Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Chaldeans

My group in Ankawa is serving the Chaldean Christian community.  The Chaldeans are descended from the Assyrians, the fierce warriors of the Nineveh Plain who terrorized the ancient Near East and nearly captured Jerusalem.  Eventually, the Assyrians were converted to Christianity, possibly by St. Thomas.  They survived Islamic conquest, and now live as a minority among Iraqi Kurds and Arabs.

Like most people in the Middle East, Chaldeans tend to look dark, at least compared to Europeans.  However, some are quite pale and there are a few with naturally blond or red hair. 

The primary Chaldean language is Sureth, a modern form of Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ.  The Chaldeans also know Arabic, and some speak Kurdish and English as well.

Chaldeans prefer to use patrimonies instead of family names.  If you ask one of our students for their last name, many will tell you their father's name.  An Iraqi's full name as printed on Iraqi passports is First, Father's, Grandfather's, Family.

Chaldeans, like most everyone outside of the secular West, recognize that the family rather than the individual is the basic unit of society.  Marriage and family are extremely important and divorce is rare.  There are a lot of engagement parties and weddings here.  I attended a Chaldean wedding reception, which I will have to recount in a later post.

My fellow teachers and I attend mass at the Cathedral called Mar Yusef (St. Joseph).  The Chaldean liturgy is part of the Syriac family of liturgies and is conducted in Sureth.  The men congregate at the front of the church while the women sit in the back.  This segregation is strict in the men's area, but not in the women's, where the sexes mix but women predominate.  

Reportedly, many Chaldeans do not attend Mass regularly, but strictly conform to other practices such as fasting.  Like everywhere else in the world, there are some problems with formation in Kurdistan.  Hopefully, the theology department at Mar Qardakh can help treat those problems.

The Cathedral in Ankawa as seen from the choir loft:

My time with the Chaldeans has been brief and my observations limited, but I have a great affection and admiration for these people.  In the coming weeks, I hope to learn more, and share what I learn with you.

10 comments:

  1. Patrick - I can't wait. Thank you for sharing this experience with us, and also for going there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy to write about it. Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  3. They sound eminently sane, apart from the matter of Mass attendance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the most sane things about the Chaldeans is their respect for the Archbishop. They really recognize him as their proximate spiritual father. If anyone can fix they Mass attendance problem, he can.

      Delete
  4. Chaldean is from the East Syrian liturgical family. The closest I've come is Divine Liturgy at a Maronite Catholic Church which is West Syrian. But both usually say the words of consecration in Aramaic, just like, as you pointed out, Jesus did.
    Looking forward to your thoughts on the Chaldean liturgy, especially how it varies & is like the Latin rite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will try to obtain a copy of the missal with an English/Sureth translation. This will allow me to post a more detailed analysis of the Mass.

      Delete
  5. Patrick - I have been "lurking" here, reading your interesting posts. We have a Maronite Catholic church about 45 minutes from where I live, and I've been wanting to visit. Your posts are making me want to put that at the top of my "to do" list. I have been praying for you, and will continue to do so. Thank you for going! -- Rosemary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should definetly visit. Thank you for the prayers!

      Delete