17. Because the blessed one had given himself over to the commandments of the Lord and the apostles, he warned the bishops and priests, their flock, all the time to warn all ranks (räy/ua) of the Christian community not to break the canons of the apostles and marry their stepmother, niece, wife of their uncle, or to approach two (sisters). Anyone who did otherwise he expelled from the church with bindings and anathemas. Then the rad and the mopet of Bet Aramaye arose and accused him also of this.
The Mopetan Mopet said to the blessed one, “Those who, before you were Catholicos, married such men or women, allow them into the church because it did not happen in your time.”
The Catholicos said, “I will not transgress the command of my Lord, and to those who do, whether they have transgressed or are transgressing, I will refuse entry to the church, so that they do not contaminate the people of the Lord.”
The chief Magian said, “Those who did so in your time should not enter.”
The Catholicos said, “Whether the devil entered someone before or during my Catholicate, should he leave him or not?”
The chief Magian said, “He should leave him.”
The Catholicos said, “In the same way should also those who have transgressed the divine commandment be freed, so that they are not delivered with Satan and the devils to eternal hell. ”
We’re now squarely back in the realm of history rather than hagiography, and the Life is describing what must have been a real problem in the late 6th century in Persia.
The magians have genuine concerns, not as fire-priests but rather as custodians of Persian culture and defenders of the customs of the ruling classes. The tendency of Persians to marry close female relatives is mentioned by Tertullian, who tells us that, present at a performance of Oedipus, some Persians laughed at the depiction of marrying your mother as a horrible crime.
Here we see that the rise of Christianity in Iran was causing real difficulties to some classes of Persian society. Earlier Catholici had ducked the issue; but Mar Aba’s position was strong enough that he felt able to hold a hard line, even on those who had contracted such marriages before he became Catholicos.