Christianity in Afghanistan - Page 2

The Establishment of the Church in the Region of Afghanistan

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In 224/6 AD Ardashir I and his army rebelled against their Parthian rulers and founded a new Persian dynasty called the Sassanids. Ardashir I expanded the boundaries east and west of his new kingdom by conquering Armenia and India.

Under this new dynasty were the Persian Christians who established themselves as a Persian church participating at first with the church in the west, or Rome and Constantinople, and later developing their independence both theologically and in governance. Many political and doctrinal issues were to create a great schism between the two churches, but the Persian church grew even when under great persecution by the Zoroastrian religious leaders as well as Persian kings.

After the great debate between the churches in the 5th and 6th centuries over the nature of Christ, it was the Persian church who adopted the doctrine of Bishop Nestorius 428, later called Nestorianism, and it was the Persian members who carried the message of Christ throughout the east, even as far as China.

Though the region of Afghanistan seems far from the larger Christian centers of Rome in Europe, Constantinople in Asia Minor, and Edessa and Nisibis in Persia, its members still played a role in at least the Persian church governance and also into the common rivalries among the religious leaders that created havoc in the church at the time.

During the council of Dadyeshu 424 A.D headed by the Patriarch Dadyeshu (421-456), who was head of the Eastern church, bishops and church leaders from throughout the Persian Empire assembled to discuss their future relationship with the church in the west. It was agreed by the council that the leadership of the Persian church was equal to that of the west and that they had the right to rule themselves. One of the members of the council was a bishop by the name of Afrid who is believed to have been a representative of the church stretching from Zaranj to Qandahar.

Mahumd Sistani, Afghan historian, gives details from a letter written in the 6th century in which a problem arose after the appointment of a new Bishop, Sergius, over five major cities in Eastern Persia. These cities were Zaranj, Farah, Khash, Bost, and Rokah or Qandahar, some of the cities which are in existance today in southern Afghanistan.

Another bishop, Afrid of Yazd, claimed that the election of Sergius was unfair and asked for the higher authorities in the Persian church to intervene. (Due to confusion of dates, it is not known if this is the same Afrid that participated in the council of Dadyeshu in 424 A.D.) After the claims of Afrid were reviewed the leaders of the church decided to divide the cities between the two bishops, giving Bishop Afrid of Yazd the cities of Azaraj, Farah, and Khash, and the Bishop Sergius the cities of Bost and Qandahar. Again the dates are confusing, but these events are believed to have occurred during the 5th or 6th century.

In other documents dated in the 6th century Christians in cities such as Herat and Balkh and names of church leaders are also mentioned. These are but a few accounts giving evidence of the existence of Christians and several Christian communities in the region.

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