction of Bishop Thoma Darmo, who was consecrated patriarch in 1969, established his headquarters in Baghdad and began to lead the new ecclesial structure, called the Ancient Church of the East. After the death of Thoma Darmo, in 1970 Mar Addai II was elected Patriarch as his successor, who held the Patriarchal See of Baghdad until his death.
During the long decades of the Patriarchate of Mar Addai, relations between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East improved, and the factors that caused the schism actually disappeared. In the 1970s, Assyrian Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV abolished the hereditary nature of patriarchal succession within the Assyrian Church of the East. In 1999, the Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East recognized the validity of all episcopal and priestly ordinations conferred by the Ancient Church of the East. In 2006, the Assyrian Church of the East resumed celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar, while the Church led by Mar Addai also sent a signal of openness to the separated brethren of the Assyrian Church of East, beginning to celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar in 2010. Upon the death of Mar Addai II, Mar Awa III, the current Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, sent an intense message of condolence to the Synod of the Ancient Church of the East in the name of all his Church. The condition of difficulty and suffering shared by the ancient indigenous Christendoms of Mesopotamia makes it all the more vital to overcome the scandal of ecclesial lacerations that have occurred throughout history and to walk together towards the restoration of full sacramental communion.
In June 2015, the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, had exposed in some "personal thoughts" published on the website of the Chaldean Patriarchate a surprising proposal: "resetting" the three Patriarchates that now refer to the legacy of the ancient Eastern Church and to reconstruct the full unity of the three ecclesial communities under the guidance of a single Patriarch. This proposal has not seen any concrete developments. But restoring full communion among church groups that also share the same Nestorian spiritual matrix would also help to tackle together the factors that threaten the very survival of indigenous Christian communities throughout the Middle East. A path that could usefully turn to the experience of communion of the first Christian millennium, as Pope Francis has repeatedly suggested. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East have never had direct dogmatic conflicts with the Bishop of Rome. Official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East began in 1984 and resulted in the Common Christological Declaration of 1994, which confesses the common faith in Christ fully shared between Catholics and Assyrian Christians. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 15/2/2022)