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Patriarch calls for Iraqi churches to unite after centuries of division

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako made the dramatic proposal this week (CNS)

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako has proposed that the three main Iraqi Christian churches should merge in order to secure the survival of the faith in that country.

Writing on the patriarchate website the head of the Chaldean Church, which has been in communion with Rome, proposed a reunion between his church and the two largest Assyrian churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Ancient Church of the East.

In a statement the patriarch said: “I would like to share some personal thoughts with those of others, since they may contribute to achieving the project of ‘the unity of the Church of the East’.

“Unity is the commandment of the Lord Jesus, ‘so that they may be one’ (John 17/11), and the demand of Christians who face significant challenges that threaten their existence in diaspora with assimilation, and in the motherland with extinction.

“I propose that we adopt a single denomination for the church: the Church of the East as it was for many centuries, and that we not maintain the factional denominations. The single denomination will give it strength and momentum, and it can become a model for other churches.”

The Church of the East split with the western Church in 431 at the First Council of Ephesus over the controversy of whether the Virgin Mary should be called “mother of God”, a split referred to as “the Nestorian schism”, although the Assyrians did not call themselves Nestorians. In the 16th century a controversy within the Church of the East led some to go back into communion with Rome, calling themselves the Chaldeans after the early civilisation of southern Iraq.

“The communion of faith and unity with the Holy Roman See is a fundamental base of unity. It is an increase of power, not a decrease, especially since there is no difference in doctrine, but only in its formal expression. Therefore, to think of disassembling the link of ‘the Church of the East’ with the See of Rome would be a great loss and cause of weakness.

“Unity does not mean uniformity, nor the melting of our own church identity into one style, but it maintains unity in diversity and we remain one apostolic universal Church, the Oriental Church, that maintains its independence of administration, laws and liturgies, traditions and support through respect for the authority of the Patriarch and the Synod of Bishops.”

Once this dialogue is agreed, then Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Mar Addai II, patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East, “would submit their resignations without any conditions, but their desire for unity”. The bishops of the three churches would then meet to choose a new patriarch, who would have assistants from each brand.