The Assyrian Church of the East is one of the oldest Christian churches, and also one of the least known and most mysterious. Known throughout the Middle Ages as the Nestorian Church, it broke away from the rest of the Church in the 5th century, and is not in communion with Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Oriental Orthodoxy. Nevertheless the Assyrian Church was the dominant Church in Asia for well over a thousand years. The patriarchate, located in the Middle East for most of this time, was forced into exile in the 20th century. The patriarch and church headquarters are currently located in Chicago, Illinois, at least for the time being.
The Assyrian Orthodox Church of the East is one of the most unusual of all of Christianity’s branches. Dating back to the original church and claiming the Apostle Thomas as its founding Patriarch, the Assyrian Orthodox Church was effectively synonymous with Christianity in Asia prior to the Colonial era. It became independent of the Orthodox-Catholic churches in the 5th century due to doctrinal differences.
Of all of the major early Christian churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic/Armenian and Assyrian) none suffered the turbulence of the Middle Ages so much as the Assyrian Orthodox Church. Also known by that point as the Nestorian Church, the Assyrian Church was directly impacted by the advent of Islam and the Mongol invasions, though it did enjoy a brief resurgence under the patronage of Kublai Khan.
Throughout the colonial era, the Assyrian Church faced renewed competition with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and suffered from schisms and exodus as the community grew smaller and smaller. Things came to a head after World War I, when persecution of Assyrian Christians became endemic in the new kingdoms of the Middle East.
In the first half of the 20th century, Assyrian Christians fled en masse, primarily to the vicinity of Chicago in the United States. In 1933, the Assyrian patriarch Mar Eshai XXII was forced to leave, residing briefly in Cyprus before moving to the United States. The exile became formalized in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. The Patriarchate of the Assyrian Church is now in its third decade headquartered in the unlikely city of Chicago.
As of this writing no visitor information was available for the Assyrian Orthodox Patriarchate. Web: http://assyrianchurch.org (official website).