My thanks to my sister for letting you know I would be absent. Now for more on the Church of the East.
The very existence of the Church of the East ought to force us to think again about what we mean by ‘Christian unity’. Although we think of Nicaea as the focus of unity, and we think of the great Christological struggles of the fifth century as fracturing it in some ways, the Church of the East does not fit into this pattern. It acceded to the Nicene Creed, and to the additions made at Constantinople in 381, but was not invited to Ephesus in 431, although it knew about it via Antioch, nor was it invited to Chalcedon.
In 1298 the East Syriac theologian Abdisho bar Brika (d. 1318) wrote in his Book of the Pearl (Margarita) that East Syriac Christians
“never changed their faith and preserved it as they had received it from the apostles,and they are called Nestorians unjustly, especially since Nestorius was not their patriarch, and they did not understand his language.”
Therein lay the problem.
Because we have so little information about the Church in its early years, we don’t know much about its contacts with the West, but we do know that during the reign of Shapur II (309–79) that there were violent persecutions of Christians, partly stimulated by Constantine and his successors claiming some rights over all Christians. Like Roman Catholics in England in the reign of Elizabeth and afterwards, Christians were viewed with suspicion as possible fifth columnists.
Two of the best-known Syriac theologians saw this persecution. Apharat the Persian and probably the best-known of them, Ephrem the Syrian whose poems/hymns are in print in the West and give some insight into the spirituality of his church.
The Church considered itself ‘Apostolic’ in foundation, and whatever some in the West claimed, did not regard themselves as in any way under the authority of other churches. Their ecclesiology was that of the modern Orthodox who regard all Apostolic Churches as equally valid.
The first general synod of the Church was held in 410, as recorded in the Synodicon Orientale. This synod reorganised the Church after the persecutions and established the primacy of the bishop of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. It accepted, with adaptations, the Nicene Creed, but as the fact that there were adaptations shows, it certainly did not consider itself bound by the authority of other Apostolic churches. Its version of the Creed was:
We believe in one God, Father, who in his Son made
heaven and earth; and in him were established the worlds
above and that are below; and in him he effected the resurrection
and renovation for all creation.
And in his Son, the Only-Begotten who was born from
him, that is, however, from the essence of his Father, God
from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; he
was born and was not made; who is of the same nature as
his Father; who for the sake of us human beings who were
created through him, and for the sake of our salvation,
descended and put on a body and became man, and suffered
and rose on the third day, and ascended to heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of his Father; and he is
coming in order to judge the dead and the living.
And we confess the living and holy Spirit, the living Paraclete
who (is) from the Father and the Son;
And in one Trinity and in one Essence and in one will.
The question of the relationship with the West was to define, and indeed, name, the Church of the East for many centuries to come.