Aba I (or, with his Syriac honorific, Mar Aba I) or Mar Abba the Great was the Patriarch of the Church of the East at Seleucia-Ctesiphon from 540 to 552.[1] He introduced to the church the anaphoras of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius beside the more ancient liturgical rite of Addai and Mari.[2] Though his tenure as catholicos saw Christians in the region threatened during the Persian-Roman wars and attempts by both Sassanid Persian and Byzantine rulers to interfere with the governance of the church, his reign is reckoned a period of consolidation,[3] and a synod he held in 544 as (despite excluding the Diocese of Merv) instrumental in unifying and strengthening the church.[4] In 544, the Synod of Mar Aba I adopted the ordinances of the Council of Chalcedon.[5] He is thought to have written and translated a number of religious works.[3][6] After his death in February 552, the faithful carried his casket from his simple home across the Tigris to the monastery of Mar Pithyon.

Mar Abba the Great
Mar Abba I the Great.jpg
Mar Abba the Great, Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon
Catholicos Patriarch
BornHala, Asorestan, Sasanid Iran
Adurbadagan, Sasanid Iran
Venerated inAssyrian Church of the East
Ancient Church of the East
Chaldean Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Major shrineThe Seminary of Mar Abba the Great El Cajon, California, United States
Feast28 February[citation needed]

Aba is a highly regarded and significantly venerated saint in the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church.[7] His feast day is celebrated on both the seventh Friday after Epiphany and on February 28. He is documented in the Ausgewählte Akten Persischer Märtyrer, and The Lesser Eastern Churches, two biographies of Eastern saints. The first seminary of the Chaldean Catholic Church outside of Iraq was established in July 2008 in El Cajon, San Diego, as the Seminary of Mar Abba the Great.

Early lifeEdit

Born in a Zoroastrian family of Persian origin[8][9] in Hala, Mesopotamia. Mar Aba was secretary to the governor of Beth Garmai province before he converted to Christianity.[3] He was baptised in Ḥīrtā and studied at the School of Nisibis.[10] He then went to Edessa in the Roman Empire, where he learned Greek from Thomas, who became his travelling companion. He traveled widely in the Roman Empire, visiting the Holy Land, Constantinople and Egypt.[11] He was in Constantinople sometime between 525 and 533.[10] Because he favoured the Biblical interpretation and commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia, the Byzantine emperor Justinian I attempted to meet with him to persuade him to denounce Theodore's teachings. Justinian was preparing to anathematize Theodore and his works.[12] In Alexandria, one of his pupils was the merchant and writer known as "Cosmas Indicopleustes". In his Christian Topography, written between 548 and 550, Cosmas credits Aba with teaching him everything he knows. He says that in Greek Aba went by the name Patrikios.[13]

Upon returning to Persia, Aba became a mpaššqānā or teacher of biblical exegesis at the School of Nisibis.[11] One of his pupils there was Cyrus of Edessa.[14] He later taught in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the school of which he is said to have founded.[11] Highly regarded as a scholar,[3] he is credited with the translation (or with having overseen the translation) of key texts, including the works of Theodore and Nestorius, from Greek into Syriac.[15] The translator of Nestorius' Book of Heraclides dedicated his work to Aba.[11] Aba is also remembered as the author of original works including Biblical commentaries, homilies and synodal letters.[16] These survive today only in quotations in other works, notably those of Ishodad of Merv. A remark in the Chronicle of Seert may suggest that Aba made a translation of the Old Testament into Syriac, but there is no other evidence of this.[11]


544 SynodEdit

Aba's tenure as catholicos followed a 15-year period of schism within the church, during which remote areas had elected their own rival bishops. Aba was able to resolve this schism, visiting the disputed areas and negotiating agreements to reunite the church.[1] In 544, he convened a synod to ratify these agreements; the synod agreed that the metropolitans of those regions under the See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon would, in the future, elect catholicoi at formal meetings. This agreement was, however, substantially subverted in later years, not least when the Persian ruler Khosrau I influenced the selection of Joseph, Aba's successor as catholicos.[3]

The acts of the synod also documented an "orthodoxy of faith", written by Aba himself. Some of its prescriptions indicate the particularly Persian character of the church in the East,[17] including a set of marriage rules prohibiting unions between close kin, apparently formulated in deliberate response to Zoroastrian practice.[18]

In 549, Aba established a diocese for the Hephthalite Huns.[19]

Tensions between the EmpiresEdit

Tensions between the Persian and Byzantine empires ran high during Mar Aba's lifetime, and, after the outbreak of the Lazic War in 541, persecution of Christians in Persia became more common. Zoroastrians hostile to Aba as an apostate pressured Khosrau to act against him, and, as punishment for proselytizing among the Zoroastrians, Aba was placed under house arrest and eventually exiled to Adurbadagan (Azarbaijan). He was allowed to return to the See after seven years and continued as Catholicos until 552,[1] when he died – in some accounts, as a result of torture and exposure inflicted during his imprisonment.


  1. ^ a b c Benedetto, Robert; James O. Duke (2008). New Westminster Dictionary of Church History. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 406. ISBN 0-664-22416-4.
  2. ^ Becchio, Bruno; Johannes P. Schadé (2006). Encyclopedia of World Religions. Foreign Media Group. ISBN 1-60136-000-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e Baum, Wilhelm; Dietmar Winkler (2003). The Church of the East. Routledge. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-415-29770-2.
  4. ^ Rassam, Suha (2005). Christianity in Iraq. Gracewing. p. 37. ISBN 0-85244-633-0.
  5. ^ Meyendorff 1989, p. 287-289.
  6. ^ Noort, Edward; Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (2002). The Sacrifice of Isaac. Brill. p. 115. ISBN 90-04-12434-9.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2009-10-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, ed. Samuel N. C. Lieu (1992), p. 52.
  9. ^ Greatrex & Lieu (2002), p. 273
  10. ^ a b David Wilmshurst, The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East (East and West Publishing, 2011), pp. 56–57.
  11. ^ a b c d e Lucas Van Rompay, "Aba I", in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018).
  12. ^ Birnie, M. J. "The Church of the East and Theodore of Mopsuestia: the commitment to his writings and its implications for dialogue". Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. 10 (1).
  13. ^ G. W. Bowersock, The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 25. ISBN 978-0-19-973932-5
  14. ^ Ute Possekel (2018), "Cyrus of Edessa", in Oliver Nicholson (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, p. 447 |volume= has extra text (help).
  15. ^ Gelston, A (1992). The Eucharistic prayer of Addai and Mari. Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0-19-826737-1.
  16. ^ "Syriac Language and Literature". Catholic Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia Press. 1913.
  17. ^ Buck, Christopher (1999). Paradise and Paradigm. SUNY. p. 6. ISBN 0-7914-4061-3.
  18. ^ Morony, Michael G. (2005). Iraq After the Muslim Conquest. Gorgias Press. p. 364. ISBN 1-59333-315-3.
  19. ^ Wilmshurst (2011), p. 77.


  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Syriac Language and Literature". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Church of the East titles
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Catholicos-Patriarch of the East
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