List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East

The Patriarch of the Church of the East (Patriarch of Babylon or Patriarch 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 in Persia, and the church has been known by a variety of names, including Nestorian Church, the Persian Church, the Sassanid Church, or East Syrian.[2] In the 16th and 17th century the Church 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 and the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, respectively.


The geographic location of the patriarchate was first in the Persian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon in central Mesopotamia. In the 9th century the patriarchate moved to Baghdad and then through various cities in what is now northern Iraq 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 the Middle East. 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 and the Persian 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 separated the church, with those following "Nestorianism" separating from a group which entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This latter group, known initially as The Church of Assyria and Mosul, and latterly the Chaldean Catholics, continues also to maintain its own 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.


The adherents of the Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church celebrate the liturgy of Mar Addai and Mar Mari in the East Syriac dialect. At its peak, the Church of the East celebrated the liturgy in East Syriac in modern-day Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mongolia, China and Japan. The church also uses Assyrian Neo-Aramaic which is the vernacular language of its adherents as well as English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and the languages of the countries of the Diaspora.

List of Catholicoi of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and Patriarchs of the East until 1552

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),[8] Tulmay (St. Bartholomew the Apostle) [8] and of course Mar Addai, (St. Thaddeus) of the Seventy disciples. Saint Thaddeus was martyred c.66 AD.

Edessa era

Metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon elevated as titular Catholicos

See also: Al-Mada'in

Around 280, visiting bishops consecrated Papa bar Aggai as Bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, thereby establishing the succession.[9] With him, heads of the church took the title Catholicos.

Catholicos of the East with jurisdiction over Eastern provinces

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.

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 other churches; thereafter, its Catholicoi began to use the additional title of Patriarch.[9] During his reign, Nestorianism was subsequently denounced at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

In 544 the Synod of Mar Aba I adopted the ordinances of the Council of Chalcedon.[10]

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.[11]

List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East from 1552 to 1681

Main article: Schism of 1552

By the Schism of 1552 divided the Church of the East was divided into many splinters but two main factions, of which one (the Church of Assyria and Mosul) entered into communion with the Catholic Church and the other remained independent.

Eliya Line, with residence in Alqosh:

  • 90 Eliya VII (1558–1591)[12]
  • 91 Eliya VIII (1591–1617)[12]In 1610, Eliya VIII entered communion with the Catholic Church. His successor Eliya IX quickly repudiated the union.
  • 92 Eliya IX Shemʿon (1617–1660)[12]
  • 93 Eliya X Yohannan Marogin (1660–1700)[12]

Shemʿon Line, with residence in Amid, Siirt, Urmia, Salmas. This line until 1600 was in communion with the Catholic Church:

In 1600 the Shemʿon Line restored the hereditary succession, moved to Qochanis and broke the communion with the Catholic Church

List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East from 1681 to 1820

In 1681 a separate Patriarchate in communion with the Catholic Church was erected in Amid, splitting from the Eliya Line. In 1692 Shemʿon XIII Dinkha (based in Qochanis) of the Shimun line, broke formally communion with Rome.

Eliya Line, with residence in Alqosh:

  • 93 Eliya X Yohannan Marogin (1660–1700)[12]
  • 94 Eliya XI Marogin (1700–1722)[12]
  • 95 Eliya XII Denha (1722–1778)[12]

at the death of Eliya XII the Eliya Line split between:

Shemʿon Line, with residence in Qochanis:

Josephite Line, with residence in Amid, in full Communion with the Catholic Church:

With the reign of Patriarch Yohannan Hormizd, the Eliya Line in Alqosh entered in Communion with Rome, merging with the Catholic "Josephite" Amid line and thus forming the modern Chaldean Church. In 1830, Yohannan Hormizd was recognised by the Vatican as patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and moved the see in Mosul. This event marked the birth of the modern Chaldean Catholic Church. For the following Chaldean Patriarchs see the below.

The Shemʿon Line remained the only line not in communion with the Catholic Church from the 19th-century and continued to be known simply as the Church of the East see the below.

List of Patriarchs of the Chaldean Catholic Church since 1830

Non-hereditary line established with end of Eliya Line

List of Patriarchs of the Church of the East since 1820

Continuation of the Shemʿon Line

List of Patriarchs of the Assyrian Church of the East

List of Patriarchs of the Ancient Church of the East

In 1964, during the reign of Shemʿon XXI Eshai (also known as Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII), a schism occurred in the Church of the East causing the establishment of a separate Ancient Church of the East with its center in Baghdad. This schism occurred because of the changing of the church calendar from the traditional Julian calendar to the Gregorian one, along with hereditary succession and tribal rivalry. In 1968 communities in Iraq, Syria and India elected a rival Patriarch centered in Baghdad, the then suspended Metropolitan of India Mar Thoma Darmo. He consecrated prelates who in turn consecrated him Patriarch. Many of the non-Assyrian autonomous communities, isolated from the Church of the East in different parts of the world during the Seyfo, rallied their support for the Catholicoi of the Ancient Church of the East. Currently the Patriarchate is located in Baghdad, Iraq.

Various communities of Church of the East Old Calendarists seceded from the Ancient Church of the East in 2011 by continuing to observe the 25th of December on January 6th and 25th of March on April 6th, the Church of the East Calendar being 12 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

See also


  1. Willison, Walker (1985). A history of the Christian church. Simon & Schuster. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-684-18417-3. this church had as its head a "catholikos" 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. 1 2 3 Wilmshurst, David (2000). The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913. Peeters Publishers. p. 4. ISBN 978-90-429-0876-5.
  3. Wigram, p. 90
  4. Wigram, pp. 42–44.
  5. Wigram, pp. 90–91.
  6. Wigram, p. 91.
  7. I Peter, 1:1 and 5:13
  8. 1 2 3 "Nestorian Patriarchs". Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  9. 1 2 Stewart, p. 15
  11. Vine, The Nestorian Churches, 104
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Wilmshurst 2011, p. 477


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