Nestorian Church

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

Nestorian Church

Nestorian Church, officially the Assyrian Church of the East, Christian community of Iraq, Iran, and SW India. It represents the ancient church of Persia and is sometimes also called the East Syrian Church. It numbers about 175,000, including emigrants to the United States. It has much in common with other Eastern rites. The liturgy (said in Syriac) is probably of the Antiochene family of liturgies; the rite is called Chaldaean, Assyrian, or East Syrian. The churches are not much ornamented, but the Assyrians offer great honors to the Cross. A unique feature of their worship is their “holy leaven,” an altar bread they believe is derived from dough used at the Last Supper. The theology of the church is not precise, but there are traits of ancient Nestorianism, which holds that there were two separate persons in Christ—one divine, the other human. Its members venerate Nestorius as a saint, deny the Virgin the title Mother of God while otherwise honoring her highly, and reject the ecumenical councils after the second. The ancient Persian church was the only one to espouse the cause of Nestorius; as a result it lost communion with the rest of Christendom. The head of the church, called the patriarch of the East, holds a hereditary office, from uncle to nephew. The church has relations with some Jacobites and some Anglicans; in 1994 the Assyrian and Roman Catholic churches signed a declaration recognizing the legitimacy of each other's theological positions.

Among the Assyrians and outnumbering them lives a community in communion with the pope, known as Chaldaean Catholics. They have rite and practices in common with the Assyrians, but have had a separate church organization since the 16th cent.; the patriarch of Babylon heads the church. The largest group using this rite is that of the Syro-Malabar Catholics, who ultimately derive their Christianity from Assyrian missions to India.

The great period of expansion of the Assyrian church was from the 7th to the 10th cent., with missions to China and India. A famous monument in Xi'an, China, was constructed (781) by Chinese Nestorians. The missions were destroyed and the church reduced through persecution by the Chinese, the Hindus, and the Muslims. In the 19th and early 20th cent., there were terrible massacres of Assyrians and Chaldaeans by Kurds and Turks.


See J. Joseph, The Nestorians and Their Muslim Neighbors (1961); W. C. Emhardt and G. M. Lamsa, The Oldest Christian People (1926, repr. 1970); N. Garsoian and T. Mathews, ed., East of Byzantium (1982).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
By then the Nestorian Church had no effective administration east of the Euphrates.
In 1583, a young Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci, accompanying Michele Ruggieri, arrived in Zhaoqing, administrative capital of the provinces of Guandong and Guangxi, to the west of Canton, to begin the modem chapter of Christian missionary work in southern China.(2) Yet these missionaries knew nothing of the existence of that ancient Nestorian church which had been established in China nearly a millennium before them.
The main Eastern groups belong to the autonomous Orthodox churches, the Uniate churches, which recognize the Roman Catholic Pope, and the independent Nestorian Church. There are approximately 80 Jews.
Writing the sole article on an Iranian topic, Estiphan Panoussi investigates the history of the Persian Church, with some fascinating material on the Nestorian Church and its missionary zeal under Islam as well as on Chaldean and Assyrian matters (pp.
By then the Nestorian church (as most of the early Asian Christian communities came to be called) exercised ecclesiastical authority over more of the earth than either Rome or Constantinople.(10)
The main Eastern groups belong to autonomous Orthodox churches, the Uniate churches, which recognize the Roman Catholic Pope, and the independent Nestorian Church. There are approximately 85 Jews.
Their names are vaguely familiar from early church councils anal heresiology: Chalcedonian and anti-Chalcedonian churches, including the Monophysites and Jacobites, the Nestorian churches of Eastern Syria and Persia, and various other splinter groups.
His interest in more recent periods of Middle Eastern history leads him to muse upon such matters as the lay-out of Nestorian churches.