On Tuesday 10th May 2022, a luncheon was held in honour of the first visit to Australia of His Holiness Mar Awa 111, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. He is also the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch of the East Apostolic See of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. He is a first-generation Assyrian-American. At 16, he was ordained as a sub-deacon, and the following year became a deacon. He was ordained by Mar Dinkha IV. On 30 November 2008, he was elevated to the rank of Bishop, taking the name Mar Awa Royel (in Assyrian, Awa means father). He became the first American-born Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East.
As Bishop, Mar Awa made many attempts to raise awareness for the plight of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, especially the dire situation facing Christian minority communities in Iraq and Syria, and those living along the Khabour River in NE Syria, where the terrorist organization ISIL attacked in late February 2015, and led to thousands of displaced people and a hostage crisis.
On 8th September 2021, Bishop Mar Awa was elected as the 122nd Catholicos-Patriarch to the apostolic see of Seleucia-Ctesiphon and was consecrated in Iraq on 13 September 2021 which is also the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Catholicos-Patriarch is now permanently located in Erbil (KRG), Iraq.
The luncheon in honour of Mar Awa 111 was MC’d by Cr Joseph Haweil. He was a wonderful host, along with clergy and youthful members of the Assyrian Church of the East in Victoria. The welcome and hospitality extended was particularly noteworthy.
The Victorian Council of Churches was represented by the Executive Officer, Rev Sandy Boyce.
Distinguished guests included:
His Grace Mar Abris Youkhana, Bishop of Kirkuk and Diana – Assyrian Church of the East
His Grace Mar Benyamin Elya, Bishop of Victoria and New Zealand – Assyrian Church of the East.
Hon Ros Spence MP, Minister for Multicultural Affairs (and other portfolios) and State Member for Yuroke
Mr Andrew Giles, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Shadow Minister Assisting for Immigration and Citizenship (and one other portfolio) and Federal Member for Scullin
Mrs Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell
His Grace Bishop Evmenios of Kerasounta, Archdiocesan Vicar for the District of Northcote and Assistant Bishop to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
The Catholic Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Fr Denis Stanley EV, Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.
The Anglican Church was represented by the Rt Rev’d Bishop Paul White, Anglican Archdiocese of Melbourne.
The Russian Orthodox Church was represented by the Very Rev’d Archpriest Dr Peter A.L.Hill, Director of the Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Institute. (Since 2016, Mar Awa 111 has been co-chair of the Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East).
The guest list was impressive!
Distinguished guests were invited to make short speeches, with a keynote address by His Holiness Mar Awa 111.
(more photos and information on a post about the event, on the Assyrian Church Vic NZ Facebook page)
The Assyrian Church of the East has a long history, dating back to the apostolic age. A fascinating and informative overview of the history of the Assyrian Church of the East can be read here. Definitely worth a read!
A summary account of the last century is also revelatory. The Assyrian Church and Nation suffered greatly at the hands of the Muslim powers during WW1. In 1918, the catholicos-patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimun XIX (1887-1918) was martyred by the Kurdish chieftain Ismail Agha (Simko), and the Assyrians were left at the mercy of the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish neighbors. With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians were left without a homeland of their own and the promises of the Western superpowers were forgotten and left unfulfilled. In 1920, the majority of the Assyrians were moved to the Bakuba Camp near Baghdad, being moved from Urmia, Iran. They lived in horrible, sub-human conditions; tens of thousands lost their lives along the way to Bakuba from 1918 to 1920.
Successively, the Assyrian people were able to recover themselves after the creation of the independent state of Iraq, however, without any claim to the land and home of their ancient ancestors. Later, in 1933 another wave of atrocities were perpetrated against the Assyrians of Iraq, this time on the part of the Iraqi monarchy. A group of Assyrians were forced to take refuge in the then-French colony of Syria. A confrontation with Iraqi forces caused the death of some few thousands of Assyrians. The late Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII (1908-1975), patriarch of the Assyrian Church, was exiled along with the patriarchal household after the 1933 massacre and settled for a time on the Island of Cyprus by the British.
The patriarch then moved to the US, settling first in Chicago, in 1940. From then on, the seat of the catholicos-patriarch of the Assyrian Church would remain in the diaspora.
The early 1970’s and 1990’s – after the first Gulf War – saw a great wave of migration of Assyrians from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. These migrations included the establishment of a large Assyrian diaspora predominantly in the United States and also in Europe.
In 1975, the patriarchal see became vacant with the death of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII. The Assyrian bishops gathered in London, England in 1976 and elected a new patriarch who took the name of Mar Dinkha IV, the then bishop of Iran. (Mar Dinkha IV presided over the ordination of Mar Awa 111). The newly elected patriarch made immediate contact with the Assyrians living in the countries of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon soon after his election. The patriarchal see was moved to Chicago in 1980.
The great majority of the Assyrians are to be found in the diaspora rather than in their ancestral homeland of Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq. Centuries of persecution and forced migration have decimated the once-numerous populace, however the community continues to preserve its ancient history and heritage.
Today, the descendants of the ancient Assyrians who populated the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ are found all over the globe including in Australia.