List of patriarchs of the Church of the East

The Patriarch of the Church of the East (also known as Patriarch of Babylon, Patriarch of the East, the Catholicose of the East or the Grand Metropolitan of the East)[1] is the patriarch, or leader and head bishop (sometimes referred to as Catholicos or universal leader) of the Church of the East. The position dates to the early centuries of Christianity within the Sassanid Empire, and the church has been known by a variety of names, including the Church of the East, Nestorian Church, the Persian Church, the Sassanid Church, or East Syrian.[2] In the 16th and 17th century the Church, by now restricted to its original Assyrian homeland in Upper Mesopotamia, experienced a series of splits, resulting in a series of competing patriarchs and lineages. Today, the three principal churches that emerged from these splits, the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, each have their own patriarch, the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Patriarch of the Ancient Church of the East and the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, respectively.


The geographic location of the patriarchate was first in Edessa and then transferred to the Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia during the Roman conquest of Edessa. In the 9th century the patriarchate moved to Baghdad and then through various cities in what was then Assyria (Assuristan/Athura) and is now northern Iraq, south east Turkey and northwest Iran, including, Tabriz, Mosul, and Maragheh on Lake Urmia. Following the Chaldean Catholic Church split from the Assyrian Church, the respective patriarchs of these churches continued to move around northern Iraq. In the 19th century, the patriarchate of the Assyrian Church of the East was in the village of Qudshanis in southeastern Turkey.[3] In the 20th century, the Assyrian patriarch went into exile, relocating to Chicago, Illinois, United States. Another patriarchate, which split off in the 1960s as the Ancient Church of the East, is in Baghdad.

The patriarchate of the Church of the East evolved from the position of the leader of the Christian community in Seleucia-Ctesiphon, the Persian capital. While Christianity had been introduced into Assyria then largely under the rule of the Parthian Empire in the first centuries AD, during the earliest period, leadership was unorganized and there was no established succession. In 280, Papa bar Aggai was consecrated as Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon by two visiting bishops, Akha d'abuh' of Arbela and Hai-Beël of Susa, thereby establishing the generally recognized succession.[4] Seleucia-Ctesiphon thus became its own episcopal see, and exerted some de facto control over the wider Persian Christian community. Papa's successors began to use the title of Catholicos, a Roman designation probably adopted due to its use by the Catholicos of Armenia, though at first it carried no formal recognition.[5] In 409 the Church of the East received state recognition from the Sassanid Emperor Yazdegerd I, and the Council of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was called, at which the church's hierarchy was formalized. Bishop Mar Isaac was the first to be officially styled Catholicos over all of the Christians in Persia. Over the next decades, the Catholicoi adopted the additional title of Patriarch, which eventually became the better known designation.[6]

In the 16th century, another schism divided the Church of the East, separating those following "Nestorianism" from a group that entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This latter group became known as the Chaldean Catholic Church: see list of Chaldean Catholic patriarchs.[2]

Because of the complex history of Eastern Christianity, it is difficult to define one single lineage of patriarchs,[2] though some modern churches, such as the Assyrian Church of the East, claim all patriarchs through the centuries as the Assyrian Patriarch, even though the modern version of the church did not come into being until much more recently.

A very simplified diagram of the various branches of Christianity. The lowest line shows the Church of the East (also sometimes referred to as the Nestorian Church or the Persian Church).

List of patriarchs until the schism of 1552Edit

According to Church legend, the Apostleship of Edessa (Chaldea) is alleged to have been founded by Shimun Keepa (Saint Peter) (33–64),[7] Thoma Shlikha, (Saint Thomas), Tulmay (St. Bartholomew the Apostle) and of course Mar Addai (St. Thaddeus) of the Seventy disciples. Saint Thaddeus was martyred c.66 AD.

Saint Thomas the Apostle

Early bishopsEdit

Bishops of Seleucia-CtesiphonEdit

Around 280, visiting bishops consecrated Papa bar Aggai as Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, thereby establishing the succession.[13] With him, heads of the church took the title Catholicos.

Metropolitans of Seleucia-CtesiphonEdit

Isaac was recognised as 'Grand Metropolitan' and Primate of the Church of the East at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in 410. The acts of this Synod were later edited by the Patriarch Joseph (552–567) to grant him the title of Catholicos as well. This title for Patriarch Isaac in fact only came into use towards the end of the fifth century.

Catholicoi of Seleucia-CtesiphonEdit

With Dadisho, the significant disagreement on the dates of the Catholicoi in the sources start to converge. In 424, under Mar Dadisho I, the Church of the East declared itself independent of all the Church of the West (Emperor Justinian's Pentarchy); thereafter, its Catholicoi began to use the additional title of Patriarch.[13] During his reign, the Council of Ephesus in 431 denounced Nestorianism.

In 544 the Synod of Mar Aba I adopted the ordinances of the Council of Chalcedon.[15]

From 628, the Maphrian also began to use the title Catholicos. See the List of Maphrians for details.

In 775, the seat transferred from Seleucia-Ctesiphon to Baghdad, the recently established capital of the ʿAbbasid caliphs.[16]

Patriarchal lines from the schism of 1552 until 1830Edit

By the Schism of 1552 the Church of the East was divided into many splinters but two main factions, of which one entered into full communion with the Catholic Church and the other remained independent. A split in the former line in 1681 resulted in a third faction.

The Eliya line (1) in Alqosh ended in 1804, having lost most of its followers to Yohannan VIII Hormizd, s member of the same family, who became a Catholic and in 1828, after the death of a rival candidate, a nephew of the last recognized patriarch of the Josephite line in Amid (3), was chosen as Catholic patriarch. Mosul then became the residence of the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church until the transfer to Baghdad in the mid-20th century. For subsequent Chaldean Catholic Patriarchs, see List of Chaldean Catholic Patriarchs of Babylon.

The Shemʿon line (2) remained the only line not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In 1976 it officially adopted the name "Assyrian Church of the East".[26][27] For subsequent patriarchs in this line, see List of Patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Numeration of the Eliya line patriarchsEdit

Since patriarchs of the Eliya line bore the same name (Syriac: ܐܠܝܐ‎ / Elīyā) without using any pontifical numbers, later researchers were faced with several challenges, while trying to implement long standing historiographical practice of individual numeration. First attempts were made by early researchers during the 18th and 19th century, but their numeration was later (1931) revised by Eugène Tisserant, who also believed that during the period from 1558 to 1591 there were two successive Eliya patriarchs, numbered as VI (1558-1576) and VII (1576-1591), and in accordance with that he also assigned numbers (VIII-XIII) to their successors.[28] That numeration was accepted and maintained by several other scholars.[29][30] In 1966 and 1969, the issue was reexamined by Albert Lampart and William Macomber, who concluded that in the period from 1558 to 1591 there was only one patriarch (Eliya VI), and in accordance with that appropriate numbers (VII-XII) were reassigned to his successors.[31][32] In 1999, same conclusion was reached by Heleen Murre, who presented additional evidence in favor of the new numeration.[33] Revised numeration was accepted in modern scholarly works,[34][35][36][37][38][39][40] with one notable exception.

Tisserant′s numeration is still advocated by David Wilmshurst, who does acknowledge the existence of only one Eliya patriarch during the period from 1558 to 1591, but counts him as Eliya "VII" and his successors as "VIII" to "XIII", without having any existing patriarch designated as Eliya VI in his works,[41][18][42] an anomaly noticed by other scholars,[37][39][40] but left unexplained and uncorrected by Wilmshurst, even after the additional affirmation of proper numbering, by Samuel Burleson and Lucas van Rompay, in the "Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage" (2011).[38]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Walker 1985, p. 172: "this church had as its head a "catholicos" who came to be styled "Patriarch of the East" and had his seat originally at Seleucia-Ctesiphon (after 775 it was shifted to Baghdad)".
  2. ^ a b c Wilmshurst 2000, p. 4.
  3. ^ Wigram 1910, p. 90.
  4. ^ Wigram 1910, p. 42-44.
  5. ^ Wigram 1910, p. 90-91.
  6. ^ Wigram 1910, p. 91.
  7. ^ I Peter, 1:1 and 5:13
  8. ^ Thomasine Church Patriarchs
  9. ^ a b c d Broadhead 2010, p. 123.
  10. ^ Council.
  11. ^ "Histoire nestorienne inédite: Chronique de Séert. Première partie."
  12. ^ Council.
  13. ^ a b Stewart 1928, p. 15.
  14. ^ St. Sadoth, Bishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, with 128 Companions, Martyrs.
  15. ^ Meyendorff 1989, p. 287-289.
  16. ^ Vine 1937, p. 104.
  17. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 243-244.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Wilmshurst 2011, p. 477.
  19. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 244-245.
  20. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 245.
  21. ^ a b Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 246.
  22. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 247.
  23. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 248.
  24. ^ Wilmshurst 2000, p. 29-30.
  25. ^ Baum & Winkler 2003, p. 120-122.
  26. ^ Baum & Winkler 2003, p. 4.
  27. ^ Butts 2017, p. 604.
  28. ^ Tisserant 1931, p. 261-263.
  29. ^ Mooken 1983, p. 21.
  30. ^ Fiey 1993, p. 37.
  31. ^ Lampart 1966, p. 53-54, 64.
  32. ^ Macomber 1969, p. 263-273.
  33. ^ Murre van den Berg 1999, p. 235–264.
  34. ^ Coakley 2001, p. 122.
  35. ^ Baum & Winkler 2003, p. 116, 174.
  36. ^ Baum 2004, p. 232.
  37. ^ a b Hage 2007, p. 473.
  38. ^ a b Burleson & Rompay 2011, p. 481-491.
  39. ^ a b Jakob 2014, p. 96.
  40. ^ a b Borbone 2014, p. 224.
  41. ^ Wilmshurst 2000, p. 3, 355.
  42. ^ Wilmshurst 2019, p. 799, 804.


External linksEdit