Friday, June 17, 2005



The Romans, taking the torch of the Hellenes, vied with the Persians for control of the cradle of civilization setting up buffer states based on treaties that reflected the military balances sheets from the fortunes of war. These buffer states in modern day Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Iraq reflected the influences of the two competing civilizations. The Persians, who do not speak a Semitic language, but speak an Aryan language, who many believe to be the linguistic father of most modern European languages wrote in cuneiform and worshipped their own religion, Zoroastrianism. Nonetheless, before the first Arab Muslim army set foot inside Persia, Persian Christians erected churches and even had several archdioceses.

Despite early four centuries of Christian persecution by Persia suspecting the Syriac speaking missionaries to be agents of Rome, Christianity spread throughout the Persian provinces. A Persian nobleman, Aphraates, converted during a time of great Christian persecution. Under the leadership of Dorotheus, monasticism flourished despite the Persian capture of the Christian Roman outpost of Nisibis.

In the year 399, the Roman emperor appointed Maruthas, Bishop of Maiperkat, in Mesopotamia, to act as envoy to the Persian Court.

Maruthas befriended the Persian king, Yezdegerd, who in turn allowed the free spread of Christianity in Persia and the building of churches. Nisibis once more became a Christian city. The Persian Church developed and maintained and even at times increased its number and developed its organization until the period of the Mohammedan conquest.

The Bishop of Susa, an associate of Maruthas, Bishop Abdas terminated good relations with the Persian court by burning down heathen temples and balking when the Court demanded re-payment. The king gave the Zoroastrians a free hand by which they martyred Abdas and burned down all churches. At the end of Yezdegerd’s reign in 420, many Christians fled into Roman territories. Bahram V succeeded his father to the throne and prosecuted the persecution which erupted in war between the Empire and Rome. The war grew in scope and Roman victories in Armenia caused the Persians to ally themselves with the Turks. Nonetheless, the peace terms favored the Romans.

Though the next hundred years brought turmoil to the Eastern provinces, literary and ecclesiastical extension flourished. The turmoil became the fertile seedbed of a Syriac literature in Persia and ultimately of a Christian Persian literature.

Persia fought a war in the southern Caucasus as the Prince of Lasistan, a courtier of the Romans, converted to Christianity..

In 531, Chosroes I, “Chosroes the Just" ascended the throne and made peace with Byzantines, the Eastern Roman Empire, and declared a proclamation of religious tolerance. While campaigning in Syria, Chosroes took ill and under the inducement by Byzantine agents, Chosroes’s son, Nushizad by his Christian wife, sized the throne. Chosroes crushed the rebellion which mortally wounded his son, Nushizad, who repented of his rebellion against his father and received last rites from Mar Aba, a bishop of the Nestorian Christian sect.

Hormuz, Chosroes’ successor and son, (579-590) led the Empire into a degenerate tyranny and suffered invasion on the north, east, and west. A defeated general under a death sentence assassinated Hormuz and grabbed power for himself. Hormuz’s son escaped and with the aid of the Byzantine Emperor Mauritius defeated the upstart became king as Chosroes II. As he owed his kingdom and his wife to the Emperor Mauritius, Chosroes was loyal to the ruling house in Constantinople. Although not himself a Christian, he married a Christian, honored the Blessed Virgin and the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, two saints popular among the Syrians.

In 604 the Emperor Mauritius himself was assassinated. The younger Chosroes resolved to avenge the death of his benefactor by seizing Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Asia Minor and threatened Constantinople. In 615, Chosroes put down the Jerusalem revolt by executing 17,000 persons, leading 35,000 into captivity and carrying off the fragment of the True Cross, the most precious relic of the city. Asia Minor remained in the hands of the Persians until 624.

Chosroes’ reign, however, did end in revolt. Chosroes the Younger, with a harem of 3,000 wives and 12,000 female slaves, demanded as wife Hadiqah, the daughter of the Christian Arab Na'aman. Na’aman’s refusal met with his death being trampled on by an elephant. His daughter, Hadiqah took refuge in a convent. The outrage led to a general revolt by all Arabs who later toppled the Empire.

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