The Synod of Mar Ishaq Catholicos Patriarch 410 AD

The Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East that was held in India- Jan 13-19, 20101- issued a proclamation honoring 1600 years anniversary of Mar Ishaq’s synod2. Who was Mar Ishaq and what was his role in reorganizing Church of the East? History During the Sassanid’s Empire Christianity was widely spread from the Mountains of Assyria (Kurdistan) to the Persian Gulf including Bahrain’s Islands. Shapour became king of Persia in 309 AD., and after conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity, status of Christians in the Sassanid’s Empire changed. They were viewed and suspected as co-religious and sympathizers with the Persian’s enemy. 3 Thus, Shapour ordered that all Christians to pay double taxes, and he specifically ordered Mar Shimun Bar Sabai Catholicos to collect the taxes. Mar Shimun refused to obey the order which cost him his life. On the morning of Good Friday 339 AD., the Catholicos, five bishops, and one hundred clergy were put to death. Persecution lasted all over Persia for forty years, and according to Wigram, “Sapor [Shapour] continued to persecute up to the very end of his life relentlessly.” Finally, the long-lived king, Shapour, died in 379 AD., and this gave the church a golden opportunity to be in peace and to start rebuilding and reorganizing itself. At this time, Mar Ishaq [Isaac] became Catholicos in 399 AD. Reorganization Yazdgard [Yazdgerd] became king of Persia in 399 AD., and his friendly relations with the Christian Empire of Rome offered a prospect of definite peace for the church. Therefore, in 409 AD., he issued a decree to Christians to worship openly. One can compare that decree to the “Edict of Milan 313 AD.” between Constantine and Licinius for the religious toleration in the Roman Empire. Yazdgard’s Decree
1 2 3 W. A. Wigram. 1909. History of the Assyrian Church

“in the eleventh year of the reign of the victorious king of kings, Yazdgard, when tranquility and peace had come to the churches of the Lord, he brought about deliverance and rest to the congregations of Christ, and gave the servants of God the authority for Christ to be openly magnified in their bodies, both in their lives and in their deaths. He rolled away the dark cloud of persecution from all the churches of God, and put away the blackness of affliction from all the flocks of Christ. He commanded in all his kingdom that the temples which had been torn down by his forebears should be magnificently rebuilt in his own days, and the altars which had been pulled down should be carefully supplied. Those who for the sake of God had been tried and tested by imprisonments and torments were to go out in the open, and priests and rulers, as well as the entire holy profession, were to move about freely without dread or fear.”4

Mar Ishaq Catholicos, head of the bishops of the entire East, with the help and mediation of his fellow brother Mar Maruta the bishop of Maiparqat who was the Roman ambassador to the Persian King, requested from Yazdgard to allow all bishops of his kingdom to gather in the capital city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon5 for a synod. This was the first official assembly of bishops in Persia which was approved by the king. According to the Bible, king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD6 thus Yazdgard ordered all Marzbans (Border Governors) to send bishops of their district to the capital city for the assembly. In the month of Kanon (January), on the holy feast of the Epiphany, forty bishops came to the great city, the chief of all cities of the East i.e. Seleucia-Ctesiphon. and king of kings (Yazdgard) commanded “our honored father, Mar Ishaq, bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, Catholicos and chief bishop of the entire East, and his brother, Mar Maruta the bishop, that all should gather at the cathedral church.” The second session started “at the beginning of the month of Sbat (February), on the third day of the week” under the primacy of our father, Mar Ishaq, Catholicos and chief bishop of the entire East. And the letter of the Western fathers7 was read by Mar Maruta, the mediator of tranquility and peace between the East and the West. All forty bishops not only accepted and agreed the canons and ordinances set forth in the West by the bishops in the land of the Romans. They were also able to establish, define, and append their own twenty-one canons “regarding the orders of bishops and metropolitans; and concerning the patriarch and the ranks of the clergy; and concerning the admonitions set forth for those in ecclesiastical service; and concerning the confession of faith of the fathers, the three hundred and eighteen bishops.” Thereafter, our father, the honorable Mar Ishaq, Catholicos of the East, and Mar Maruta the bishop, met with the king and he commissioned Kosrau Yazdgard, the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister), and Mihr-Sabur, the Chief of Staff to meet and listen to the assembled bishops. And they advised:
“Previously a great persecution came upon you and you went about secretly. Now the king of kings has brought about great tranquility and peace for you. Through the
4 5 6 Prov. 21:1 7 Porphyrius, bishop Catholicos of Antioch; Acacius, bishop of Aleppo; Pqida, bishop of Edessa; Eusebius, bishop of Tella; and Acacius, bishop of Amida

mediation of Ishaq the Catholicos before the king of kings, whom he was pleased to make head over all Christians in the East, and especially from the day that Maruta the bishop came here in the friendship of the king of kings….So now Yazdgard, the king of kings, commands thus: any man whom you desire to govern the people of God, and know to be suitable for rulership, and whom Ishaq and Maruta establish, shall become the head.”8

Canons They wrote down the canons in an edict and by signing it they ratified, the unchangeable covenant, inviolable oath, indissoluble contract, and immutable decree that they find necessary for the conduct of the ministry of the catholic church. Thus, in the twelfth canon concerning the honor which is proper and due to the Catholicos who occupies the see of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, they decreed:
“All of us together willingly have agreed- and have also been commanded by Yazdgard, the king of kings- that we bishops of all the territories of the East and those who come after us shall be subject to the bishop Catholicos, the head of the bishops and metropolitan of Seleucia and Ctesiphon- that is to every bishop who sits upon this great throne of the church of Koke- in all due matters which are commanded, until the coming of Christ”9

Seventeenth canon: again, the agreement and covenant of the bishops concerning the keeping of these canons; and concerning the censure which they decreed against the scornful who neglect them:
“All of us bishops who have gathered from various places according to the command of the victorious and illustrious Yazdgard, the king of kings, have accepted gladly all these admonitions, beginning with our father and head, Mar Ishaq the bishop and metropolitan, Catholicos and head of the bishops, and all of us together. May the fire of God fall upon anyone who ventures to transgress any of these commandments, and may the wrath of God remain upon him. May he be bound and anathematized from the entire church of Christ in the four regions…”

Twenty-first canon concerning the order and honor of precedence of the provinces and sees of the metropolitans, and the bishops under their control, one after another corresponding to the greatness of the city:
“Those sees which are honored and are set forth one after another because of the greatness of the city; even if one who is young occupies a particular see, honor is rendered to him because of his see and because of his city. The first and chief see is that of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, and the bishop who occupies it is the great metropolitan and head of all the bishops. The bishop of Kaskar is reckoned with this diocese of the (great) metropolitan, and he is his right hand and fellow servant and governs his see after him. Henceforth the metropolitan of a diocese is under the control of the great metropolitan who occupies the see of Seleucia and Ctesiphon. After this (is) the see of Beit Lapat the metropolitan of Beit Huzaye. Therefore, when those bishops who have been restricted have departed, a bishop who is made by the metropolitan of Seleucia (will) be bishop metropolitan over his fellow bishops.
8 9

After this (is) the see of Nisibis, and the bishop who occupies it is metropolitan over Arzon, Qardo, Beit Zabdai, Beit Rehimai, and Beit Moksaye and the bishops in them. After this is the see of Prat and Maisan, and the bishop who occupies it is metropolitan over Karka, over Rima, and over Nhargor and the bishops in them. After this is the see of Arbil, and the bishop who occupies it is metropolitan of Beit Nuhadra, Beit Bagas, Beit Dasen, Ramonin, Beit Mahqart, and Dabarinos and the bishops in them. After this is the see of Karka, and the bishop who occupies it is metropolitan over Sharqart, Lasom, Ariwan, Darah, and Harbgelal…”

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with this quote from Wigram, “the canons passed by the council numbered twenty-one; it is a strong proof of the spirit of independence in the Assyrians that at this moment- when they owed so much to the West- they should have dealt thus boldly with the canons even of Nicaea. The creed, of course, they accepted; but all other rules they seem to have felt themselves free to accept, alter or neglect, according to their own judgment as an autocephalous Church.”