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Liturgical Call for Church Unity


The following is part of an article written by Fr Dimitri and submitted to Zinda Magazine (zindamagazine.com) and printed online in their October 29th issue, 2005. This article is herein reproduced in hope of furthering Church unity.

The month of November is soon upon us and it is notable to the Church of the East for two reasons this year. First, the Holy Synod, perhaps the most important Synod of His Holiness Mar Dinkha's patriarchate, will begin October 31st. And second, the liturgical season of Annunciation, known as Advent in the West, will begin on November 27th. The season of Annunciation is very special to us as it begins the liturgical "New Year," the annual cycle of Scripture readings. Its importance is marked in our liturgy by a change from the typical consecration prayer of Addai and Mari (the "Nithi Mar') to that of Mar Theodore, which we use from the first Sunday of Annunciation until the Feast of Resurrection.

Sadly, most of our people will not notice the change because some priests do not use Mar Theodore and even if they did our people no longer understand the ancient Syriac. As one of five non-Assyrian English parish priests in the Church of the East in the United States of America, I often reflect on the number of Assyrians, young and old, who have told me after participating in an English Qurbana, "Qasha, this is the first time I really understood the Raza..." I find such comments both gratifying and rather sad. The Raza, the liturgy, is "the work of the people," not merely that of the priests and deacons. Liturgical reform is not on the list of subjects for this year's Holy Synod, nor is it the point of this article, but it does need to be addressed as I believe the above reflection demonstrates. Rather, my point is the theology of Church unity expressed in Mar Theodore's consecration prayer, one that I pray would guide our Prelates in this upcoming Synod.

The consecration prayer of Mar Theodore is much like Addai and Mari, only extended and with deeper spiritual expression. The particular aspect pertinent to this article is known in liturgical terms as "the Memorial of the Church" and it comes right before what is known as the "epiclesis," or coming of the Holy Spirit in the Nithi Mar. This is a true memorial because every priest, bishop, metropolitan and even His Holiness will offer this Qurbana on behalf of the "Holy Catholic Church" for 20 Sundays! Let's look at the beginning of this prayer.

"Now too, O my Lord, behold this Qurbana is offered before your great and awesome name for all the Holy Catholic Church that you may make your peace and tranquility to dwell within it all the days of the world. Yes, our Lord and our God, make your peace and tranquility to dwell within it all the days of the world. May persecution, violence, strife, schisms, and divisions be kept far from it. May all of us be joined one to another, in one unity, with a pure heart and perfect love."

What we find here is that this part of the prayer, divided into four sentences in English, represents the liturgical theology of the "church" within the holy tradition of the Church of the East. First, our Qurbana is offered to God's great, awesome and fearful name. That is to say it is offered most intimately and with awe before his majesty.

Second, it is offered for "all the Holy Catholic Church" not for "churches" in the plural, nor for some other Church or for our Church alone, but for ALL the Church which is Holy and Catholic. And what do these words mean? Without going into great detail "holy" means that which is separated from the world and dedicated to God. "Catholic" refers to the universal faith of the Apostles spread throughout the world and maintained by bishops, priests and deacons, mentioned following in this prayer, so that the Qurbana can be properly offered. In today's reality we offer this Qurbana for Romans, Maronites, Syrians, Chaldeans and all in union with Rome, Copts, Armenians, West Syrians and Ethiopians, all Orthodox, Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians and many more. All these have the hallmarks and history declaring them to be part of the Catholic Church for which we make this Offering.

Third, we pray twice that the Father would make his peace and tranquility to dwell within the Church, not just now, but "all the days of the world." And how can this be accomplished? By making sure persecution, violence, strife, schisms, and divisions be kept far from it. While the Church may experience persecution and violence from the world I think the context has more to do with how we treat one another. The Father's peace and tranquility is rejected when persecution, violence, strife, schisms, and divisions are permitted within the Church. To permit such causes a difficult and damaging dispensation in the Church, which is most certainly displeasing to God.

Lastly, this Qurbana is offered so that ALL of us may be joined one to another, in one unity, having a pure heart and perfect love. Again, every priest, bishop, metropolitan and even His Holiness will soon be making this prayer in offering the Qurbana. And all the people will second it with a humble "Amen."

During the season of Annunciation we will also celebrate the Feast of Epiphany (January 6) and the Memorial of St John the Baptist. On these special days we use not the consecration prayer of Mar Theodore, but that known as Mar Nestorius. Once again, there is a treasure hidden from our people in this liturgical prayer. One Assyrian priest told me he has never celebrated Mar Nestorius, nor did he know ANY Assyrian priest who consecrated according to this prayer. This saddened me greatly, for the teaching and theology of this prayer contains the following...

"We too, O Lord of Hosts, God the Father, commemorating this salvation given us, and all the things which have been done for us, and before all believing in and confessing you, God, the Father of truth, and the eternal begetting of the Godhead of the Only-begotten who is from you, ... and furthermore, confessing the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who is also from the glorious essence of your Godhead, who proceeds from you, Father. Who with you and with your Only-begotten Son is together worshipped, glorified, and honored above all, we offer to you this living, holy, acceptable, glorious, fearful, and spotless sacrifice for all creatures, and for the Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church from one end of the earth to the other. May it be preserved, immovable and without harm, from all scandals. Yes our Lord and our God, keep it unmoved and without harm from all scandals, spotless, undefiled, and without wrinkle or anything of the kind, for you have said through your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that the gates of Sheol shall never prevail over her."

Consider this, my brothers and sister in our ancient Faith, during this prayer our sacred Qurbana is offered to the end that all scandals and every spot, defilement, wrinkle and ANYTHING even of the kind be removed and cleansed from the Church. Is this too much to ask of our Prelates and especially of His Holiness that this prayer, approved and used by our Church for over 1400 years, should become the standard for the priests, bishops and metropolitans under His Holiness? If "judgment is to begin with the household of God" (1Peter 4:17 ) then let this Synod act accordingly to rid its members of the scandals, spots and defilements that have caused disillusionment and disgrace to her members. Scandal and gossip are cancers, which can eat away the very body of the Messiah.

Bishop Mar Bawai Soro

I have avoided taking sides in the years-long political arguments now dividing our Church, but as a priest, I cannot avoid being liturgical and theological, or even more importantly being true to Christ and sincere to my Church's Holy Fathers. I know some may say that because I was ordained by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro and serve in his diocese that I am "on his side." Let me state that I am on Mar Theodore's side; I am on Mar Nestorius' side who both pray for the unity of Christ's Catholic Church. Our holy liturgy, "Qurbana Qaddisha" is the standard of our Faith, the highest expression of our theology and the depth of the spiritual deposit of the wisdom of our Mesopotamian Fathers who introduced and consecrated both of these two Antiochene liturgies. The prayers of Mar Theodore and Mar Nestorius are centered on the hope, no, the necessity, of unity among the Messiah's believers.

His Lordship Mar Bawai

Where is there to be found blame for one who submits to the sacred Scriptures, especially our Lord's prayer to his Father for the unity of his followers? (John 17) Where is the just condemnation for one who upholds the holy canons of our Church? Where is there ANY legitimate litigation for one living out the prayers and directives of our liturgy? There is none to be found for those who act and live according to the liturgy we profess. And, so to punish a bishop who has for two decades dared to promote unity among our Christian brothers and sisters is in fact an abuse of who we are as Christians and as Church of the East followers. Punishing Bishop Mar Bawai for his advocacy of Christian unity is in reality punishing our liturgy and our theology, our canons and the Sacred Scriptures. Are we Church members of this Faith willing to require our prelates, priests, and parishes to live by the statutes of our Faith and the values of our liturgy? If not, then there is no justification needed, for there is no accountability or anything else required any more. That which is all about unity has become all about absurdity.

My prayer for the Holy Synod, which I humbly ask the readers of Zinda Magazine to join in, is that our Prelates express a willingness to answer our Lord's prayer, in deed not in rhetoric, for our unity and the expression of our liturgy that "all of us may be joined one to another, in one unity, with a pure heart and perfect love." Amen.







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