The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Chapter 26



"The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."—Article XXII.


The Nestorian rituals make no mention of Purgatory, nor have they a name for it. The Chaldeans who are in communion with the Church of Rome call it ܢܘܼܪܐ ܡܕܟܝܢܝܬܸ the purifying fire, but more commonly, by the Arabic title of مطهرMatthar, purgatory.

The following extracts, however, whilst they are repugnant to the doctrine of Purgatory, clearly teach the efficacy of prayers and alms-giving for the dead.

"The service of the third day of the dead [i. e., the third day after the burial of any member of the Church] is kept up, because Christ rose on the third day, and is celebrated by the recital of psalms and prayers. On the ninth day also there should be a commemoration of the living and the dead, and again on the thirtieth day, after the example of the Old Testament, since the people mourned for Moses that length of time. A year after, also, there should be a particular commemoration of the dead, and some of the property of the deceased should be given to the poor in remembrance of him. We say this of believers, for as to unbelievers, should all the wealth of the world be given to the poor in their behalf, it would profit them nothing; for he who was an enemy of God during his life, it is clear that he will continue to be an enemy after his departure hence, for there is no iniquity with God; but He is righteous and loveth righteousness." From Canon XVI. of the Apostolical Constitutions contained in the Sinhadòs.

The authority of the above Canon is confirmed by the following decree of a provincial Synod of the Nestorians, contained in the Sinhadòs.

"Par. XXVII. The early method of commemorating the dead according to the constitutions of the Apostles was, that there should be a commemoration on the third and on the ninth day. But now when those who weep are as though they wept not; and because of the little virtue, peace, and love existing, the ninth day has been given up and the seventh substituted in its stead. But in the Constitutions of the Apostles it is ordered that there should be a commemoration of the dead on the third day for the fulfilment of the scriptural rule: 'Mourn for men, as is right, a day or two days, and on the third day be comforted for the living;' [Ecclus. xxxviii. 17;] and because our Lord rose from the dead on the third day. They further direct that there should be a commemoration of the dead on the ninth day also, on the thirtieth day, and at the expiration of a year."

That after death the state of the soul is unalterably fixed for endless happiness or eternal misery, see also under Chap. xvi. §5, 7.

The reader is referred to the burial service of the Nestorians, given under Chap. xliv., for the nature of the prayers which are offered up in behalf of the dead.


Pardons or Indulgences, such as are fabricated and sold by the Church of Rome, are utterly repugnant to the doctrines maintained by Nestorians. This tenet, in its grossest form, is moreover unknown to the generality of the Chaldeans, many of whom will not believe that Rome has ever carried on so infamous a traffic.

The obtaining of Pardon or a relaxation from any positive Christian duty for money is thus censured by Mar Abd Yeshua: "These things will most assuredly result, if they are done in faith, and not after a worldly manner; for 'whatsoever is not of faith is sin.' Just as some, for lucre's sake, have made of this sacred thing a merchandize and a source of temporal profit." See Appendix B. Part iv. c. 7.


The Nestorians have no images or pictures in their churches, and are very much opposed to the use of them, even as ornaments, or as barely representing historical facts illustrative of sacred Scripture. They will not even allow of a crucifix, and regard the mere exhibition of such an emblem, to say nothing of adoration, as a monstrous iniquity. I have certain knowledge of the fate of several crucifixes which were introduced among them by Roman missionaries: the cross, if possible, was spared; but the image was treated ignominiously and broken to pieces. The only symbol in use among them is the plain Greek cross, (so called,) and the reader may easily infer from the following extracts how highly they venerate it, and how important its use is deemed both in public and in private worship.

According to Mar Abd Yeshua the Cross is to be reckoned as one of the sacraments of the Church, for "the sign of the life-giving Cross," he says, "is that by which Christians are ever kept, and by which all the other sacraments are sealed and perfected;" by which he means that all other divine services are sanctified and blessed by the use of this sign in the invocation of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity which always accompanies it. That he did not however intend that the Cross was a sacrament in the same sense in which Baptism and the Supper of the Lord are sacraments, will be shown under Article XXV.; as also because after having named it as a sacrament, he does not subsequently allude to it as such in the chapter wherein he specially treats of the "worship of the Lord's Cross." Or, if he attributes to the Cross a real sacramental efficacy, he does so not as a bare symbol, but in the sense of the Crucified One, from Whom all grace springs, and from Whom alone it is communicated to all who are in need of it, as will appear in the sequel.

The festival commemorative of the holy Cross is observed by the Nestorians on the 13th of September, and the service appointed for this day is very long, and contains many prayers, hymns, and anthems, in praise of the Cross. In the Khâmees and Warda also there are several poems, adapted to this festival, eulogizing the Cross, and calling upon the faithful to offer their adoration to it. The Old Testament is ransacked throughout for illustrations, and the most far-fetched events and actions are adduced as symbolizing the figure of the Cross. Some passages seem to teach that the Cross itself is to be worshipped with the highest worship, and the reader is distressed at the doctrine so plainly inculcated; when a new sentence occurs in which Christ and His death, and not His material Cross, or any emblem thereof, is as plainly declared to be the proper subject of adoration and praise. An entire volume might be filled with extracts on this subject from the Nestorian rituals; but if adduced in full, one would still be at a loss to decide positively whether their writers really teach that the material emblem of Christ's passion is to be worshipped. I give the following quotations as a specimen of the great mass of matter to be found in their church books on this subject.

"Ho! all ye who have fled to the Cross, and who have obtained life through the Cross, kneel and worship the Cross through which you have obtained salvation.

"Come, and let us all bow the knee in prayer before the Cross, which is a treasure of help, that we may obtain mercy and the forgiveness of our sins. When all the ends of the earth shall be enlightened by its rays; those who hate it shall be forced to worship its sovereignty.

"The shining Cross which appeared in the heavens to Constantine, went before his army like a general going forth to war. The multitude of unbelievers who worshipped the creature cast away from them the error of unbelief, and worshipped and adored the Cross.

"This Cross is a great wonder in the heights and depths. Praise be to its name.

"The Cross has saved us, the Cross has made us triumphant, the Cross has renewed us, the Cross has made us at peace, the living Cross went out to seek after us, and saved our life that was lost." From the service appointed in the Gezza for "Holy Cross Day."

"Angels and men worship Thy Cross, O Lord, and carry it in procession in their hands, and sing praises, since it created peace in the world, and has put an end to wars and contentions, and has reconciled the nations, so that they may now pray to it in one Church, and confess and worship its greatness, and cry aloud with holy voices, saying: 'Glory to the Son of the heavenly King, who in His great mercy has forgiven our sins, and wiped out our iniquities by His baptism, and given us His sacraments as a pledge.'"

"Behold throughout the world the living Cross of Christ is worshipped and revered, and its festival is commemorated in the uttermost parts of the earth. Its help affords succour, and its power is wonderful; since through it we are saved from the death and corruption which have reigned over our race, and through it the dead have attained a new and incorruptible life. Henceforth, ye children of Adam, who through it are justified, sing praises, pray, supplicate, and implore, that in the day when its sign shall appear, we may go forth to meet it with joy and rejoicing, that it may make us partakers of its love."[1] From the service appointed in the Khudhra for the third Sunday after Holy Cross Day.

The following quotation shows what importance is attached to the sign of the Cross in private worship, and how frequent its use is among the Nestorians.

"Par. V. How the aged, husbandmen, shepherds, sailors, and the illiterate ought to pray. Standing up they should turn their faces to the east, and sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, (if there be no wall on which they can draw one,) and say: 'The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ;' and whilst repeating these words, they must kneel upon the ground, and say three times: 'Create in me a clean heart, O God.' Then, if there be one or many, they must stand up again, with their garments drawn around them, with their hands stretched out in a supplicating posture, and with their minds and eyes turned up to heaven towards Christ our Lord, and they shall say the Lord's prayer fervently. After this, they shall kneel again upon the ground, and shall say thrice: 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy mercy and according to the multitude of Thy mercies, wash me thoroughly from my sins.' Then they shall stand up again, with their hands crossed upon their breasts, and with their eyes turned a little upwards, and shall say: 'O Holy God, Holy Almighty, O Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us.' Then, with their backs bent, and with hands stretched out to heaven, they fervently repeat a second time the Lord's Prayer. When this is done, they shall fall upon the ground and worship, and say seven times: 'Lord, have mercy upon us,' with a broken heart as did the Publican in the temple. Then they shall beseech the mercy of God to absolve them from their sins, and to free them from the afflictions wherewith they are afflicted. After this they shall sign themselves three times with the sign of the Cross, once over their faces, once over their hearts, and once over their whole body, each time repeating as follows: 'In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, keep me.' Thus have the learned taught, that the unlearned should pray at the four times which are appointed for the laity to pray. But if they are near to a church, they must go there to pray." From the Canons of a provincial Synod contained in the Sinhadòs.

The emblem of the Cross is engraved over the low entrances of all the Nestorian churches, and this is devoutly kissed by all who enter. In some churches there is a Cross upon the altar; but as none but the priests and deacons are allowed to enter the sacrarium, this is never kissed by the people, nor is any worship paid to it by them. The officiating priest, however, and the priests generally, possess a small silver Cross, which is laid upon the book of the Gospels, with a clean cloth under it, and this is kissed by all who enter the church to worship. At other times also, the priests carry this Cross about with them, and after offering up prayers, either at home, or in the houses of the people, they take it from their bosom and offer it to those present to kiss, which is done with the left hand raised the meanwhile, to remove their head-dress a little way from off their heads, meaning thereby, that they worship uncovered.

The following extracts, however, show, that doctrinally, no idolatry is held or taught by the Nestorians.

"Par. IX. On the origin of the worship of the Cross. Tradition says, that when our Lord lifted up His hands to bless the Disciples on Mount Olivet, He stretched them out in the form of a Cross, in order to bring to their recollection, that from the shame of the Cross on which they had seen Him, He had derived that glory in which they beheld His ascension, according to the declaration of S. Paul; 'He humbled Himself even unto the death of the Cross; wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him,' &c. When the Disciples, as we have said, saw the Saviour in this attitude, they fell to the ground and worshipped Him, and hence arose the adoration in question. The worship of the emblem of the Cross in Churches commenced first in the Church of the 'upper chamber,' and then in the Church of Antioch. Not that these said that they worshipped the wood, or the gold, or any other material [of which the Cross might be formed,] but Christ Himself, who is the Cross that was crucified. And hereto the heavenly Apostle Paul bears witness, when he says: 'I glory not, but in the Cross of Christ Jesus my Lord.' Further, what led to the veneration and worship of the wood and Emblem of the Cross, was the signs, wonders, and miracles which were wrought by it." From the Canons of a provincial Synod contained in the Sinhadòs.

See also Appendix B., Part v. c. 2, where Mar Abd Yeshua, after declaring that the word "Cross" is equivalent in meaning to what we understand by the "Crucified," and that it is to be understood in that sense, thus writes: "Hence we offer a fervent and eucharistic worship, not to the fashioned matter of the Cross; but to Him Whom we figure as upon it, and above all to God, Who gave His Son to be a Cross for us, through Whose crucifixion He wrought out renewal and redemption for us, and through Whom He gives to such as are worthy everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven."


The Nestorians have no Relics such as are common in the Church of Rome, which of course precludes the possibility of that adoration of them which is censured in the Article; but from the following extracts it will be seen that they believe the remains of martyrs and saints to be endowed with supernatural virtues.

"Thy body,[2] O chaste Virgin, is to us a treasure of blessings, and its abundant help enriches our world."

"O ye martyrs, pray for mercy upon the world which flees to your bones, that through your prayers and supplications it may find mercy on the day of judgment."

"O ye happy ones, blessed is He Who made you true physicians, and caused that from your bones aid should go forth to him who flees to them for succour."

"The bones of the righteous Joseph were a rampart against the assaults of the Egyptians; but your bones, O ye holy martyrs, have become a source of consolation[3] to all the world." From the Service appointed in the Kdham oo d'Wathâr for the vespers of Tuesday.

"We worship before your [the martyrs'] graves the hidden power contained in your bones; and as we have looked upon your death upon earth, so may we behold your coronation in heaven."

"In the place where your bones lie, there peace and safety dwell; and a company of the heavenly angels keep it and all those who reside in it." From the same ritual; in the service for the matins of Tuesday.

"Blessed is the place where your bones lie as a treasure, for when the sun sets a light springs up from your bones." From the same.

"Blessed is the hidden virtue which dwells in the bones of the martyrs, for though buried in their graves they drive away devils from the world." From the same in the matins for Friday.

There are in different parts of the mountains of Coordistan, and also about Jezeerah, Nestorian churches in which are buried the bodies of hermits and others renowned for sanctity. The graves of these reputed saints are held in high veneration, more especially by the ignorant, and dust or clay is frequently taken from them and preserved as an antidote against evil, and not unfrequently dissolved in water and given as medicine to persons afflicted with sickness.

It is just, however, to add that some of the more learned Nestorians consider the extracts above given from the Kdham oo d'Wathâr to be interpolations of a modern date, and consequently to possess no authority. I have not met with like sentiments in any other of the Church rituals.


The following extracts are sufficient to show the Nestorian teaching on this point.

Direct Invocation of Saints.

"O Mary, Mother of the King of Kings, offer with us thy prayers to thy Son, that He may cause His peace and safety to dwell in the world, and that the Church and her children may be kept from evil." From the vespers for Tuesday in the Kdham oo d'Wathâr.

"O thou holy Virgin, through whom our race corrupted by the deceitfulness of sin was sanctified, pray with us to thy Sanctifier to sanctify us, and that through the shadow of thy prayers He may preserve our life, spread out the wings of His pity over our frailty, and deliver us from evil. O mother of Him Who causes us to live, thou handmaid of our Creator, be to us a wall of refuge at all times." From the collection of Collects at the end of the Khudhra.

"O ye saints, prophets, apostles, doctors, confessors, martyrs, priests, and hermits, pray to Christ your strength for us all, that through your prayers we may receive out of His treasure an answer to all our prayers, as may be profitable unto us." From the same.

"May thy [the Virgin's] prayers be to us as a wall, keep us from the wicked one and his agents, drive from us all evil, and cause peace to dwell in the world for ever." From the service appointed in the Gezza for the festival of the Blessing of the Virgin, one week after the holy Nativity.

"O ye holy priests and saints who taught the truth, pray for pity and compassion from your Lord in behalf of our souls." From the service in the Gezza for the commemoration of the Syrian Doctors.

Indirect Invocation of Saints.

"Through the prayers of the prophets who made known Thy mysteries, and through the prayers of the Apostles who preached Thy Gospel, and through the prayers of the martyrs, priests and doctors, O Jesus, keep from evil all those who worship Thee." From the Tuesday vespers as contained in the Kdham oo d'Wathâr.

"O Christ our Saviour, keep Thy worshippers from all evil, through the prayers of Thy mother, and grant that we may be thankful for Thy grace, and have mercy upon us." From the collects at the end of the Khudhra.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, keep through the prayers of Thy saints the congregation which has celebrated their commemoration, and in Thy mercy make Us to enter with them into paradise, and sing praises to Thy holy name." From the service in the Gezza for the festival of the Four Evangelists.

"O Lord Jesus, through the prayers of Thy mother cause rest to reign in this world which is troubled and confused by its sins, make all wars and tumults to cease in the earth, so that priests and kings may live in unity, and that in unity and love the commemoration of Thy Mother may be celebrated for ever." From the collects in the Khudhra.

"The righteous who pleased Thee, O Lord Jesus, the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and doctors in every place, pray to Thee for us, that Thou mayest have mercy upon us all. Do Thou make us worthy to confess Thee with them on that day when they shall receive the reward of their works." From the same.

  1. It must be observed that the pronoun in the original of the above paragraphs which has been translated by "it" and "its," in order to agree with the antecedent "Cross," may also be truly rendered by "He" and "His," and in several instances the sense of the passage is destroyed unless it is so rendered.
  2. Two or three passages of the hymn on the Virgin, cited under Chap. VI. § 8, seem to teach the doctrine of the Assumption; but the above extract would lead us to conclude that the ascension of her spirit is intended, and that the body of the blessed Virgin remained on earth.
  3. The original word is hnana, and is now applied to the clay or dust taken from the tombs of reputed saints, to be used as a charm, or given as medicine to the sick. It is also mixed with the wine which is given to bridegrooms and brides when married. See Marriage Service, hereafter.