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

Page 3 of 5


Rev. Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese

PAGE 3 of 5 

Bar Hebraeus on the Origin of the Metropolitan see (“Maphrianate) of Tagrit:




                   Bar Hebraeus (+1286) gives another version of the union, which seems to represent a further later tradition[1]. We shall give a summary.


“ In the same year, that is the (Greek) year 940 (= 629 A.D.), when peace was established,  Patriarch Athanasius sent his disciple John, a deacon from the village Beth Elaia to the Persian king on account of his domestic matters. John came to the monastery of Mar Mathai (which was) under the authority of Christophorus, Metropolitan of the Monastery and Adai, the Archmandrite. When he saw there chaste and saintly monks, he requested them to unite with the patriarch and the westerners. All (the monks) agreed with him. Metropolitan Christophorus convoked all the neighbouring bishops: (i.e.), George of Singar, Daniel of Beth Nuhadrae, Gregorios of Beth Raman and Jezdapneh of Sharzul. All the five went with John to (meet) the Patriarch. They took with them three men of virtue from the monastery, who were worthy for the (Episcopal) vocation: Marouta, of whom we have said earlier, Aithalaha and Aha. They reached (the residence of) the patriarch and united with him. They requested him to consecrate (these men) as bishops for the East. The patriarch did not agree, because of the decree established by the Council of Nicea, according to which, when the Great Metropolitan of the East dies, the bishops of the East shall ordain their head and common father. Therefore those bishops elected Maruta and they ordained him as the Great Metropolitan of Tagrit and they consecrated him. And they gave him authority over the entire orthodox church in the East, and to consecrate the metropolitan of the Monastery of Mar Mathai. And the Metropolitan of the Monastery, who is consecrated by the Metropolitan of Tagrit shall be seated at the right-hand side of the Maphrian, above all other bishops, but under the Maphrian. There they also consecrated Aithalaha for Gomal, which is one of the chief villages of the region of Marga, in the south-east of Mount Alpep, and Aha for Pir Shabor.


And the Maphrian returned to the monastery of Mar Mathai, along with the Metropolitan of the Monastery and six other bishops. They convoked other bishops whom they found and established twelve dioceses under the authority of the Maphrian of Tagrit:

First, Beth Arabaye[2]; second, Sigar[3]; third, Maaltia; fourth, Arzun[4]; fifth Gomal[5]; sixth, Beth Raman, which is Beth Wazik; seventh, Karmeh[6]; eighth, Gozartho d-qardu; ninth, Beth Nuhadra[7]; tenth, Pir Shabor[8]; eleventh, Sharzul[9], and twelfth the Arab Christians who are Taglibaye[10] dwelling the tents. (And Finally), for the Metropolitan of the Monastery, the dioceses of Nineveh alone (was given). After having made this arrangement, Marutha went to Tagrit…”.


Among the thirteen dioceses, Sigar, Beth Nuhadre, Beth Raman and Sharzul already existed at the time of the mission to Antioch, for their bishops were among the delegates. The Chronicle of Michel the Syrian gives the impression that the dioceses of Gomal and Pir Shabor were created in Antioch, when their bishops were consecrated along with Marouta. According to the Pseudo-canons of Mar Mathai, the three monks were taken to Antioch to be consecrated for the “places which have been widowed of bishops”[11].




Marouta, Metropolitan of Tagrit


                   The sources do not say why Marouta was appointed as the Metropolitan of Tagrit, with primacy over other bishops of the East. He was from Surzaq, near Balad, in Beth Nuhadra (in the vicinity of Nineveh)[12]. Marouta had his education in the Monastery of Mar Samuel Turaya, on the left bank of the Tigris and later joined the monastery of Mardas. Taking advantage of the peace that existed at the time of Chosroes II  and Maurice, he spent a few years in the Byzantine territory to continue his studies. Around the year 605, he returned to Persia and settled down in the Monastery of Mar Mathai, where he taught for some time. (This would mean that the monks of Mar Mathai were not merely Anti-nestorians, having no links with the anti-chalcedonians of Persia, as Fiey and most of the Western scholars believe). According to his biographer Mar Denha, Marouta reorganized the life of the monastic community[13]. Later (about 615 ?) he took over the direction of the monastery, founded by the Queen Sirin in Seleucia-Ctesiphon[14]. This would explain why Marouta was given special privileges by the Patriarch Athanasius. He had his training in Syrian Orthodox monasteries, and had introduced reforms in the monastic life, and above all, he had access to the court. (This will very well agree with the account of Elias of Nisibis, according to which the union and the consecration of Marouta to Tagrit took place in 624 : see below).  It was probably the friendship between Marouta and Christophorus that led to a peaceful settlement. (To a certain extent, this is reflected in the Pseudo-canons of Mar Mathai, where Christophorus proudly narrates how he consecrated Marouta).


                   However the successors of Christophorus were not happy with this arrangement because, according to them, the Metropolitan of Mar Mathai lost his honour and primacy in Persia. Eventually there were regular conflicts between Tagrit and Mar Mathai.


                   In his introduction to the “Canons of Mar Mathai”, Metropolitan Chrisophorus gives the reasons for granting  primacy to Tagrit: First, the people of Tagrit were evangelized by Garmai, metropolitan of Mar Mathai; Second the Persian King Ardasir wanted that the primatial see shall be in Tagrit where he had his garrison.


                   In fact Tagrit had no ecclesiastical importance till 629. We do not know when Christianity reached this city[15]. In fact the history of Tagrit before the Islamic invasion is not clear.  Later sources speak of Ahudemmeh (559-575) as the first ‘metropolitan of Tagrit (and of the East)’[16]. Tagrit got its significance with the Byzantine invasion of Mesopotamia. In 627/28 the Byzantine army under the Emperor Heraclius occupied Adiabene and Beit Garmai on the left bank of Tigris and finally reached the gates of Persia’s summer capital Dastegherd. Chosroes II (589-628) had fled and on 9th February 628, he was assassinated by his own men. His son Siroes was crowned as Kavad II who ruled for seven (or nine) months. Under him began the peace initiatives between the Romans and the Persians. Kavad (= Shiroes) was succeeded by his seven year old son Ardashir III who ruled for 18 months[17]. In July 940 A.G (= 629 A.D), Heraclius and the Shahrvaraz, “the patrikos of the Persians” concluded a peace treaty at Arabissus Tripotamus[18].  [On 27 April 630, Shahrvaraz usurped power and ruled for 40 days].  Because of the political uncertainties, the Byzantine army continued to stay in the Persian territories that they had captured. They continued to remain in Tagrit, their headquarters, where the governor established his residence in the citadel . In 637, when the Arabs captured the city, it was still under Byzantine occupation. Thus the Byzantine occupied city was chosen to be the seat of the primate of the East who represented the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch living in the Byzantine Empire. When the metropolitan Christophorus said that Tagrit was chosen as the Persian king Ardashir had wished, he was either confused over the historical developments or he was deliberately hiding the fact that Tagrit was under Byzantine occupation.





Date of the union between the monks of Mar Mathai and the Patriarch:


                   Regarding the date of the union and the consecration of Marouta, ancient sources are not unanimous. The Syrian Orthodox sources as well as a few East Syrian Chronicles place the union in 628/29 A.D. Some ancient East Syrian sources places the event in 624, during the reign of Chosroes II, when the Syrian Orthodox had access to the king through the queen Sirin and the physician Gabriel of Siggar.


                   Michel the Syrian says that the Eastern delegation came to the Patriarch in A.G.940 (= 628/9 A.D.), during the reign of Ardashir III. Thus Michel says: ‘The tradition that all the churches in Great Asia depended on Antioch and that the Patriarch of Antioch consecrated the Armenian Catholicos was discontinued during the time between the persecution of Bar Sauma and the rule of Ardashir’[19]. According to the Canons of Mar Mathai, Marouta was consecrated to the see of Tagrit during the reign of Ardashir.i.e. in 628/29. The East Syrian Historian Mari ibn Sulayman (12th cent.) also follows this date[20].  Bar Hebraeus places the union and the consecration of Maruta after the peace agreement between  Heraclius and  Shahriar ( or Shahrvaraz) (= July 629)[21].


                   The East Syrian Chronicler Elias of Nisibis (+1019) gives another date: “ The year 3 of Higra which begins o Sunday 21st June of the Greek Era 935: In that year (624 A.D), the Jacobites of the Persian Empire assembled in the monastery of Mar Mathai and consecrated Maruta, first bishop of Takrit, with the consent of the Patriarch and they organized the bishops under his authority”[22].


                   According to the Chronicle of Seert (XIth cent), in the 34th year of Chosroes, i.e. the (year) 936 of Alexander and the 3rd year of Hijra (= 624/25 A.D.), “ the Jacobites assembled in the monastery of Mar Mathai, in the region of Nineveh where they established (Episcopal) sees”[23]. [Then the names of the dioceses are given][24].


                  J.M.Fiey has pointed out that it is less probable that John’s mission to Persia and the union took place in 628/29, because the political anarchy that prevailed in the Persian Empire. Following the assassination of Chosroes II (on 9 Feb. 628), in the next four or five years, at least seven kings and queens occupied the Persian throne each ruling for a few weeks or months. Moreover, in June 629, a terrible earth quake devastated the region[25]. According to Fiey, the time was not the most convenient for a mission to the Persian court. But one can argue for the date given by Bar Hebraeus, according to which the mission took place immediately after the peace treatise between the Byzantines and the Persians.


                   Fiey suggests (without insisting) that the mission had probably taken place in 624 (as Elias of Nisibis and the Chronicle of Seert say). In 624, Chosroes II was in power, and the court physician Gabriel (who was a Syrian Orthodox) could influence the king to take decisions favourable to his community. Similarly another physician, named Yawnan – also a Syrian Orthodox – obtained permission from Chosroes to convert by force the Melkites of Edessa to ‘Jacobite’ or ‘Nestorian’ Christianity. The Melkites of Edeesa preferred the Syrian Orthodox Church, which was rather close to the power[26].


                   With Marouta, Tagrit became the seat of the metropolitan, later known as Maphrian. At first Marouta was not well received by the people of Tagrit[27]. However he could establish discipline among the clergy as well as among the faithful. He introduced liturgical reforms, so that Tagrit became ‘the metropole and the mother of the churches of the East’. His liturgical reforms include the recitation of the Ps.51 with the response: Turn Your face from my sins, and the use of Liturgical fans[28].[An anaphora is known under his name]. He had founded two monasteries: Mar Sergius, near Aingara for men and another for women, known as ‘Holy Mother of God’ near Beit Erbe. Marouta seems to have consecrated three new bishops, one for Sagestan, another for He’rat and a third for Adourbaidjan for the pastoral care of a large number of Syrian Orthodox from Edessa who were deported to that region by Chosroes II[29].


                   The episcopate of Marouta coincided with the Arab conquest of Persia. In 633, the Arabs occupied Qatar, Mesene, Hira and Anbar. In 637, they occupied Seleucia-Ctesiphon. The last Persian king Iazdgerd III fled to Turkestan and was assassinated in 651/2. The Christians were rather sympathetic towards the Arab invasion, for they were often persecuted by the Sassanian rulers. Marouta opened the citadel to the Arabs and thus saved the city from the calamities of war. He died on 2 May 649 and was succeeded by Mar Denha (649-59) who wrote the “History of Marouta, Metropolitan of Tagrit and al the East”[30].



Who did consecrate Marouta: Patriarch Athanasius or the Eastern Bishops?


                   Michel the Syrian says that after some hesitation, (“because of the difficulty of the matter”), the Patriarch Athanasius ordained Marouta and the other two monks. This has been attested in Athanasius’ letter addressed to the Monks of Mar Mathai[31]. What does it mean “difficulty of the matter”? Was it because of the “ancient custom” as the Pseudo-canons of Mar Mathai say?  Or was it because of the political situation in Persia? In fact Heraclius was successfully leading a military campaign in the East and the Syrian Orthodox Church was not officially recognized by the Emperor. Probably the patriarch did not want to incite the Emperor’s anger. It is interesting to note that Athanasius does not claim any right to ordain bishops for the East (as in later times)[32].


                   According to the Pseudo-canons of Mar Mathai, the patriarch refused to ordain Marouta and the two monks, because ‘the ancient canons direct that the easterners shall consecrate their bishops’.   Thus Christophorus himself presided over the consecration[33]. Bar Hebraeus also follows this version. He says: the patriarch refused to ordain them ‘because of the decree established by the Council of Nicea, according to which, when the Great Metropolitan of the East dies, the bishops of the East shall ordain their head and common father’. Therefore Bar Hebraeus continues, ‘those bishops elected Marouta and they consecrated him as the Great Metropolitan of Tagrit…and they also consecrated Aitalaha and …Aha”[34].


                   The Eastern version is further attested by the East Syrian Chronicler Elias of Nisibis and the Chronicle of Seert[35]. According to the Pseudo-canons of Mar Matai, after the union with the patriarch, the eastern delegation returned to Mar Mathai and elected Marouta and consecrated him. This version is also implied in the Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus and the East Syrian sources. Does Michel’s version that the patriarch consecrated Marouta, represent a later tradition, which was fabricated to claim the authority of the patriarch over the easterners? It is not unlikely.


                   In fact Michel claims that before the persecution of Bar Sauma, the Patriarch of Antioch used to ordain the Armenian Catholicos as well as the head of the Persian Church and that the custom was interrupted until the time of Ardashir III[36]. The antiochian claim has been further attested in the Letter of Marouta to the Patriarch

John I.[37]


                   The possibility that Marouta and the two other monks were ordained by the eastern bishops is further supported by the arrangement made in 660 at the time of the consecration of Mar Denha, who succeeded Marouta[38]. When Marouta died in 659, Patriarch Theodore (successor of John I) wrote to ‘the bishops and the nobles in the East’ expressing his desire to consecrate the new bishop of Tagrit[39], as the Alexandrian Patriarch consecrates the Metropolitan of the Ethiopians. The patriarch made a written agreement with the easterners, according to which when the patriarch dies, the great metropolitan[40] shall lay his hands on the candidate, and similarly the patriarch shall consecrate the eastern primate.


                   It is striking that the Patriarch Theodore did not refer to Marouta’s ordination by the Patriarch Athanasius to support his “desire” to consecrate the new bishop of Tagrit. Also he did not claim (contrary to Michel’s sources) that the patriarch of Antioch consecrated the ‘Catholicos of Persia’ before the persecution of Barsauma.


                   Why did ‘the Eastern bishops and the nobles’ agree that the successor of Marouta be consecrated by the Patriarch Theodore? Probably Theodore’s diplomatic move was effective to persuade them. On the other hand, the East was coming under Islamic control and the easterners might have thought that a closer relationship with the patriarchate would be beneficial for the future of their church. However, they did not agree unconditionally. Theodore had to make a written agreement endorsed by the Western bishops.


                   The union of 629 was a voluntary one. Gradually, because of the political developments, the Syrian Orthodox Church in Persia became more and more dependant on the Patriarchate of Antioch. Bar Hebraeus always tried to defend the independence of the maphrianate.



Successors of Mar Marouta


                   Under Marouta, the relations between Antioch and Tagrit were cordial. Thus the patriarch John I (631-49) (successor of Athanasius Gamolo , “bishop and metropolitan of Persia”, asking for a description of the persecutions by Bar Sauma[41]. In 629, John was succeeded by the Patriarch Theodore. When Marouta died, Theodore wrote to the “bishops and nobles of the East”, claiming his right to consecrate the new bishop of Tagrit[42]. However, according to Bar Hebraeus, Theodore made arrangements that the patriarch or the “maphrian” shall not be consecrated without mutual collaboration. The patriarch confirmed this practice on the basis of “the letter of recommendation and the witness of the western fathers”. Thus the people of Tagrit elected Mar Denha and took