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Canonizing Chaldean Saints

By Vanessa Denha Garmo

They are saints recognized among the spiritual piety and through devotions, but they have not officially gone through the canonization process. That could soon change. The Chaldean church is asking for the universal recognition of the Chaldean saints, specifically 17 already acknowledged on a weekly basis during mass.

“Not to mention that the Chaldean church owes a great debt to all the saints,” said Fr. Matthew Zetouna, associate pastor of St. George Church in Shelby Township.  “As an America-born exposed to the Western world, the Latin Church dominated my faith and I realize that we often take for granted our history.”

Fr. Matthew was in the Seminary when he heard Fr. Ragheed Ganni was killed in Mosul. It was June 2007. “It was a conversion moment because of what our people have gone through and are going through; knowing the service these people have given to us, up to the point of their own deaths and torture, hit so close to home,” he said.  “It stirred up, within me, an awaking. These saints are such beautiful gifts to us.  We can relate to them now even with what we are going through.”

Fr. Ragheed was killed months before Bishop Faraj Rahho, Bishop of the Archeparchy of Mosul.  However, these two are not among the 17 names submitted.  There would be a separate process for them to be canonized.

The 17 names are saints already recognized among the spiritual piety and have their own devotions but not recognized universally.

The list of all Saints mentioned in the Chaldean liturgy and traditions were submitted with a support letter from 2016 synod to the Holy See to speed up the beatification and canonization process and integrating them in the calendar of the Catholic Church.

In addition, Bishop Francis Kalabat was assigned to proceed with the application of the martyrs of WWI, such as Addai Sher, Jacob Abraham and Thomas Audo as well as the martyrs of “post-2003,” such as Bishop Faraj Rahho, Fr. Ragheed Kani, four deacons, and Sr. Cecil Sacredheart. During the 2016 synod, members decided to nominate Fr. Imad Khoshaba and Ribawar (the monk) to help him follow up on this process.

“Theology is not that you have to be recognized by the church to be a saint,” said Fr. Matthew. “Anyone in heaven is a saint. Nothing unholy can enter heaven as the book of Revelation says.”

Ordained saints are being dogmatically proclaimed by the church. The Chaldean church has recognized these 17 saints during weekly mass. “The only difference between the recent martyrs and the older ones is that they have been part of our liturgical prayers already,” said Fr. Matthew. “These new ones are recent.”

However, there are devotions for many of them that have been recognized globally. For instance, Latin Rite priest, Fr. Robert Christian OP, Order of Preachers, Dominic Monk, professor in Iraq who knew Fr. Ragheed personally has a devotion to Chaldean saints, according to Fr. Matthew.  “He had a mural created of the Chaldean Saints with Fr. Regheed without a halo because he isn’t declared a saint yet.”

The Christian life notes suffering, persecution, death, and faith in the resurrection. “These saints embodied that very loudly as almost all Chaldean saints are martyrs,” said Fr. Matthew.

It was this sacrifice of the saints that inspired Fr. Matthew to request that his first cope (vestments) be blood red.  “Gratitude for what I believe is that my own vocation came out of the sacrifice of the martyrs. The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,’ implying that the martyrs‘ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others.”

One saint recognized by Christian Iraqis is St. Ephrem. In fact, he is the patron saint for the Eastern Catholic Re-evangelization Center (ECRC). He is also a Doctor of the Church.  He was a Christian deacon from the 4th century.  Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as prose biblical exegesis. These were works of practical theology for the edification of the church in troubled times.

“As for these 17, I truly believe that the universal church wants to acknowledge them,” said Fr. Matthew. “It is also important that we have this recognition at this time for what we are going through.”

The Chaldean Diocese is encouraged that the process will be expedited. “In my opinion, they will all be accepted,” Fr. Matthew said. “Usually if there is a big pious devotion, that will help expedite the process. With our Chaldean Church, our people will be given hope for what we are going through. I think Pope Francis wants to expedite this process.”

Once acknowledged by Rome, these saints would then be Universal Saints. However, it doesn’t mean that Chaldeans cannot start a devotion to any of them right now.

“It is wonderful to have a devotion to Latin saints but as Chaldeans, it is important to not take for granted our own saints,” said Fr. Matthew. “We have so many people in the community with devotions to many saints but not are Chaldean. I don’t know of any devotions to Saint Sabbai or Saint Annahid. Don’t forget about our Chaldean saints.”

Below are a list of 12 of the 17 Saints submitted to Rome, who we have featured throughout Lent.  Also included is some commentary from Fr. Matthew.

 

April 10th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Mikhail, Friend of Angels

Mar Mikhail lived during the 4th century A.D. and is considered one of the disciples of Mar Eugene, the monk. He was one of the Egyptian monks whose love for Jesus allowed him to not only free himself from the lures of the world and dedicate his life to Jesus, but also traveled hundreds of miles to make his name known. When he arrived in Mesopotamia, he worked tirelessly in preaching Jesus and established a great monastery near Mosul. It was said that he was nicknamed the “friend of angels,” either because the Archangel Gabriel appeared to his mother, or he lived such a holy life that it was compared to an angelic one. Mar Mikhail has two commemoration dates, the first on the 6th Sunday of Lent, and the second is shared with John the Copt on October 15.

We seek the intercession of Mar Mikhail to learn to live like angels on earth in our dedication to the beauty of Jesus.

Mar Michael, friend of the angels

 

April 6th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Jacob the Mutilated

Jacob was born in the Lapat Region in the Ahwaz Territory in modern day Iran. When King Varahran announced his intention to persecute Christians, he was informed that his secretary, Jacob, was a Christian. The king summoned Jacob and threatened him and promised to award him with lucrative rewards should he denounce Christianity and return to his old position as his secretary. Jacob listened and did just that. When Jacob’s mother and wife heard of that, they sent him a letter reprimanding, chastising and scolding him for his actions of denouncing Jesus that had suffered for him for the sake of owning glorified, fading, earthly possessions. Jacob repented and regretted his actions. His colleagues in the Royal Palace discovered his return to the Christian faith and informed the king. The king summoned him again and reprimanded him.  However, this time, Jacob defied the king, who in turn sentenced him to death by dismembering him one piece at a time. At every dismemberment, Jacob offered that part of his body to God as a testimony of his faith. When it came time to offer his 9th finger, he cried out: “At the ninth hour, you were laid on the wood of the cross for our sins. So, here with my ninth finger, I thank you Christ who had been laid on the cross, for I, your servant, am permitted to be laid on the wood of the cross, so as my body parts would be cut off for the sake of the glorification of your name.” After all his parts were cut off, they beheaded him and left his body under tight watch of the soldiers on November 27, 732 AD. Some Christians, however, were able to blackmail the soldiers and collected his remains. They went down the Tigris River to his hometown of Lapat and buried him. St. Jacob was always commemorated with the additional title of “the mutilated” on November 27.

St. Jacob the Mutilated has become a great example of repentance, no matter how great the sin. He is also seen as a man who has dedicated his whole body for the glorification of Christ and not the glorification of the flesh.

Mar Jacob (The severed)

 

April 3rd’s Saint of the Day: Mar Pithyon

Pithyon was born to a non-Christian family whose religion was Zoroastrian.  This religion was very superstitious and believed in sorcery and the reading of fate through astrology and magic. Pithyon’s family was also involved in the religious priesthood of this religion, the leaders called magi.

His uncle Yazdeen converted to Christianity and he came to evangelize and preach the word of the Gospel to his people. Pithyon’s family believed in Jesus and not in the demonic magic and superstition and later followed him and became a monk. They both started evangelizing together and preaching the Gospel and living it. After the passing of his uncle, Pithyon continued the path that he and his uncle started. He began travelling the mountains, valleys and plains evangelizing and spreading the word of salvation. He reinforced his teachings with miracles that God performed through his hands.

Many became Christians accepting baptism at his hands, including high government representatives from the Sassanian Empire (224-651 AD) that were ruling the region.  Among those was the Mobid, or the Zoroastrian high priest, named Adhur-hormizd who believed after Mar Pithyon had healed his daughter Anaheed.  This action infuriated the emperor of that period.  However, despite the emperor’s warnings and threats to torture and to dismember him, he did not bow, so the emperor ordered him to be beheaded with the sword on October 25, 448 A.D. Today, the Chaldean Church commemorates Mar Pithyon on the 3rd Monday of Easter.

We turn to Mar Pithyon and seek his prayers in heaven for the healing of families broken by deeds of magic.

Mar Pithyon

 

March 29th’s Saint of the Day: The Disciple Mar Mari

Mar Addai (Thadeus in Greek) of the 72 disciples of Jesus had a disciple named Mar Mari.  Mar Mari was deployed to the East, to the land of Babylon, to spread the good news of God’s Salvation. On his way from Edessa to Babylon, he passed by Nisibin and Arbil and began spreading the word of God. Many faithful were baptized at his hands and priests and deacons were ordained.  When he reached the city of Seleucus, he initially had a difficult time preaching where he experienced numerous failed attempts to spread the word of faith. But after a lot of patience, some of the people became Christians while others complained about him to the king, stating that he was causing an uproar in the kingdom and spreading lies about an invisible God. The king summoned him and tried to force him to rescind his faith but Mar Mari remained strong in his faith. The king then asked him to perform a miracle and cure his sister named Kani. Before Mar Mari entered her room, he knelt and prayed and then he anointed her until she healed. Jubilation filled the place and she accepted to be baptized.  Everyone in the household became Christian. She then asked Mar Mari: “How do I reward you?” He told her to, “build a church for the living God.” They built a church by the Tigris River. He is credited with the order of the Chaldean Mass along with Mar Addai. His commemoration falls on the 2nd Friday of Summer.

This great saint has taught us to praise God through the mass that he helped write and to trust in God in patience.  May the Lord give us the same patience to help soften those who have hardened their hearts.

The Disciple Mar Mari

 

March 27th’s Saint of the Day: The Martyrs Mart Shereen (Miskenta) and her two sons

Shereen who was also known as “Miskenta” was a mother of two children and her family lived in the ancient city of Kirkh Slokh, present day Kirkuk.  When she came to learn that more than 12,000 faithful Christians became martyrs at the hands of King Yezdegerd, she reinforced the faith to her family of the sacrifice of Jesus. She was captured by Yezdegerd’s emissary and called her to deny her faith for the sake of her children. She instead begged him to have mercy on her and include her in the ranks of the other martyrs. She instead was killed, along with her elder son, by his accompanying soldiers. The soldiers tried effortlessly to calm the younger son and keep him away from the dead bodies of his mother and elder brother, but at the end they killed him, too.  They were martyred on August 26, 445 A.D. The Chaldean Church commemorates her annually on September 25. Another commemoration exists in the Chaldean Church in Mosul that is named after her, Mart Miskenta, on the day she became a martyr, August 26.

We turn to this wonderful mother and seek her intercession for all mothers that they keep instilling the faith of Jesus in their children especially during society’s sometime cruel attack against the faith.

The Martyrs Mart Shereen (Mikanta) and her children

 

March 23rd’s Saint of the Day: Mart Juliet and her son, Qiryaqos

The Roman emperor Diocletion launched one of the worst persecutions of Christians in the West in the early part of the 4th century.  During this persecution, a mother named Juliet was arrested along with her three-year-old son named Qiryaqos.  When they started torturing his mother, Qiryaqos approached the judge and affirmed his Christian faith. The judge became furious and grabbed him from his feet and threw him violently at the court steps. He hit his head on the steps and crushed his skull.  His mother Juliet did not waver from proclaiming her love for Jesus especially after seeing her son martyred.  As a result, she was beheaded.  The Chaldean Church annually celebrates the martyrdom of Qiryaqos and his mother Juliet on July 15, the day of their martyrdom.

St. Juliet and her son are a great example of a family dedicated to Jesus regardless of the hardships and cruelty that life can bring. St. Qiryaqos is also a great example that you’re never too young to believe in Jesus.

Mart Juliet and her son Kiryakos

 

March 20th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Adhorhormizd and his daughter, Anaheed

There was a pagan priest of the Zoroastrian religion named Adhorhormizd. He had had an only daughter named Anaheed. He loved her very much and when she became ill, no one was able to cure her.  Her father was informed that there was an elderly wise man named Pithyon who might be able to heal her. Pithyon prayed on Anaheed and she was healed. Two years later, her father wanted to marry her in accordance with the customs of the Persian faith, Zoroastrianism.  However, she became ill again and contracted leprosy.  He took her to Pithyon again, who healed her. They both became Christian and were baptized. When the news of the two converting to Christianity reached King Yezdegerd II, he ordered one of the pagan scholars to try to convert them back to their forefathers’ faith. When that failed, Adhorhormizd was ordered to be beheaded on April 25. Anaheed had disappeared, but they found her in a cave in a mountain praying. Following her arrest, she was tortured and all her bones were broken.  The judge ordered her whole body to be smothered with honey and tossed in the mountains to be stung by countless bees and be poisoned to death. However, the bees did not touch her. A few days later, on June 18, she died peacefully. Some nearby Christians buried her with dignity. Their martyrdom was in 448 A.D. and their commemoration is on the 3rd Sunday of Easter.

The love of God that was revealed in both father and daughter causes us to look to them for strength in our daily need for healing. It is only then that we find our peace.

Mar Adhorhormizd and his daughter Anaheed

 

March 16th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Eugene, Mar John, and his brother Mar Ahha, the Copts

Eugene arrived from the island of Kazma, near Suez, in Egypt. He was a diver who extracted jewels from the sea and distributed them to the poor.  This was his job for more than 20 years.  Later in life, he felt the call to serve the Lord and found the greatest pearl, Jesus.  He accepted the vows of being a monk in the monastery and, along with his friends John and Ahha, went to the mountain Izla. The three revived the religious life of monks and built great monasteries. Flocks of people joined them and many miracles were performed.

Mar Eugene’s commemoration in the Chaldean Church falls on the 2nd Friday before Lent. Mar Ahha’s commemoration date falls on one of the Fridays during the season of Moses in the Chaldean Liturgical Cycle.  His brother Mar John is on October 15.

The three saints are a great example of following the call of Christ to serve him regardless of the time in their lives and regardless of the great distance that they sacrificed to make his name known.

Mar Eugene, Mar John and his brothers Mar Aha, The Copts

 

March 13th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Shimun Bar Sabbae

Shimun was originally from the city of Sous which is today located in the South-East region of Iraq. As a child, he moved and was raised in the ancient city of Ctesiphon, today located 30 miles south of Baghdad.  He was ordained a priest and then a bishop.  In 328 A.D., he was made the Catholics (Patriarch) of the Chaldean Church. He led the church with great energy and perseverance until 339 A.D., when the Christian persecutions began in the Persian Empire.

In 344 AD, the situation escalated and the pagan leaders requested from him, by the order of the Emperor, to collect double taxes from the Christians. Mar Shimun refused the Emperor’s order because his congregation was poor and was unable to withstand such a burden and second because he was the shepherd of his congregation not a tax collector.  After repeated threats and trying effortlessly to convince him to collect the mentioned taxes, the emperor decided to behead Simeon, all the clergy, bishops, deacons, the faithful followers who were also arrested with him when he was summoned, and every Christian who would affirm his/her faith.

Mar Shimun, along with his 102 followers were killed on Good Friday in 344 A.D.  His commemoration is the Friday after Easter and it is also the Friday of All Martyrs and Confessors. He is also remembered on the 6th Friday during the Liturgical Season of Summer.  While he was in prison, while the waiting on his death sentence, he wrote many prayers that became part of the Chaldean liturgy.  It is of interest to know that his name and life is found in the Roman Church’s list of Martyrology with a commemoration on April 21.

Mar Simeon Barsabba'e (Barsabbaeus)

 

March 9th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Awda the Martyr and those with him

Awda was a priest who lived in the 4th century in the city of Kashkar, which is located in the west bank of the Tigris River in southern Mesopotamia and under the Persian Empire. At the time, there was a persecution of the Christians that lived in that region because of the accusation that they were spies of the enemy — the Roman Empire.  It wasn’t long that Fr. Awda was accused of being a spy and he too was arrested, along with many other Christians.  They were imprisoned and forced to march to a nearby city while chained. When they refused to bow to the sun god, they each received 100 lashes.  Then their cases were transferred to the army general, where he in turn tried to convince them to worship the sun god of the Zoroastrian religion.  They refused. So he ordered to behead all of them with the sword. That took place on May 15, 376 A.D. Our Church commemorates them on May 16, because May 15 is always dedicated to the Memorial of Our Lady of the Harvest.

We turn to these great martyrs for their prayers as we again observe many of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the world being accused of being enemies to their own country.  We pray for their intercession that we may be able to balance our Christian faith with political situations that attack our faith.

 

Mar Awda The Martyr and others with him

 

March 6th’s Saint of the Day: Mar Qardagh, the Martyr

Mar Qardagh was born in the city of Nimrod, one of the main cities in the Assyrian Empire. He became a skilled army commander and his reputation reached the king who then appointed him as part of his advisors.  Later, he was appointed governor of the region from Dugail to Nisibin and later was deployed to Arbil.

When he arrived there, the Christians became very upset, because of his discriminatory reputation in favor of the magi, the Zoroastrian priests, who worshiped the sun.  The faithful began praying and begging the Lord to protect his Church from Qardagh’s evil doings and the thirst of the king to slaughter Christians. During one of those nights, while sleeping, he had a vision that he was going to die as a martyr for Christ’s sake.  He then met with an elder named Awdisho’ who taught him about Christianity.

He was then baptized and set out to destroy the pagan temples and instead built temples to glorify the messiah. These actions infuriated the king who tried to convert him back to his forefathers’ religion.  At the end, he was martyred by stoning at the same site that he had seen in his dream.  Many miracles occurred in that same site. He died on the last Friday of that summer of 359 A.D. The church celebrates his anniversary annually on that Friday.

Mar Qardagh, The Martyr

 

March 2nd’s Saint of the Day: Mar Hormizd the Monk (Rabban)

Hormizd was born during the end of the 6th Century AD. During his 20th birthday, he felt a great urge to denounce all earthly possessions, seek solitude, and live an ascetic life. After becoming a monk, he spent his time praying, worshiping God and dedicated his life to fasting. After consulting with his superiors, he left his monastery to live a rigid life in solitude. He later established a monastery around 640 A.D. in the village of Alqosh. After a life of holiness and fidelity, he passed away at the old age of 87. There is an annual commemoration for him on the 3rd Monday after Easter.

Mar Hormizd is a great example of someone who seeks the vocation to truly deny all earthly possessions and follow Jesus. It is a call that to the religious life and ordained ministry. But it is also a life that needs to be adopted by our families today to seek first Jesus and his beauty and then use all possessions in a tempered manner as a tool and not as a means.

 

Mar Hormizd The Monk (Raban)