Friday, September 17, 2010

Faithing: The Assyrian Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East

I have been visiting a variety of churches during my sabbatical. During my last two visits to Chicago I kept walking past St. John Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East. This church is etched on my mind because it is a powerful example of what happens when actions are based on fear and hatred. The Sunday following Sept. 11th 2001 the church became the target of an arson attack. The attackers appear to have assumed the congregation was Muslim. This required the attacker/s to ignore the three story cross outside the church.

Finally I knocked on the door and someone answered. This had never happened before. I had begun to think the congregation had moved. This white haired gentleman greeted me and welcomed me into his church. The gentleman was Qashisha (Father) C. Klutz. He was one of three parish priest (Emeritus) for the congregation. Father Klutz is an 80 year old priest with an incredible fund of knowledge and willingness to share the knowledge.

The Holy Apostolic Catholic Church of the East is an ancient church. We probably know it best for being associated with one of the first schemes during the fifth century. This is the church known as the Nestorian Church and the Chaldean Church of the East the latter is their name in India. It was situated along the Tigris River. The faith extended east. Missionaries taking land routes went to China and Japan. The church was founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle.


Inside St. John

Today the church headquarters is in Chicago. However, the church has historically been the church of Iran, Iraq and Syria. The liturgical language is Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The last century has been one of extreme martyrdom. Since the war in Iraq the Christians of the Middle East have endured attacks on churches, clergy and congregations. The result is the church is a quarter to one half the size that it was before the war. The church is quickly becoming a Diaspora church.


Father Klutz Explains the Assyrian Catholic Church of the East

Father Klutz graciously gave me a tour of the church and explained the meaning of the d├ęcor. He also spent time describing the liturgy or “Holy Mysteries” to me.


Father Klutz Showing the Gospel

For many centuries the church was not in communion with any of the other early churches. Today that has changed. Many of the differences are now viewed as problems with translation of concepts. In fact many of the Chicago priests were trained in the Vatican. Each local Bishop decides on shared liturgies. In Chicago the Catholic Church allows its members to receive communion at Assyrian Churches.

Father Klutz also spoke of the attack on the church following the Sept. 11th attacks. It was sobering to hear of the attacks and also how misunderstood this ancient church is to other Christians.


Father Klutz Describes the Attack on St. John Church after Sept.11

After the tour Father Klutz took me down stairs where I shared bread and Assyrian cheese with members of the congregation.

I attended mass the following Sunday. It was a beautiful service with three deacons as well as the priest. The liturgy was chanted and half of it was in Aramaic. This was truly a Middle Eastern and Iranian church. The church service appeared to bridge the orthodox or Eastern churches and the Latin churches. When I mentioned this to the Father he agreed. It was also a church of welcoming people.

Afterward I again ate with the congregation. I sat with Father Klutz’s wife. I met congregants. I heard how Father Klutz was translating the liturgy and the codex (the equivalent of our CCC) into English. It turns out this modest priest was important.
Father Klutz presented me with a book on the Church of the East. I have been welcomed back and I have every intention of visiting this warm and welcoming church again before my sabbatical ends.

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