Church of East patriarch visiting Flint

By George Jaksa • 810.766.6332
FLINT – The patriarch of the worldwide Assyrian Church of the East will be at Mar Shimun Bar-Sabbai Church of the East this weekend for a parish visit and to ordain a deacon for the church.

The patriarch, known as Mar Dinkha IV, will be honored at a dinner today at the Holiday Inn in Mundy Township before conducting the holy liturgy 9 a.m. Sunday at the church, 3112 Lewis St.

He will conclude his visit Monday with a breakfast meeting with church board members and deacons.

The Rev. Joseph Peera, pastor of the 55-member church steeped in early Christianity, said it has been about two years since the patriarch’s last visit to the Flint Assyrian Church.

While here, he will elevate John Howell, 52, to the diaconate. Howell started attending the Flint Church of the East in 2003 and has been a sub-deacon in the church since November 2005.

The patriarch was elected to his post in 1976 by Assyrian bishops gathered in London after the death of his predecessor the year before. Then the bishop of Iran, the new patriarch reached out to Assyrians living in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon before the patriarchal headquarters were moved to Chicago in 1980.

The patriarch, 71, was born in the village of Darbandokeh, Iraq. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1957 and assigned to Tehran, Iran, where he was ordained a bishop in 1968.

In September 2006, he visited northern Iraq to urge the governor of the Kurdish region to open a Christian school in Arbil.

Assyrian churches can be found in major cities in North America with about 300,000 followers, according to the Web site Assyrians also have settled in Europe and other parts of Asia, with a great majority living some place other than their ancestral homeland of Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq.

Despite centuries of persecution and forced migration, the Church of the East still preserves its ancient history and heritage, which stretches back to early Christianity.