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Origin of the Maphrianate of Tigrit - Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese

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Rev. Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese

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Union of the “Orthodox Church” in Persia with the Patriarchate of Antioch:


                   Following the death of Chosroes II (in 628), peace was restored between the Byzantine and the Persian Empires.  This led to a reunion between the “Orthodox” (i.e.anti-nestorians) and the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. We have different versions of this important event, of which Michel the Syrian gives an antiochian version[1].


 1. Michel the Syrian on the Union:


                         In 629, Athanasius Gamolo (595-631), the Syrian Orthodox patriarch of Antioch sent his Syncellus deacon John[2] to the Persian court on an official mission. After having visited the Persian capital, John went to the monastery of Mar Mathai “to receive the blessings of the monks” and “persuaded” the monks to unite with the patriarch of Antioch. He showed them “how much they were weakened since they have been separated from the see of Antioch”[3]. Metropolitan Christophorus of Mar Mathai led a delegation of four bishops (George, Daniel, Gregorios and Yezdapnah) and three monks (Marouta, Aha and Aitallaha). They called on the patriarch and requested him to consecrate the monks as bishops. The subsequent developments are summarized in a letter by the patriarch, addressed to the monks of Mar Mathai[4]:


“ To our glorious and pious spiritual sons: Mar Mathai, priest and archmandrite, the other priests and deacons as well as the entire brotherhood in Christ of the monastery of Mar Mathai: (from) the humble Athanasius”.


After the usual greetings and the words of courtesy, the letter speaks of John’s mission to the East and then continues:


“ It is granted to your monastery honour and primacy over all the orthodox monasteries that in Persia. Your pious archmandrite will retain the dignity of chor-episkopos and primacy over all the chor-episkopoi and the archmandrites of the region. He will have second rank after the bishop, with the authority and functions that were attributed to him in the ecclesiastical affairs, as it already existed in the case of the archmandrite of your monastery. (….). The bishop who will be regularly ordained for your monastery will be the archbishop and metropolitan of your region Athor. We have granted these (privileges) to your excellency and we inform your charity that the holy bishops Mar Christophorus, George, Daniel, Gregorios and Yezdapnah who came to settle the ecclesiastical affairs concerning you. (….). They requested us to show our authority and our spiritual care towards you as well as towards the churches in your country, as in the case of the churches of our region. But because of the difficulty of the matter, we have refused. After having refused for long time, we were overpowered by the violence of charity. That is why, we have agreed to their request to be led by the help of God and to direct the ecclesiastical matters among you. Then, having assembled in good will and with our permission, they made the election of pious and mature men. Mar Marouta has been ordained for Tagrit, Aitalaha for Marga and Gomal, Aha for lower Peroz-Sabour as well as for the Arabs (Taiyayé Namirayé). We have ordained metropolitan Mar Christophorus for the Provincee of Athor only. In order that there shall be a single head for the bishops of Athor and Beth Arabaye, as well as different regions of Beth Parsaye, for the well order of the churches, by the act of God and by the consent of our brothers, i.e., the bishops named (above), we have appointed Mar Marouta of Tagrit, metropolitan of Beit Arabaye, head and general director of all the bishops named, of their regions and their provinces, in a way that, for all, he shall be our representative, our deputy and our vicar. We have asked him to fulfill this function, not only because of the virtues of this man and his piety, but also because of your witness, and we ask you to be his powerful support as for our vicar.”[5]


The letter attests that the patriarch took the initiative for the union. The Eastern delegation requested the patriarch to ordain bishops for them and the latter was reluctant to do so because of the “difficulty of the matter” ( “à cause de la difficulté de la chose”). Finally the patriarch himself ordained the three monks and assigned them the dioceses. But in the case of Marouta, with the consent of the Eastern bishops, he was given the charge of Tagrit and was made the representative, deputy and vicar of the patriarch. [Marouta is called metropolitan].  Metropolitan Christophorus was “ordained” (i.e.confirmed[6]) for the province of Athor. The regularly ordained metropolitan of Athor will have charge over the monastery. However, the archmandrite of the monastery will be a chor-episkopos with his traditional privileges. He will have second rank after the bishop. Apparently the metropolitan of Athor was given a limited authority over the monks. Patriarch Athanasius seems to have conferred special privileges to the archmandrite to win the support of the monks for the union and to limit the authority of the bishop of Athor and thus to prevent any dissidence in the future. The letter does not say that the metropolitan of Athor (or of the monastery) will have second rank among the Eastern bishops. Most probably this letter represents an earlier tradition.


                   Michel quotes a Document found in the Monastery of Mar Mathai, which refers to the succession of the bishops of the Monastery[7]. ‘After persecution by “Nestorian Barsauma” and the fire at the Monastery of Mar Mathai, the Armenian Catholicos Christophorus visited the monks[8]. The monastic community was without  bishops since  Bar Sahde “metropolitan of the monastery, Athor and of Nineveh” was killed along with Babowai, the head of the Persian Church. The Armenian metropolitan chose a monk named Garmai and made him “metropolitan”. During his lifetime, Garmai ordained Mari as his successor, who was succeeded by Iso’zeka, Mar Sahda, Simon and finally Christophrus. Thus each bishop ordained his successor.


                    Michel then justifies this ordination: “ As Bar Sauma could not enter the land of the Armenians, who threatened to kill him, they had persisted in their (orthodox) faith. And those who are in the regions of Athor saw that as the Armenians, having been afraid of the Persians, are no more going to Antioch to get their Catholicos, as it was the custom. But they (the Armenians) themselves ordained him, they (those in Athor) also imitated them”[9].


                   Thus Michel account represents an Antiochian version of the union of 629. He claims that the Armenian Catholicos as well as the ‘metropolitan of Athor’ were consecrated by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and this “ancient custom” was discontinued due to the persecutions under Bar Sauma. The Armenians, therefore, consecrated their Catholicos and the Easterners imitated them.


                   Elsewhere, Michel says that the Armenian Catholicos ordained Garmai for Athor and Nineveh and gave him authority to ordain bishops, as the “Catholicos of the Persians” used to do[10]. Following the reunion, the Patriarch Athanasisus “confirmed” Christophorus as “Metropolitan of Athor”. Then Michel adds that the Patriarch had ordained Marouta to whom he gave authority over Christophorus, “Metropolitan of Athor” and that the “Metropolitan of Tagrit” directed all the Episcopal affairs and the ‘bishop of Mossoul’ had only the title of metropolitan[11].




ii. The Pseudo-Canons of the Monastery of Mar Mathai:


The Canons of the Monastery of Mar Mathai contain an eastern version of the union[12]. The canons are most probably not authentic[13]. The canons are found in a manuscript which was completed in 1204[14]. The copyist was from the East, a priest named “Daniel bar Joseph bar Sargis bar Tuma of Bartelli, the blessed town which is in the land of Nineveh”.  The Twenty Four Pseudo-Canons reflects the conflicts between the “Great Metropolitan of Tagrit” and the “Metropolitan of the monastery of Mar Mathai, of Nineveh and Mosul”. As we have seen, in 629, the Monastery  was placed under the authority of a Chor-episkopos, not under “the Metropolitan of Athor”. The text claims that the canons were composed in 629 by Metropolitan Christophorus, and are introduced with a long letter:


“ By the help of our Lord we write the canons of the holy and divine monastery of the holy Mar Mattai in the month of Tesri hrai (=November) in the second year of the merciful Ardasir[15], the king of kings of the Persians.


After our going back, i.e. our return from the common father of our fathers, Mar Athanasios, patriarch of the apostolic see of Antioch, when we established union with him, we, the heads of the priests, whose names are written here through the mediation of Johannan, syncellus and the disciple of the patriarch, we had a gathering in our monastery of the holy Mar Mathai, all the heads of the priests of the Orient. This happened in the year 940 of the Greeks (= 628/29 A.D.). We were moved by the Spirit to Tagrit, the second place, for the ecclesiastical reforms and the execution of that which was stored up in our mind according to the promise which we made before the Patriarch Athanasios.


It happened like this, that when we traveled to achieve our union with him, I, Christophoros, metropolitan of the holy monastery of Mar Mathai, of Nineveh and Mosul, the town of God, and the region of Athur, and the bishops with us and the venerable monks whom we brought along with us in order to make them heads of the priests for the places which have been widowed of bishops and to consecrate them to be those who accomplish the mysteries.


The patriarch, however, resisted. He wanted to keep order which he had from the ancient times because we have been appointed, through the mediation of the (Holy) Spirit, those in the oriental regions who were to govern the ecclesiastical affairs – rather was it the Holy Spirit (Himself) who thorough the mediation of our weakness, perfected them. And he did not take this on himself but he ordered us, according to the canon which was in effect earlier, to consecrate those who were the candidates.


Therefore, through the mediation of Christophoros, the Holy Spirit consecrated Mar Maruta, bishop of Tagrit and Mar Aitalaha for Marga and Gogmel; and Jazdapnah and Mar Aha for the country of the inferior Pir Sabor and of Namiraye”[16].


                   In his introductory letter, Christophorus claims that Maruta and the two other monks were consecrated by him assisted by the eastern bishops. He was directed by the patriarch to do so. He explains why the “bishop Marouta” was given the title of “metropolitan of Tagrit”:


“ (It appeared), however, right to the blessed (patriarch) and to us, that (we confer) upon Mar Marouta, bishop of Tagrit, the office of the metropolitan for Tagrit and this for two reasons. First its savage and pagan people had been Christianized by Mar Garmai, metropolitan of our monastery although (some) great and famous tribes of them still (so) abide and have not entered Christianity and had been evangelized by Mar Maruta. Second, because Ardasir, the king of the Persians who wanted (this to be) in the citadel of Tagrit where his garrison was (located).


With due respect for these two (reasons), we adjudged (it right) for six sees – (in the) downward area in the Orient –to be (assigned) to Mar Maruta and six to remain under the metropolitan of the monastery”[17].



Christophorus clearly exalts the place of the Metropolitan see of Mar Mathai and claims that Tagrit was evangelized by Mar Garmai of the monastery. In fact we do not have any evidence for such an evangelization. The canons reflect the tug-of-war that existed between Tagrit and Mar Mathai.  Christophorus carefully avoids to speak of the primacy of Tagrit among the eastern bishops. He rather claims that it was a concession to assign six dioceses (“sees”) to the metropolitan of Tagrit, and that the metropolitan of the monastery was equal in dignity to the prelate of Tagrit, because both had equal number of dioceses. Obviously, the canons were produced by the monastery of Mar Mathai to assert the authority of its bishop against the metropolitan of Tagrit. Then the introduction gives an outline of the ceremony in which Marouta was consecrted by Christophorus:


“ And when we were (celebrating) the service and the moment arrived to perform the enthronization, I approached the holy man, Mar Maruta, as a man armed by the (Holy) Spirit. I led him warmly and placed him on the throne proclaiming him aksios and the people responded after me, “It is meet and right”, with joy mingled with tears. When I settled the holy Mar Maruta down on the throne with (all) affection, burning and being inflamed for the expansion of the holy church, and also entrusted to him the metropolitan eparchy by the speech of my mouth and confirmed it by my stance openly at his right hand as his second”[18].


Finally, Christophorus admits that he stood voluntarily at the right hand side of Maruta as his second, implying that Tagrit was given the ‘first place’ by the generosity of the metropolitan of the monastery. Then follow twenty four canons claiming second rank to the metropolitan of the monastery among the Eastern bishops and minimizing the primacy of Tagrit. As we will see, in the following centuries there were regular conflicts between Tagrit and the Monastery.  The canons were certainly produced during that time.


Eleven bishops have signed the canons in the following order:


-          Christophorus, “metropolitan of the holy and divine monastery of Mar Mathai and

      of  Nineveh and of Mosul the town of God”.

-          Mar Maruta, metropolitan of Tagrit

-          Mar Giwarghis (= George)  (of Siggar?)

-          Mar Daniel, bishop of Bet Nuhadran

-          Mar Estapanos, bishop of Arzun

-          Mar Aitalaha, bishop of Marga and of Gomel

-          Mar Isorahmeh, bishop of Tirhan

-          Mar Jazdapnah, bishop of Sahroz

-          Mar Aha, bishop of interior Pir Sabor

-          Mar Johannan, bishop of Hirta.

-          Mar Johannan,  bishop of Anat and of Taglibiye.


It is striking that the name of Gregorios, bishop of Beth Raman, who was one of the four bishops who accompanied Christophorus to Antioch, is absent[19].

[1] Michel the Syrian, Chronique II, 414-17.

[2] Michel the Syrian says that he was a priest (Chronique II,416). According to Bar Hebraeus (B.H.II, 120), he was a deacon. John succeeded Athanasius under the name John I (of Sedre) (631-648).

[3] Michel the Syrian, Chronique, II, 414.

[4] Ibid., 414-17.

[5] Ibid. 416-17.

[6] See. Michel, Chronicle III,29.

[7] Chronicle II, 417.

[8] i.e. Christophorus II (628-30). See. Vööbus, The Synodicon II, (CSCO.376), p199, n.16.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Chronicle III,29.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Syriac Text in A.Vööbus, The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition, Vol.II, (CSCO 375, Louvain, 1976); pp.190-197. English translation, CSCO.376, pp.197-208.

[13] J.M.Fiey, “ Les diocèses du ‘Maphrianat’ syrien: 629-1860”, Parole de l’Orient V-2 (1974), 375-377. O.J.Schrier agrees with Fiey. O.J.Schrier, “  Name and function of Jacob Bar Shakko. Notes on the history of the monastery of Mar Mathai”, in Vth Symposium Syriacum 1988 (ed. R.Lavenant), OCA 236 (Rome, 1990), pp.215-228.

For a discussion of the canons, see also J.M.Fiey, “Syriaques occidentaux du ‘Pays des Perses’: Ré-union avec Antioche et ‘Grand Métropolitat’ de Takrit en 628/629?”, Parole de l’Orient XVII (1992), 113-126;

It is surprising that in his article published in 1992, Fiey does not refer to the Synodicon edited by A.Vööbus in 1976. Thus Fiey quotes from a French translation by Mgr.Joseph Mounayer (Les synodes syriens jacobites, Beyrouth, 1963, pp.22-25).

[14] Published by A.Vööbus, The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition Vo.I-II;  CSCO.366-67; SS 161 (Syriac Text); CSCO.375,SS.163 (tr.).

[15] Ardasir III ruled from September 628 A.D. to April 27, 630 A.D. See. The Synodicon II, (CSCO 376), p.197, n.4.

[16] Synodicon II, (CSCO.376), pp.197-200.

[17] Ibid, p.200.

[18] Ibid. p..201.

[19] Both Michel and Bar Hebraeus include his name