THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHALDEAN SYRIAN
(ASSYRIAN) CHURCH OF THE EAST
The Church of the East makes use of the term Raza to denote ‘sacrament’ or ‘mystery’. It comes
from the Old Persian (Pahlavi) term raz, referring to something concealed or hidden.8
its way into Assyrian and then Aramaic sometime in the 4th or 5th century B.C.9
sacraments are “outward signs of God’s inner grace”. We may further define the sacraments as being
material means through which God communicates to us his divine grace, of which we are in need in our
lives on a daily basis, for our edification, sanctification and utter salvation, and a share in everlasting life.
All sacraments are releated to the life of Jesus Christ.
The ecclesiastical Understanding of the Sacraments
The fathers of the Church of the East had not defined or limited the sacraments to the number
seven. Later, Mar Timothy II (partiarch 1318-1332) adds a different list of the sacraments in his
theological work: The Book of the Seven Causes of the Ecclesastical Mysteries. Formally, Many other
acts were considered to be ‘sacraments’, but the number seven became universally popular since the
Scriptural number seven denotes perfection and wholeness.
Now we have the sacraments, as defined by Mar Abdisho of Nisiis (d.1318 AD) in his Marganitha,
are the following: 1) Priesthood 2) Baptism 3) The oil of Chrismation/oil of the Apostles 4)Eucharist 5)
Absolution 6) Holy Leaven (Malka) and 7) Sign of the Cross.
1. Priesthood (kahnootha)
The sacrament of the Priesthood, functions for the edification and sanctification of the Body of
Christ-the Holy Church by being instruments of the grace of God and of his Holy Spirit, thrpugh the
celebration and dispensing of the sacraments to the baptized faithful. The Priesthood is the continuation
both within the Church and to the world at large of the salvific mission and work of Jesus Christ for the
salvation of all men.
2. Baptism (Mamodheetha)
Through the sacrament of baptism God ‘re-creates’ us, as it were, from mortal and corruptible
creatures (marred by sin, death and evil) into a new creation.
3. The oil of Chrismation/Unction (Mishkha dashleekhe)
Mar Abdisho of Nisibis comments that just as oil is used among eminent artists, after having
completed a picture with its rich colors, by anointing the painting so as to protect it from being harmed or
ijured, in like manner those who are “drawn (painted) after the likeness of the heavenly King are for the
same reason anointed, lest they should receive damage from the chances of the world and from the
opposition of the devil”
4. The Eucharist (The Holy Qurbana)
“Let us all, we who have been invited to take delight in the glorious and divine Mysteries, give
thanks and worship in fear and in love the Lord of all. In love and in faith let us receive the Body and
Blood of Christ the Son, who was sacrificed on our behalf, and he absolved our sins and reconciled his
father to us be the shedding of his blood. Behold, he is celebrated upon the altar, and at the right hand of
the Father who sent him. Though he is one, he is undivided; above (i.e. in heaven) and in the Church he
is offered daily on our behalf, while not suffering. Come, let us draw near with care to the Offering of his
all-sanctifying Body, and let us all cry alound equally to him and say ‘Golry to you’’- from the Theologically
rich antiphon for Thursday of the Passover.
5. Absolution (Khusaya)
“And see hom he calls! Those who have spent their strength in breaking the law, those who are
burdened with their sins, those who can no longer lift up their heads, those who are filled with shame,
those who can no longer speak out. And why does he call them? Not to demand an accounting, nor to
hold court. But why? To relieve them of their pain, to take away their heavy burden. For what could be a
heavier burden than sin? I shall refresh you who are weighted down by sin, he says, and you who are
bent down as if under a burden; I shall grant you remission of your sins. Only come to me!” - commentary
of St. John Chrysostom about the mystery on the basis of Matthew 11:28.
6. The Holy Leaven (Malka)
The important thing to remember is that for each of the two ‘Sacraments of Initiation’ (i.e. baptism
and the Eucharist), in the Church of the East there is a ‘leaven’ (khmeera) that comes by Apostolic
Tradition from the apostles of our Lord themselves. The reason for this ‘leaven’ for these two essential
sacraments is for two reasons: 1) in order to connect the sacramental act of the Church with the Lord of
the sacraments, Jesus Christ and his first institution of these two sacraments; 2) in order to perfect
(complete) the consecration of these sacraments by the priesthood in the liturgy of the Church. For the
sacrament of baptism, this ‘leaven’ is the Holy Oil, also known as the Oil of Chrismation (used exclusively
for baptism, and no other liturgical purpose) comes from the apostles themselves, it is not in need of
being consecrated on an annual basis (usually on Holy Thursday) as in the other traditions; rather, it is
simply ‘increased’ at every celebration of the baptismal rite, when the freshly consecrated oil that is
remaining after the sacrament is administered is returned to the vile (called the ‘Horn of Baptism’) which
contains the Holy Chrism.
In like manner, the ‘leaven’ for the other ‘Sacrament of Initiation’ (both of which were established
by the Lord Jesus Christ himself) is the Holy Leaven, or Malka, for by it the Eucharistic bread that is
baked for consecration in the liturgy is signed and ‘confirmed’ or perfected. it is probably referred to as the
Malka because the vast majority of the adherents of the Assyrian Church of the East were living under
rules who were not Christian monarchs. Therefore, in the absence of a Christian king to not only rule over
the faithful but to also guard them from harm as well, the Church saw it fitting to refer to this most
important leaven as the king which we possessed.
It has been handed down to us by the holy and blessed apostles Mar Addai and Mar Mari of the
Seventy, and Mar Thomas of the twelve. Its origins, according to the apostolic tradition of the Church, go
back to the apostle St. John the Evangelist, but it was committed to the East by St. Thomas of the twelve,
and Ss. Addai & Mari of the seventy-two. This sacrament, unique to the Church of the East amongst all
other apostolic Churches, has always
her ecclesial memory and practice.
7. The Holy Cross (Rushma Dashleewa)
The sacrament of the Holy Cross is the seventh of the mysteries (sacraments) of the Chaldean
Syrian ( Assyrian) Church of the East. Like the sacrament of the Holy Leaven, the Holy Cross is unique to
the Church of the East. The cross is understood to be the ‘sign of the Son of Man’ (see Mathew 24:30)
which shall be seen at the end of times, at the great and fearful Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Cross, in the sacramental theology of the Church of the East, denotes the real and true presence of
Christ among us. It is not merely a ‘symbol’ of Jesus suffering and death, rather it is the instrument of our
salvation and the powerful and life-giving sign of God’s present and ultimate triumph over sin, death and
The fact remains that the Easterns (i.e, Church of the East) did not change anything which
they received from the blessed apostles of our Lord themselves, but rather diligently and with
great care kept and preserved all that they handed down to the Churches they discipled; not even
in persecutions nor in the face of martyrdom did they change any creed or belief handed down by
an apostle of Jesus.
Three Litugical rites which, although containing the mediation of the priesthood and liturgical
prayers and rites, are not counted as among the seven sacraments of the Assyrian Church of the East;
these were the anointing of the sick, marriage and the monastic tonsure. Although they impart a special
grace from God to the faithful who receive them, yet they are not defined as being a part of the official
sacramental structure of the Church.