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Mar Bawai Soro

by Father Robert Taft, S.J.
June 6, 2006
Rome

The contribution of His Grace Mar Bawai Soro, bishop of the Church of the East, to the survival in the modern world of his ancient Apostolic Church, has been incalculable. This zealous and brilliant religious leader of his people recognized early in his religious ministry that his Assyrian people and Church, no longer isolated from the rest of the world in its mountainous Haykkari redoubt, would survive only if they abandoned the isolation that history and persecution within the Ottoman EmpireHis Grace Mar Bawai Soro had imposed on them, and entered into ecumenical and intellectual dialogue and cooperation with the other �Sister Churches� of Apostolic Christianity. To further this goal, Mar Bawai did not rest content at having achieved episcopal dignity, supreme sacrament in the ecclesial hierarchy of the Apostolic Churches, but became a humble student again, going back to school to get his doctorate in Rome, while at the same time fostering the graduate-level education of the younger Assyrian clergy, to form for the first time in the history of his Church and people an educated religious elite, leading them forward to meet the new challenges of the third Christian millennium.

Mar Bawai�s path-breaking 2002 doctoral dissertation represents the first modern, scholarly presentation of its own tradition by a leader of the ancient, Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East. This Church has only in recent decades been able to exit from the ghetto, into which historical circumstances had forced it, and to earn its place as a respected dialogue partner in the broader ecumenical world of Apostolic Christianity. Once published, this dissertation will be of inestimable value in the life of the Church of the East by assisting it in its own self-understanding and in communicating to its own faithful the riches of its age-old tradition, beyond the myths, in a way acceptable to modern historiography.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this work not only for the Church of the East itself, which by this very fact is issuing from the cave in which it has been hidden for countless centuries. It is also of seminal importance for ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic and other Orthodox Apostolic Churches, which will be forced to abandon the clich�s by which they have judged the Church of the East and its age-old distinct tradition, forcing it into their own legitimate but particular and therefore limited framework.

Historically, it has ever been the temptation of ecclesial communions to universalize their own particular traditions and modes of theological expression and vocabulary, and to judge everyone else by their own yardstick. This is what the Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox Churches did during the great Christological Councils of Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), and Constantinople II (553); and only modern scholarship and ecumenism, beyond all polemics and myths, can resolve these problems. Recent ecumenical agreements between the Catholic Church and the Church of the East have resolved the Nestorian problem of Ephesus (431) to the mutual satisfaction of both sides in the dialogue.

What Mar Bawai�s scholarship has done is provide the wide-ranging historical and patristic backup for those epoch-making ecumenical agreements, placing the apostolic origins of the Assyrian Church of the East in its historical context and retracing it within its own historical framework, and not simply as an appendage to the Churches of the Roman Empire. This revisionist view of the Church of the East and its teaching as seen by itself, from within, and not as usually presented by those outside the tradition, is in full accord with the latest modern scholarship on the topic, which has one by one overturned the cliche- ridden commonplaces of the past, and will surely be recognized as the most valuable overall study of this tradition in any modern language.

This is how Churches must defend and preserve their heritage in the modern world: not by defensiveness and withdrawal, hiding from others, holding them at a distance out of fear and a lack of self-confidence, but by reaching out to all in ways the modern world understands. By so doing, Mar Bawai has made his beloved Church of the East a witness to the world of today. Apostolic Christianity will survive in the eyes of the modern secular and scientific world as a viable creed and way of life only if it is studied and explained with complete historico-critical objectivity by scholars who gain the respect of that secular world.

In a world that no longer cares what or if one believes, or what, if any, ecclesiastic rank one holds, this respect is gained only by the intellectual rigor of one�s scholarship. In providing his Church this kind of episcopal leadership, Mar Bawai has been an example to us all. The present difficulties are in many ways, perhaps, a ricochet of what Mar Bawai has accomplished among those more fearful of the modern realities. But in the light of his unbending loyalty to his Church and tradition and his efforts to lead them into the world of the third millennium, with God�s help these problems will pass. That is my prayer for Mar Bawai Soro, one of my dearest friends, and for his beloved Church of the East.

On January 21, 2007, Father Taft spoke at Mar Yosip Cathedral in San Jose, California.
His talk can be heard online.
Father Taft at Mar Yosip Cathedral
[marbawai.com]

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I'm sorry that I was so late in seeing this thread. There is a new article that was just recently published:

http://www.kaldaya.net/2008/DailyNews/05/May26_08_E1_Unity_Issue.html

To elaborate on what Michael Thoma wrote, Mar Bawai had been involved deeply in the ecumenical talks and the understandings that the Assyrian CotE had with the Catholic Church. At a point where much progress had been made, suddenly the Assyrian side decided to disengage. I personally believe that this had to do with not desiring accountability, which would be in force when they are in communion with so many churches in the Catholic Church. I state that as my personal belief, and will not pursue the "why" anymore, but just the "what" happened.

At this point, many of us were left in a state of wondering what is going on. Like I have said before, if the theological differences were settled... if our tradition was respected... if even the matter of our revered fathers was something that was open to discussion... and with the CotE's great respect to the place of Rome... what was the hold up? The fact that it is good for brothers to be together. If our professed faith is the same, then we should be together, and to remain apart is uncharitable.

Things took a definite turn when Mar Bawai was unfairly treated. Funny things is, even in the last synod, H.G. Mar Bawai took the opportunity to re-emphasize the need for unity efforts to continue, and also the preeminence of Rome's patriarchs among all other patriarchs. Even while his brother bishops were trying to stop our bishop's voice and activity, he tried to reason with them bishops and have them continue in the path which I can only describe as the True path.

In some ways, it is unfortunate that the talks were not continued, in that many issues that remained to be dealt with between our churches were not yet resolved. But Mar Bawai, and those of us now united will continue to work to resolve them... within the framework of the Catholic Church, which allows for these types of issues to be worked on and respects the apostolic traditions of all the churches that form it.

This has not been an easy thing for us by far. Anyone criticizing slowness of things happening should realize that the bishops are not only worried about undergoing changes, but are concerned about the rest of their brothers in their communion and their flocks which they have been charged to take care of. I do not envy bishops their jobs, and I can only pray God give them strength and wisdom to carry through and act according to His Will, and thank Him for the bishops like Mar Bawai and many others who work diligently at it.

Peace,

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Dear Anthony,

Quote
I personally believe that this had to do with not desiring accountability, which would be in force when they are in communion with so many churches in the Catholic Church.

Could you explain what you mean by "accountability", please? Is it linked to the suspicion that some/all of the clergy are favor the party seeking an independent Kurdistan?

Best regards,
Michael

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Dear Michael,

Sorry for not being clear when I wrote that. Although I have some strong political views, I tend to try to leave them out of my thoughts when writing about the Church.

What I meant by accountability was about being responsible to the apostolic traditions and canon laws of our own church. When you are in communion with so many brother bishops, and the Pope and other Patriarchs, then when they speak to advice you into following the apostolic laws and traditions, then you must give weight to their words, if anything out of the Love which binds us all in communion.

One example can be seen in the latest action against Mar Bawai. One of the bishops opposing him was questioned about what actions can lead to a suspension like that which happened to Mar Bawai. After listing them, he was asked one by one if Mar Bawai had committed them... he admitted that he had not committed any of them. If we were in communion, the decision could have been appealed. Canon lawyers would have sat down and reviewed things. They would likely have found a way in which the unjust treatment of our bishop would be overturned WHILE saving face for the synod and the patriarch.

This has happened in the past in other churches in communion with Rome. This is accountability.

Another example. Some heretical and uncharitable things written in our Assyrian religious books in the 20th century with the rise of nationalistic tendency of the Assyrian Church. These were approved by the Patriarchs, even though in them there was snuck in a concerted effort to pervert our tradition and faith. I am sure that if the scholars in the other Chaldean Church of the East had read these things, and if Rome and the other patriarchates had seen it, then our patriarchs {this is happening over a long time period} would have gotten rebuked.

Lord have mercy... it is dangerous when people try to use the Church to glorify anything or anyone other than God.

In Christ,
Anthony

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Dear Anthony,

Thank you very much for your speedy reply! biggrin

I understand very well now what you mean by accountability. And I hope that Mar Bawai's travails can serve your Church as a strong focus for reconciliation among themselves. With so many Iraqi Christians being displaced and forced into exile, I know, and I hope you know, there are many fellow Christians who pray for you all, and hope you will be spared more pain.

In Christ,
Michael

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Dear Michael,

Thank you. I know and am glad. I think and pray for our people in the mideast and for all Christians in the mideast, but I am glad that there are many petitioning for them with more powerful and humble prayers than mine.

Peace,

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Be mindful, O Lord, of all those who are persecuted for the sake of Your Holy Name. Grant them Your grace, Your help, and Your strength to endure the suffering You allow them to have at the hands of their persecutors. Grant that they may always remember that this life, which passes so quickly away, is nothing compared to that life of blessedness which You have prepared for those who remain faithful. Grant that none may be lost due to human weakness, but let all be saved by Your great mercy. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, who is, by Your gracious gift from the Cross, our Mother, Lord hear and answer our pleas on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sister. AMEN.

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Dear Anthony,

Do keep us updated about Mar Bawai's status, I would like to invite him to my parish in Chicago - but of course if he were to con-celebrate he would first have to be in full Communion with the Syro-Malankara Church.

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Dear brother Michael Thoma,

If Mar Bawai and his Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese are now part of the Chaldean Catholic Church, are they not already in full communion with the entire Catholic Church and, thus, with the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church?

BTW, I'm quite pleased to see the discussion this has created. cool


Peace,
Alex NvV


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Dear Alex, good to see you around here!
The ACAD has decided to join the Chaldean Church, but Mar Bawai asked to be received as Bishop. This has to be approved by the Chaldean Patriarchal Synod and presumably confirmed by the Holy See. If this happens, he will be in Union with all the Churches of the Catholic Communion.

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Thanks for the clarification!

Alex

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What wonderful and good news for Christians. Truly: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Please correct me if I am mistaken, but it does sound like Mar Bawai IS in full communion with the Syro-Malankaran Church (and the rest of the Churches of the Catholic Communion).

The only question is whether, as Bishop (which I also presume there is no doubt), he is given charge over the flock he had previously been shepherd of. That is a matter for the Patriarch and Synod (which presumably includes Mar Bawai himself) to decide. Or have I missed something?

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Based on the CCEO, I think there are 2 distinct levels to be considered:

(1) As a group, the ACAD has been effectively accepted into full communion with the Catholic Church (via the Chaldean Catholic Church) and, therefore, H.G. Bishop Mar Bawai and all the clergy and laity are now Catholic and are in communion with all of the Churches in the Catholic communion. The local Chaldean Bishop has the power and authority to accept the request of the ACAD for full communion and was made effective by the mere profession of faith by all, which did happen.

(2) However, additionally for H.G. Mar Bawai, who apparently requested communion also as a Bishop, his continued exercise of his episcopal power and authority in the Chaldean Church must be approved first either by the Pope or by the Chaldean Patriarch, with the consent of the Chaldean Holy Synod, where the right to receive non-Catholic Eastern Bishops reside. Pending such approval by either, H.G. Mar Bawai has no episcopal assignment and his exercise of episcopal powers and authority are temporarily held in abeyance.

Amado

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Amado,

According to your view, can Mar Bawai presently function in his priestly role - Sacraments, Eucharist - except for his High priestly role, which is awaiting approval and confirmation?

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Originally Posted by Michael_Thoma
Amado,

According to your view, can Mar Bawai presently function in his priestly role - Sacraments, Eucharist - except for his High priestly role, which is awaiting approval and confirmation?

Yes, as all of the clergy who came into communion with him!

Moreover, I think the pendency of the requisite approval operates also as a temporary suspension of his authority over the ACAD clergy and laity, who are under the omophorion of the receiving local Chaldean Bishop.

H.G. Mar Bawai cannot be even an auxiliary to the local Chaldean Bishop. His future assignment may come with the appropriate approval of his reception as Bishop either by the Pope or by the Chaldean Patriarch with the consent of the Chaldean Holy Synod.

My guess is that he will be formally received as a Bishop by the Chaldean Patriarch, with the consent of the Chaldean Holy Synod, and with the assent of the Pope later to the assignment. Then, H.G. Mar Bawai will be ceremonially installed as a Bishop to his assigned diocese, in Iraq or elsewhere in the world.

Amado


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