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] He is thought to have written and translated a number of religious works.[3][5] 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
Major shrineThe Seminary of Mar Abba the Great El Cajon, California, United States
Feast28 February

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, which has named a seminary in San Diego, California, USA, after him.[6] 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.

Early lifeEdit

Born in a Zoroastrian family of Persian origin[7][8] in Hala, Mesopotamia. Mar Aba was secretary to the governor of Beth Garmai province before he converted to Christianity, studied, and later taught at the School of Nisibis.[3] Highly regarded as a scholar,[3] he studied Greek in Edessa and is attributed with the translation (or with having overseen the translation) of key texts, including the works of Theodore and Nestorius, from Greek into Syriac.[9] He is also remembered as the author of original works including Biblical commentaries, homilies, and synodal letters.[10]

Commentaries of TheodoreEdit

He favoured the Biblical interpretation and commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia, at the time a controversial position: the Byzantine emperor Justinian attempted to meet with Mar Aba around 532 (before his installation as patriarch) to persuade him to denounce Theodore's teachings. Justinian was preparing to anathematize Theodore and his works, obviously in sharp opposition to Mar Aba's own views. Acquiescence to Justinian's demands would also have been politically undesirable for Mar Aba, whose Church of the East had secured independence from the Christian west (which Justinian represented) at the Council of Dadisho in 424.[11] Mar Aba was not at the meeting.

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,[12] including a set of marriage rules prohibiting unions between close kin, apparently formulated in deliberate response to Zoroastrian practice.[13]

Tensions with Persia and RomeEdit

Tensions between the Persian and Byzantine empires ran high during Mar Aba's lifetime, and, after hostilities between the two intensified in the 540s, 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.


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.


  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. ^ Noort, Edward; Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (2002). The Sacrifice of Isaac. Brill. p. 115. ISBN 90-04-12434-9.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2009-10-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, ed. Samuel N. C. Lieu (1992), p. 52.
  8. ^ Greatrex & Lieu (2002), p. 273
  9. ^ Gelston, A (1992). The Eucharistic prayer of Addai and Mari. Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 0-19-826737-1.
  10. ^ "Syriac Language and Literature". Catholic Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia Press. 1913.
  11. ^ 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).
  12. ^ Buck, Christopher (1999). Paradise and Paradigm. SUNY. p. 6. ISBN 0-7914-4061-3.
  13. ^ Morony, Michael G. (2005). Iraq After the Muslim Conquest. Gorgias Press. p. 364. ISBN 1-59333-315-3.


  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.

Preceded by
Catholicus-Patriarch of the East
Succeeded by