Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 14th July - 3pm Great Vespers, 4pm Divine Liturgy for Sunday

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East - Book Review by Fr John Salter

A History of the Church of the East
by David Wilmshurst

Published by East & West Publishing - £39

There have been in recent years some excellent books on this once forgotten Church of the East. In the period following the Great War when the Assyrians, as they came to be called, fought for the British, several small books were published, including some from those who had worked in the Archbishop of Canterbury's Mission to the Assyrians. Among them were Our Smallest Ally;  snd the book by Lady Surma d'bait Mar Shimun, Assyrian Church Customs and the Murder of Mar Shimun. Surma was the sister of the martyred patriarch of her book and aunt to the last Prince-Catholikos, Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXI, who was murdered by one of his own flock in California in the 1970s. His death brought to an end the hereditary patriarchate – uncle to nephew succession. Earlier, G.P.Badger published The Nestorians and their Rituals (2 volumes, 1853), which was reprinted about twenty years ago. In 1992 Dr.J.F. Coakley published The Church of the East and The Church of
. This was followed by the by a splendid coffee-table-sized book by Dr.C.Baumer (London and New York 2006), The Church of The East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity. Now there has appeared a weighty book of 522 pages - The Martyred Church by David Wilmshurst. One notices that his transliteration of the names and places is much closer than other books on the Assyrian Church of the East have been. He reminds his readers that the concept of Christendom, as the Greek East and the Latin West understand it, ignored the Syrian tradition – the West Syrian (so-called "Monophysite") and the East Syrian (so-called "Nestorian"). The interest in the war in Iraq, and its disastrous consequences for the Christian minorities, has brought before the West the fact that there are Christian communities in what we once called Mesopotamia and the Cradle of Mankind, which pre-date Islam by 600 years and existed long before the Latin West had a foothold in those

Dr Wilmshurst give a very full account of the characters who flit across the history of this ancient and isolated Church. He reminds us of their leaders' devotion to missionary activity, so that there was even a Bishop in Peking in distant China and their activities in evangelism in India is still represented in that sub-continent. But from being a Church which had expanded vastly while the Latin West was in the Dark Ages, it became reduced to a tribal community in the Hakkari mountains near Mosul and ancient Nineveh, a near Stone Age civilization, surrounded, after the arrival of Islam, by hostile neighbours. Martyred patriarchs, clergy and laity were a common occurrence. These ancient Christians were re-discovered by the Anglicans and also by the Catholics, who established the "Uniate" Chaldean Church under the Patriarch of Babylon.

Colourful characters emerged even in that section of the Church in communion with the Holy See. Prominent among them was Patriarch Joseph Audo of Babylon, who had a tough confrontation with Pio Nono as the First Vatican Council was about to open. He, and the then Melkite Patriarch, had grave misgivings about Papal Infallibility. 

One of the great characters of the last century in the Assyrian Church was the Assyrian princess known to the British as the Lady Surma d'bait Mar Shimun ( i.e. of The House of Mar Shimun). She represented her family and the Church-Nation at the Versailles Peace Conference and settled in West Ealing in exile from Cyprus. She was the power behind the Patriarchal and, to some extent, Princely throne. I was disappointed in that I could only find one reference to her in this book.

There are some interesting photographs of some of the figures of the Assyrian Church, some of whom look decidedly bellicose and, one guesses, able to hold their own against their Kurdish neighbours!

This is a most excellent and fascinating account of a never to be forgotten Nation and a Church which still uses the language of Jesus. It serves to remind us of the Lord in the days of His flesh, which is perhaps what Nestorios was really getting at!

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