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Church of the East
Syriac: ܥܕܬܐ ܕܡܕܢܚܐ
Saint Elijah's Monastery 1.JPG

The Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India, who according to tradition trace their origins to the evangelizing efforts of Thomas the Apostle, had a long association with the Church of the East. The earliest known organised Christian presence in Kerala dates to 295/300 when Nestorian Christian settlers and missionaries from Persia headed by Bishop David of Basra settled in the re

The Saint Thomas Christian community of Kerala, India, who according to tradition trace their origins to the evangelizing efforts of Thomas the Apostle, had a long association with the Church of the East. The earliest known organised Christian presence in Kerala dates to 295/300 when Nestorian Christian settlers and missionaries from Persia headed by Bishop David of Basra settled in the region.[74] The Saint Thomas Christians traditionally credit the mission of Thomas of Cana, a Nestorian from the Middle East, with the further expansion of their community.[75] From at least the early 4th century, the Patriarch of the Church of the East provided the Saint Thomas Christians with clergy, holy texts, and ecclesiastical infrastructure. And around 650 Patriarch Ishoyahb III solidified the church's jurisdiction in India.[76] In the 8th century Patriarch Timothy I organised the community as the Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the church's Provinces of the Exterior. After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop, provided from Persia, who oversaw a varying number of bishops as well as a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and also wielded a great amount of secular power. The metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, where the Shrine of Thomas was located.[75]

In the 12th century Indian Nestorianism engaged the Western imagination in the figure of Prester John, supposedly a Nestorian ruler of India who held the offices of both king and priest. The geographically remote Malabar Church survived the decay of the Nestorian hierarchy elsewhere, enduring until the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived in India. The Portuguese at first accepted the Nestorian sect, but by the end of the century they had determined to actively bring the Saint Thomas Christians into full communion wi

In the 12th century Indian Nestorianism engaged the Western imagination in the figure of Prester John, supposedly a Nestorian ruler of India who held the offices of both king and priest. The geographically remote Malabar Church survived the decay of the Nestorian hierarchy elsewhere, enduring until the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived in India. The Portuguese at first accepted the Nestorian sect, but by the end of the century they had determined to actively bring the Saint Thomas Christians into full communion with Rome under the Latin Rite. They installed Portuguese bishops over the local sees and made liturgical changes to accord with the Latin practice. In 1599 the Synod of Diamper, overseen by Aleixo de Menezes, Archbishop of Goa, led to a revolt among the Saint Thomas Christians. The majority of them broke with the Catholic Church and vowed never to submit to the Portuguese in the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653. In 1661 Pope Alexander VII responded by sending a delegation of Carmelites headed by Chaldean Catholics to re-establish the East Syriac rites under an Eastern Catholic hierarchy. By the next year, 84 of the 116 communities had returned, forming the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The rest, which became known as the Malankara Church, soon entered into communion with the Syriac Orthodox Church. The Malankara Church also produced the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Christianity reached China by 635, and its relics can still be seen in Chinese cities such as Xi'an. The Nestorian Stele, set up on 7 January 781 at the then-capital of Chang'an, attributes the introduction of Christianity to a mission under a Persian cleric named Alopen in 635, in the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang during the Tang dynasty.[77][78] The inscription on the Nestorian Stele, whose dating formula mentions the patriarch Hnanishoʿ II (773–80), gives the names of several prominent Christians in China, including Metropolitan Adam, Bishop Yohannan, 'country-bishops' Yazdbuzid and Sargis and Archdeacons Gigoi of Khumdan (Chang'an) and Gabriel of Sarag (Loyang). The names of around seventy monks are also listed.[79]

Nestorian Christianity thrived in China for approximately 200 years, but then faced persecution from Emperor Wuzong of Tang (reigned 840–846). He suppressed all foreign religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, causing the church to decline sharply in China. A Syrian monk visiting China a few decades later described many churches in ruin. The church disappeared from China in the early 10th century, coinciding with the collapse of the Tang dynasty and the tumult of the next years (the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period).[80]

Christianity in China experienced a significant revival during the Mongol-created Yuan dynasty, established after the Mongols had conquered China in the 13th century. Marco Polo in the 13th century and other medieval Western writers described many Nestorian communities remaining in China and Mongolia; however, they clearly were not as vibrant as they had been during Tang times.

Mongolia

Nestorian Christianity thrived in China for approximately 200 years, but then faced persecution from Emperor Wuzong of Tang (reigned 840–846). He suppressed all foreign religions, including Buddhism and Christianity, causing the church to decline sharply in China. A Syrian monk visiting China a few decades later described many churches in ruin. The church disappeared from China in the early 10th century, coinciding with the collapse of the Tang dynasty and the tumult of the next years (the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period).[80]

Christianity in China experienced a significant revival during the Mongol-created Yuan dynasty, established after the Mongols had conquered China in the 13th century. Marco Polo in the 13th century and other medieval Western writers described many Nestorian communities remaining in China and Mongolia; however, they clearly were not as vibrant as they had been during Tang times.

The Church of the East enjoyed a final period of expansion under the Mongols. Several Mongol tribes had already been converted by Nestorian missionaries in the 7th century, and Christianity was therefore a major influence in the Mongol Empire.[81] Genghis Khan was a shamanist, but his sons took Christian wives from the powerful Kerait clan, as did their sons in turn. During the rule of Genghis's grandson, the Great Khan Mongke, Nestorian Christianity was the primary religious influence in the Empire, and this also carried over to Mongol-controlled China, during the Yuan Dynasty. It was at this point, in the late 13th century, that the Church of the East reached its greatest geographical reach. But Mongol power was already waning as the Empire dissolved into civil war; and it reached a turning point in 1295, when Ghazan, the Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate, made a formal conversion to Islam when he took the throne.

Jerusalem and Cyprus

Rabban Bar Sauma had initially conceived of his journey to the West as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it is possible that there was a Nestorian presence in the city ca.1300. There was certainly a recognisable Nestorian presence at the Holy Sepulchre from the years 1348 through 1575, as contemporary Franciscan accounts indicate.[82] At Famagusta, Cyprus, a Nestorian community was established just before 1300, and a church was built for them ca.1339.Rabban Bar Sauma had initially conceived of his journey to the West as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so it is possible that there was a Nestorian presence in the city ca.1300. There was certainly a recognisable Nestorian presence at the Holy Sepulchre from the years 1348 through 1575, as contemporary Franciscan accounts indicate.[82] At Famagusta, Cyprus, a Nestorian community was established just before 1300, and a church was built for them ca.1339.[83][84]

Decline

The expansion was followed by a decl

The expansion was followed by a decline. There were 68 cities with resident Church of the East bishops in the year 1000; in 1238 there were only 24, and at the death of Timur in 1405, only seven. The result of some 20 years under Öljaitü, ruler of the Ilkhanate from 1304 to 1316, and to a lesser extent under his predecessor, was that "the church hierarchy had been crushed and most Church of the East buildings had been reduced to rubble".[85]

When Timur, the Turco-Mongol leader of the Timurid Empire, known also as Tamerlane, came to power in 1370, he set out to cleanse his dominions of non-Muslims. He annihilated Christianity in central Asia.When Timur, the Turco-Mongol leader of the Timurid Empire, known also as Tamerlane, came to power in 1370, he set out to cleanse his dominions of non-Muslims. He annihilated Christianity in central Asia.[86] The Church of the East "lived on only in the mountains of Kurdistan and in India".[87] Thus, except for the Saint Thomas Christians on the Malabar Coast, the Church of the East was confined to the area in and around the rough triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia, including Amid (modern Diyarbakır), Mêrdîn (modern Mardin) and Edessa to the west, Salmas to the east, Hakkari and Harran to the north, and Mosul, Kirkuk, and Arbela (modern Erbil) to the south - a region comprising, in modern maps, northern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and the northwestern fringe of Iran. Small Nestorian communities were located further west, notably in Jerusalem and Cyprus, but the Malabar Christians of India represented the only significant survival of the once-thriving exterior provinces of the Church of the East.[88]

The complete disappearance of the Nestorian dioceses in Central Asia probably stemmed from a combination of persecution, disease, and isolation: "what survived the Mongols did not survive the Black Death of the fourteenth century."[86] In many parts of Central Asia, Christianity had died out decades before Timur's campaigns. The surviving evidence from Central Asia, including a large number of dated graves, indicates that the crisis for the Church of the East occurred in the 1340s rather than the 1390s. Several contemporary observers, including the Papal Envoy Giovanni de' Marignolli, mention the murder of a Latin bishop in 1339 or 1340 by a Muslim mob in Almaliq, the chief city of Tangut, and the forcible conversion of the city's Christians to Islam. Tombstones in two East Syriac cemeteries in Mongolia have been dated from 1342, some commemorating deaths during a Black Death outbreak in 1338. In China, the last references to Nestorian and Latin Christians date from the 1350s, shortly before the replacement in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the xenophobic Ming dynasty and the consequential self-imposed isolation of China from foreign influence including Christianity.[89]

From the middle of the 16th century, and throughout following two centuries, the Church of the East was affected by several internal schisms. Some of those schisms were caused by individuals or groups who chose to accept union with the Catholic Church. Other schisms were provoked by rivalry between various fractions within the Church of the East. Lack of internal unity and frequent change of allegiances led to the creation and continuation of separate patriarchal lines. In spite of many internal challenges, and external difficulties (political oppression by Ottoman authorities and frequent persecutions by local non-Christians), the traditional branches of the Church of the East managed to survive that tumultuous period and eventually consolidate during the 19th century in the form of the Assyrian Church of the East. At the same time, after many similar difficulties, groups united with the Catholic Church were finally consolidated into the Chaldean Catholic Church

Schism of 1552