Inter-faith Agreement Reached on Rebuilding the Church of Kokheh

ICC Note: Christians and Muslims have reached an agreement to revive the Church of Kokheh and make it a place of pilgrimage. Christians have called for the church’s revival since the 1980s, but this has never lead to a governmental plan for its restoration. The Church is located south of Baghdad and is considered a launching point for Christianity in the Middle East. Hopefully, this interfaith agreement will have real consequences that will lead to the church’s restoration.

06/11/2018 Iraq (al-Monitor) – A group of Christians from Baghdad who visited the ruins of the Church of Kokheh, located 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the Iraqi capital, were spontaneously invited by the local Muslim community for lunch after their tour.

The historical Church of Kokheh is one of the early points of departure of Christianity in the Middle East, Father Mansour al-Makhlissi, founder and head of the Center for Eastern Studies at the Roman Catholic Church in Baghdad, told the visitors as he took them around the site of the church on May 25. “It was the patriarchal residence of the Eastern Church for centuries,” he said, adding that 24 patriarchs were buried in the church built by Saint Mari in the first century.

Over the past 20 years, Christians could not visit the remnants of the church due to safety concerns, most recently due to the attacks by the Islamic State.

With the area now more secure, the Center for Eastern Studies organized the visit to the Church of Kokheh. The current al-Mada’in district was called Ctesiphon or Taysafun in ancient times, and served as the winter capital of the Parthian Empire and later of the Sasanian Empire. The area was discovered and partially excavated by the German Oriental Society in 1929.

Makhlissi also took the visitors to Sur Salik, another historical site whose Arabic name means “Walls of Selucia,” on the other side of the Tigris River. Sur Salik is now surrounded by the Iraqi army’s military checkpoints that aim to control the violence in the area. He pointed out the church in Tal Qasr Bint al-Qadi, another site excavated by the German team in the late 1920s. “Deeper underground, the ruins of another smaller church built in the same style are barely visible,” he said. “This was the highest spiritual seat of the Eastern Church. This is where the Christian expansion to Asia started and reached China and India.”

Following the tour, Sheikh Saad Thabit al-Jubouri, a prominent local tribal leader in al-Mada’in, offered the group a lunch of masgouf (traditional Iraqi grilled fish), even though most of the Muslims were fasting for Ramadan.

During the meal, the local Muslim community and the visiting Christians talked about the restoration of the Church of Kokheh. They agreed to work on a plan together to reconstruct the site with the support of the government and organizing tours to the church for Christians in and outside Iraq.

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