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The Syriac word Maphryānā, rendered as mafriano, also Anglicized as Maphrian, literally signifying 'one who bears fruit', i.e. 'a consecrator', is used to designate the prelate who, in the Syriac Orthodox Church, holds the second rank after the patriarch among the Syriac Orthodox Christians (Miaphysitism), somewhat comparable to an Exarch.


The ecclesiastical dignity goes back certainly to the seventh century and perhaps to the closing years of the sixth. When the theological school of the Persians at Edessamarker had been closed, first by Nonnus, successor of Ibas (457), and definitively by the Monophysite Cyrust (489), Nestorianism triumphed in the Persian Empire of the Sassanides, forcing the few remaining Persian Monophysites, like Xenaias (Philoxenus) of Tahal, into exile. Xenaias became Bishop of Mabugmarker (ancient Hieropolis). In Persia, the Mesopotamian town of Tagritmarker (or Maypherkatmarker, now in Iraq) alone did not adopt the prevailing religion; it became the centre of the Monophysite missions at the commencement of the sixth century. The energetic James Baradaeus ordained for the Persians bishop Ahudenuneh, who died a martyr in 575. But the efforts of the monk Maruta (not Saint Maruthas) were to be crowned with greater success. At one time from the monastery of Mar Mattai (near the ancient Assyrian capital Ninevehmarker), at another from Tagrit itself, he undertook fruitful missionary work among the Arabs and throughout the valley of the Tigris. He relied on the influence of Chosroes II's physician, Gabriel de Shiggar, who had completely won the confidence of the Christian queen Shirin.

From time to time the Persian armies, which invaded the Roman territories so often at this period would bring back a multitude of captives, Byzantines, Egyptians, Euphratesians or Edessans, mostly Jacobites. So in 628-9 it was judged suitable to organize the Monophysite Church in Persia. The Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, Athanasius the Chancellor, saw that it would be necessary to grant the Syrians in the Persian Empire a large ecclesiastical autonomy. In fact one of the most serious objections raised by the Nestorians against the Monophysites was that the latter obeyed a spiritual head residing in Byzantine territory and that they were therefore inclined to become the subjects of the Emperor of Constantinople. Hence the Monophysites were frequently denounced at the court of Seleucia as conspirators favouring the Romans; the thus incensed Sassanides would persecute the Jacobites. Athanasius moreover knew certain canons prescribed that the head of the "Oriental" Christians, namely Persians, was alone entitled to consecrate "Oriental" bishops, and he was aware that these canons dated back to the very beginning of Syrian churches. He decided that the metropolitans of Tagrit, when ordained by him, would become autonomous and be sole rulers of the Monophysite churches in Persia. Maruthas had a dozen bishops subject to him. The fall of the Sassanide Empire, soon after, did not change this arrangement. The Metropolitan of Tagrit received, at a time which cannot be definitely fixed, the unique Syriac title of "Mafriano" 'one who bears fruit', meaning consecrator.

The relations of the Maphrian and the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch remained, despite several schisms, harmoniously. In 869 it was decided that just as the patriarch consecrated the Maphrian, the consecration of a new Patriarch would be reserved to the Maphrian. Within their own circumscriptions, the Maphrians had often disputes with the metropolitan of the monastery of Mar Mattai (near Nineveh), who was jealous of the preponderating influence of Tagrit.

In 1089, the churches of Tagrit having been destroyed by the Muslims, the Maphrians abandoned it and settled in Mosulmarker.

From A.D. 1155 they generally resided at Mar Mattai while retaining an immediate jurisdiction over Tagrit and Nineveh. One of the Maphrians worthy of special mention is the celebrated Gregory Abulfaradj, surnamed Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), the most highly cultured man of his age. There has been preserved a history by him of his predecessors. This work was continued by his brother, and later by unscholarly annalists, and stops in the fifteenth century (1496).

Current Maphrian

For a long time past the Jacobite Christians of the valley of Tigris have seriously decreased in numbers. The current Maphrian is Baselios Thomas I.


  • [cf. Cross. ODCC, 1963]

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