- Church in
What is the basis of Christian faith? How did the Church start and survive throughout the ages of political turmoil? How can we be sure that we are following the teachings of Christ and His Apostles.
We begin our exploration of the history of the Orthodox Church by asking the question, How do we know that the life of Jesus is not just a story that the Church made up? In this day and secular age we are taught to be skeptical especially of things promoted by large institutions. The answer to this question provides the basis of our Orthodox Christian faith.
Next, we examine the role that the Hellenic culture played in the establishment of Christianity. God took special steps to prepare the way to the Incarnation of His Son. The Greeks played a significant role in this preparation.
What was it like to be an early Christian?
How could a small group of zealots proclaim the good news of the
Gospel and change the world. After all, it was a well established
pagan world controlled by the strong political and military system
of the Roman Empire.
Life in the Church was significantly changed during the reign of Constantine. He earned the title of â€œGreatâ€ that only a few saints have been given by the Church. What did he do to deserve this title? After all, he was a ruthless ruler of a massive political empire.
The Orthodox Church is known as the Church
of the Seven Councils. Why is this important? In understanding
this we will find out how the Orthodox faith has been preserved
throughout history amidst many political forces. It tells us why
we claim to be the church with the truth of Christianity in its
We now observe many branches of Christianity. How did this split begin? How did the eastern and western churches split after being in union as one church for over a thousand years? What attempts have there been to reunify the church? Will it ever be brought back into one Church?
How do we know that the life of Jesus is
not just a story that the Church made up?
Tacitus, a Roman historian who wrote Annals in 115 CE, is considered
one of the more accurate historians of the ancient world.
He wrote: "To dispel the rumor that the fire was started by
Nero, Nero substituted as culprits, and treated with the most extreme
punishments, some people, popularly known as Christians, whose disgraceful
activities were notorious. The originator of that name, Christus,
had been executed when Tiberius was Emperor, by order of the procurator
Pontius Pilatus. But the deadly cult, though checked for a time,
was now breaking out again not only in Judea, the birthplace of this
evil, but even throughout Rome, where all the nasty and disgusting
ideas from all over the world pour in and find a ready following.”
(Annals 15:44). This means there were a significant number of Christians
in Rome in 64AD, only 30 years after the Crucifixion of Christ.
Flavius Josephus (37-98 CE), the most famous
Jewish historian, was a Jewish zealot, not a follower of Jesus.
He changed sides and became the Roman Emperor's adviser on Jewish
affairs. His history book, Antiquities of the Jews, describes Palestine
in the time of Jesus. Some historians think one part that talks
about Jesus had been added to. With these extra bits taken away
they think Josephus wrote:
"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, for he was a
performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy
to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the
Gentiles. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among
us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the
first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named
from him, are not extinct to this day."
(Antiquities, Book 18, 63-64.)
He also said that the High Priest Ananias
"Convened the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish religious court/governing
body). He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called
Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused
of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned." (Antiquities,
Book 20, 200).
Historians do not believe this second passage has been changed.
There is no question that historically Jesus existed.
How do we know that the Bible, which contains most of what we know about Jesus, has not been changed over the years?
Starting in about 40 AD, and continuing to about 90 AD, the eye-witnesses to the life of Jesus, including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude, wrote the Gospels, letters and books that became the Bible's New Testament. These authors quote from 31 books of the Old Testament, and widely circulate their material so that by about 150 AD, early Christians were referring to the entire set of writings as the "New Covenant."
There exist full manuscripts of the New Testament as early as 350, which is about the same time as the Church officially compiled the New Testament in 367. There are papyri containing most of the New Testament from the third century. There is a fragment of John’s Gospel from AD 139. There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and 9,300 other manuscripts including those in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian and so forth. There are over 36,000 citations of the New Testament in the writings of the early church fathers.
Biblical scholars say that our New Testament
is 99.5% textually pure. In the entire text of 20,000 lines, only
40 lines are in doubt (about 400 words), and none affects any significant
The authenticity of the New Testament is vastly better documented
than any other document of the same time. There is no doubt about
the authenticity of the New Testament.
The New testament was produced under the guidance of the early church, which is the same as the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church used the same book to this day in the original Greek in which it was written. It has never been changed or translated. In our Liturgy the priest will usually read the Gospel in both Greek and an English translation. For the true meaning of the Gospel we rely on the early church fathers interpretations and the clarification handed down by the Ecumenical councils.
What do we Know about Jesus from these texts?
We know that He had a miraculous birth from a holy virgin woman.
We know that he taught us about the way to salvation.
We know that He performed many miracles including raising people from death.
We know that he came to us for our benefit, for our salvation and eternal life in heaven.
We know that He fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies.
We know that he was cruelly crucified and then resurrected.
After forty days of His resurrection, we know that He ascended into heaven with the promise to send the Holy Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost, ten days later, His Apostles were transformed when they received the Holy Spirit and began converting thousands and organizing the Church.
Central to the Gospel story is His death and resurrection along with His promise that we too will be resurrected. So, how do we know that He was truly resurrected? Are there any plausible conspiracy theories?
Maybe Jesus was not dead when taken from the Cross and escaped from the tomb.
The tomb of Jesus was continually guarded. It was closed with a 2,000 pound stone making it impossible for even a healthy man to open it from the inside. We know that a soldier would never take a body down unless the person was dead. If he did and the prisoner escaped the soldier would be subject to a penalty of death. We also know that when the soldier pierced Christ’s body there was a flow of water and blood, which is a clear indication that there was a separation of clot and serum, which is strong medical evidence of death.
Could His body have been stolen from the tomb?
Maybe the disciples stole his body. But how could they even think of this when they were depressed and disillusioned and fled from the scene of the Crucifixion out of fear for their own lives. We saw that they needed something extraordinary to transform them into men with the force that Peter showed at Pentecost when thousands of people were converted.
The Apostles all set about to teach the Good News of the Gospel. They did so in what was a hostile world. In the end they all were martyred except for John. It is not reasonable to assume that they would undertake this mission in the face of their own death based on a lie.
How about the authorities. Could they have stolen the body? But if this were so, why wouldn’t they have produced the body when trying to squash the rumor that He was resurrected.
Could Christ’s appearances have been hallucinations?
The disciples were very stable individuals. They were burly fishermen, tax collectors and skeptics like Thomas. They would not fit a psychological profile of one likely to have hallucinations. Further, they would all have had to be hallucinating. Jesus appeared to His disciples eleven times on different occasions over a period of six weeks. He could be touched, He ate fish, He held long conversations with them, teaching them many things about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Wishful thinking on the part of the disciples is highly unlikely even in light of their initial hopefulness and enthusiasm. But, they were not easily convinced as Christ had to scold them on their faith. In fact, they came into the appearances not wishfully hoping to see Christ, but disbelieving those who did. Saint Thomas is the best example. He demanded evidence, which Christ gave to him. Further, wishful thinking would not stand up in the threats of death and all the trials and tribulations that they later had to face.
The Apostles did not have doubts about Christ’s Resurrection.
Jesus Christ was Resurrected to save us and show us the way to eternal life. He did dramatically arise into Heaven and then on Pentecost empowered the Apostles by the Holy Spirit that He told them He would send. They did act dramatically to convert thousands in a harsh Jewish and pagan world. They did not waiver in the face of their own deaths and persecutions. The Apostles did form the Church and gave it structure.
The Orthodox Church has continually existed for 2,000 years teaching the truths as taught by Him and His Apostles.
There are over a billion people today who know Jesus as the way to salvation and eternal life.
The Bottom Line: Our Faith
There is no doubt about:
The historical existence of Christ
His virgin birth
His death by crucifixion
The establishment of His Church by His Apostles
Orthodoxy holds these truths in the fullest.
Our Christian journey begins with FAITH. Faith demands acceptance of the full truth of the story of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, who was both fully human and fully God, and His Crucifixion and Resurrection as told to us in the Gospels.
Christianity demands as a first step a total faith in God as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
What role did the Greeks play in the establishment of Christianity?
At the time of Jesus, Greek was the preferred language of the civilized world. It was the common language of trade and intellectual writings.
It was in the 8th century BC that the influence of Greece began to be felt throughout the Mediterranean. This is when the Greek alphabet was created. They began to expand and to establish colonies. The Aegean coast of Asia Minor was first colonized. This was followed by Cyprus and the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and the south coast of the Black Sea. Then they extended West to the west coasts of Illyria, Sicily and southern Italy. By the 6th century BC the Greeks had spread over a large geographical area. They organized themselves into independent communities. They thrived in commerce. It reached an economic hight in the 4th century BC where Ancient Greece was clearly the most advanced economy in the world.
Alexander the Great
The Most significant spread into the world where Christianity was to be born was the result of the conquests of Alexander the Great. In 334 BC he conquered all of Persia and went as far as what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan and on to Punjab. He died in 323 BC. His empire broke up soon after his death, but his conquests permanently changed the Greek world. There were thousands of Greeks who traveled with him or followed his conquests to settle in new Greek cities that he founded. One of the most important was Alexandria. Greek speaking kingdoms in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Bactria were established. This was the beginning of what is known by historians as the Hellenic age.
One of the features of the Greek society was the differing roles of men and women and the lack of distinction based on birth. The way of life of the Athenians was spread.
The Greek language was the official language in trade, administration and literature.
Where did Paul Journey?
Paul’s first Journey was to Antioch, which was established after the conquest of Alexander the Great as a Greek city. This is where the followers of Christ were first called Christians. Paul went on to Cyprus which is still a Greek speaking nation, and then into what is now Turkey. His second journey Paul visited Antioch and then headed up through the middle of Asia Minor and then into Macedonia, which is now part of Modern Greece. He visited Neapolis, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens and Corinth. From there he went back to Aisa Minor to the city of Ehpesus and then back to Israel and Caesarea. His third journey started in Antioch and then through Asia Minor to Ephesus, over to Greece and Thessalonica then to Corinth and back to Thessalonica , Phillipi and back along the coast of Asia Minor. Returning to Caesarea. Finally Paul went to Rome.
The Roman world was one that was heavily influenced by the Hellenic culture and language.
Saint Andrew is the first called of the Apostles. He is also the Apostle that we trace our Apostolic tradition back to. He is also the brother of Peter. Historian Eusebius tells us that Andrew preached in Asia Minor and along the Black Sea as far as Volga and Kiev. He is, therefore, also the patron saint of Romania and Russia. In 38 AD he founded the See at Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He traveled through Greece and was martyred in Patras.
Today, our Ecumenical Patriarch is Bartholomew. He is the 270th Patriarch . Our Bishop Metropolitan Alexios in Atlanta can trace his ordination directly back to Saint Andrew.
Apostolic succession is a major point
for Orthodoxy. The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine
which was the true Church and which doctrines were the true teachings
of Christ. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession
of the claimants.
Apostolic succession is the line of bishops stretching back to the apostles. All over the world, all Orthodox bishops are part of a lineage that goes back to the time of the apostles, something that is impossible in Protestant denominations.
The role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine is illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the apostles’ teachings would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, "What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage he refers to the first three generations of apostolic succession - his own generation, Timothy’s generation, and the generation Timothy will teach.
In the Epistle of St. Clement to the Church at Corinth, written around 96 AD, Clement defends the authority and prerogatives of a group of "elders" or "bishops" in the Corinthian Church which had, apparently, been deposed and replaced by the congregation on its own initiative. In this context, Clement explicitly states that the apostles both appointed bishops as successors and had directed that these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors; given this, such leaders of the Church were not to be removed without cause and not in this way.
Early Life in the Church
What was it like to be an early Christian?
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and they were empowered to spread the Word to all nations. Now, to do this was a dangerous task. The Jewish Priests had just killed God himself. In the early days after the feast of Pentecost the Jews were showing a prejudice against the Christians by not providing the widows with their normal food distribution. The Christians then appointed deacons to help these widows and others in need of help. Saint Stephen was outstanding in fulfilling these duties and some Jews began to accuse Stephen of speaking blasphemy and stirring up many people. He was brought to the council and accused of saying “blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Stephen’s response angered them so much that they threw him out of the city and began to stone him. They stoned him until he was dead. So, from the earliest days of the Church the risks of being a Christian, a believer in the story told in the Gospel, brought with it the risk of unfair treatment and even death. But, there was a reason for this. Faithful like Stephen did not waiver from their faith, and as others saw this, the truth of the message they were speaking spread. People saw the incredible faith they had in what they were teaching. They saw that they were willing to stand as a true witness to Christ even in the face of death all the while giving thanks to God. They knew that there was more to the true life than the bodily life here on earth.
As we read the letters of Paul we also see that the early Christians were a very close community, owning things in common, and living a very self-controlled life. They worshiped together regularly in the secret of their homes and later even in catacombs over the tombs of their martyrs. They were very devout when compared to our modern day life as a Christian. They were about changing the very fabric of the existing culture and the norms of the existing religious practices of the time.
How was the Early Church Organized?
As Christianity spread the Apostles had to come up with a way to administer the Churches. The natural organization was to follow the political division then in place as part of the Roman government. This was by cities. They appointed bishops in each city to be the head of the Church. Then the bishops would have presbyters, or priests as we call them today, to help them. We know that from the earliest days of the Church that the Bishop had the ultimate authority in administrative matters. We have already mentioned deacons who were also ordained to help in the administration of Church affairs.
There were also strict qualifications of those who were to be ordained as ministers of the church. They had to be temperate, have only one wife, be sensible, dignified in their behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not heavy drinkers, gentle, not greedy, not quarrelsome, able to run his own household well and well thought of by outsiders. He was not to be quick tempered, self-controlled, seen as God’s steward and have a firm hold on God’s word. They were instructed to watch over the flock as good shepherds acting as caretakers of souls being impartial to teach the and show all the way of sound doctrine.
The Church was seen as a local community. A community of believers who had to work together and learn to love one anther. They were close knit groups who regularly came together to participate in the eucharist. Their purpose was worship and to support each other in living in the example of Christ. It was a local church, yet it was always the fulness of the Church. Each gathering was a gathering of the whole Church.
The Church is universal with one Episcopate. There
are many churches, but only one Church. It is never divided. There
May be many bishops, but again there is only one episcopate.
In the Orthodox Church today there are bishops, presbyters, deacons and the lay persons of the congregation. The organization is the same as it was established by the Apostles.
Constantine the Great
Why did the Church give Constantine the title of “ Great”? Does a ruthless ruler of the empire deserve such a title?
The emperor Constantine has been called the most
important emperor of Late Antiquity. His powerful personality laid
the foundations of post-classical European civilization; his reign
was eventful and highly dramatic. His victory at the Milvian Bridge
counts among the most decisive moments in world history, while his
legalization and support of Christianity and his foundation of a
'New Rome' at Byzantium rank among the most momentous decisions ever
made by a European ruler.
Rise to Power
Constantine, was born at Naissus in the province of Moesia Superior, the modern Nish in Serbia, on 27 February, 272. His father was a general named Constantius, his mother a woman of humble background named Helena (later St. Helena). Upon the retirement of Dilcletian and Maximian on 1 May 305 Constantius succeeded to the rank of Augustus. When Constantius died, on 25 July 306, Constantine was at his side. The soldiers at once proclaimed him Augustus. For the next 18 years, he fought a series of battles and wars that left him first as emperor of the west, and then as supreme ruler of the Roman Empire.
At the same time the Senate and the Praetorian Guard in Rome allied themselves with Maxentius, the son of Maximian proclaimed him emperor. Open hostilities between the two rivals broke out in 312, and Constantine won a decisive victory in the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge, making Constantine the sole ruler of the western half of the empire.
During the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine
was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields
of his soldiers. Lactantius and Eusebius record that he saw a brilliant
light, in which he saw the cross or the monogram of Christ. Strengthened
by this he advanced courageously to battle and defeated his rival.
When the emperor afterwards reflected on the event it was clear
to him that the cross bore the inscription: “In this sign wilt
thou conquer”. A monogram combining the first letters, X and P,
of the name of Christ (CHRISTOS), a form that cannot be proved
to have been used by Christians before, was made one of the tokens
of the standard and placed upon the Labarum . In addition, this
ensign was placed in the hand of a statue of the emperor at Rome,
the pedestal of which bore the inscription: "By the aid of
this salutary token of strength I have freed my city from the yoke
of tyranny and restored to the Roman Senate and People the ancient
splendor and glory."
Was this conversion a matter of political expediency rather than a religious conviction? Constantine attributed his victory to the power of "the God of the Christians" and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on. When examined carefully there is no basis to assume this was a political act. The Christians formed only a small portion of the population, being a fifth part in the West and the half of the population in a large section of the East. Constantine's decision depended less on political or social conditions than on a personal act. Even though Constantine did not receive baptism until shortly before his death, it would be a mistake to interpret this as a lack of sincerity or commitment. In the fourth and fifth centuries Christians often delayed their baptisms until late in life.
Edict of Toleration
In the following year, February 313, Constantine and Licinius (Emperor of the East) met at Milan. On this occasion the two emperors formulated a common religious policy. Several months later Licinius issued an edict, which is commonly known as the Edict of Milan or Toleration of Faith. This declared that Christians and all others have freedom in the exercise of religion. Everyone might follow that religion which he considered the best. They hoped that "the deity enthroned in heaven” would grant favor and protection to the emperors and their subjects.
Constantine showed equal favor to both religions. He watched over the heathen worship and protected its rights. The one thing he did was to suppress divination and magic. Without realizing the full import of his actions, Constantine granted the Church one privilege after another. As early as 313 the Church obtained immunity for its clergy, including freedom from taxation and compulsory service, and from obligatory state offices. The Church further obtained the right to inherit property, and Constantine moreover placed Sunday under the protection of the State.
Constantine did much for children, slaves, and women, those weaker members of society whom the old Roman law had treated harshly. But, in this he only continued what earlier emperors had begun before him.
Constantine was the first to prohibit the abduction of girls. In harmony with the views of the Church, Constantine rendered divorce more difficult.
Constantine was generous in almsgiving, and adorned
the Christian churches magnificently. There is no doubt that he was
endowed with a strong religious sense, was sincerely pious, and delighted
to be represented in an attitude of prayer, with his eyes raised
to heaven. In his palace he had a chapel where he read the Bible
and prayed. "Every day", Eusebius tells us, "at a
fixed hour he shut himself up in the most secluded part of the palace,
as if to assist at the Sacred Mysteries, and there commune with God
alone ardently beseeching Him, on bended knees, for his necessities".
He obeyed as strictly as possible the precepts of Christianity, observing
especially the virtue of chastity, which his parents had impressed
upon him; he respected celibacy, freed it from legal disadvantages,
sought to elevate morality, and punished with great severity the
offenses against morals, which the pagan worship encouraged. He brought
up his children as Christians. Thus his life became more and more
He avoided any direct interference with dogma, and only sought to carry out what the synods decided. When he appeared at an ecumenical council, it was not so much to influence the deliberation and the decision as to show his strong interest and to impress the heathen. He banished bishops only to avoid strife and discord, that is, for reasons of state.
Reunification of Empire
The ultimate goal pursued by both Constantine and Licinius was sole power. The agreement of 313 had been born out of necessity, not of mutual good will. Hostilities erupted in 316. In the course of this first war between the two emperors two battles were fought. Neither side won a clear victory. A settlement left Licinius in his position as Augustus, but required him to cede to Constantine all of his European provinces other than Thrace. War erupted again in 324. Constantine defeated Licinius twice, first at Adrianople in Thrace, and then at Chrysopolis on the Bosporus. Constantine was now the sole and undisputed master of the Roman world.
First Ecumenical Council
The Arian Controversy, the Council of Nicaea
Early in the fourth century a dispute erupted within the Christian church regarding the nature of the Godhead, more specifically the exact relationship of the Son to the Father. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, taught that there was a time when Christ did not exist, i.e. that he was not co-eternal with the Father, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were three separate and distinct hypostaseis, and that the Son was subordinate to the Father, was in fact a "creature." These teachings were condemned and Arius excommunicated in 318 by a council convened by Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria. But, that did not by any means close the matter. Ossius (or Hosius) of Cordova, Constantine's trusted spiritual advisor, failed on his mission to bring about a reconciliation.
Constantine then summoned what has become known as the First Ecumenical Council of the church. The opening session was held on 20 May 325 in the great hall of the palace at Nicaea, Constantine himself presiding and giving the opening speech. The council formulated a creed, which, although it was revised at the Council of Constantinople in 381-82, has become known as the Nicene Creed. It affirms the Homoousion, i.e. the doctrine of consubstantiality. A major role at the council was played by Athanasius, Bishop Alexander's deacon, secretary, and, ultimately, successor. Arius was condemned.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In 326-28, Helen undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the course of her journey Helen impressed Eusebius of Caesarea and others by her piety, humility, and charity. She played a role in the building of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem and the Church of the Eleona on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives; but the Church of the Holy Sepulcher seems to have been an undertaking of Constantine alone. Helen also is the one who recovered the True Cross.
The New Rome
During the First Tetrarchy Trier, Milan, Thessalonike, and Nicomedia had served as imperial residences, and the importance of Rome as a center of government had thus been considerably reduced. Constantine went far beyond this when he refounded the ancient Greek city of Byzantium as Constantinople and made it the capital of the empire. His decision to establish a new capital in the East ranks in its far-reaching consequences with his decision to adopt Christianity. The new capital enjoyed a most favorable location which afforded easy access to both the Balkan provinces and the eastern frontier, controlled traffic through the Bosporus, and met all conditions for favorable economic development.
On 8 November 324, less than two months after his victory over Licinius at Chrysopolis, Constantine formally laid out the boundaries of his new city, roughly quadrupling its territory. By 328 the new walls were completed, and on 11 May 330 the new city was formally dedicated. The New Rome, both in its physical features and in its institutions, resembled the Old Rome. It was built on seven hills, it had a senate, and its people received subsidized grain. Constantine without question began the construction of two major churches in Constantinople, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and Hagia Eirene (Holy Peace); the foundation of a third, the Church of the Holy Apostles, may be attributed to him with a measure of certainty. Unlike the Old Rome, which was filled with pagan monuments and institutions, the New Rome was essentially a Christian capital (and eventually the see of a patriarch).
Final Years , Death, and Burial
In the years 325-337 Constantine continued his support of the church even more vigorously than before, both by generous gifts of money and by specific legislation. Among his numerous church foundations the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Golden Octagon in Antioch deserve to be singled out. At the same time, he was more inclined to suppress paganism; we know of some specific pagan temples, which were torn down upon his orders, while in other cases temple treasures were confiscated and the proceeds fed into the imperial treasury.
Shortly after Easter (April 3, 337) Constantine began to feel ill. He traveled to Drepanum, now named Helenopolis in honor of his mother, where he prayed at the tomb of his mother's favorite saint, the martyr Lucian. From there he proceeded to the suburbs of Nicomedia, and there he was baptized, as both Eusebius and Jerome report.
A few weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, May 22, Constantine died at Nicomedia, still wearing the white robes of a Christian neophyte. His body was escorted to Constantinople and lay in state in the imperial palace. His sarcophagus was then placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles, as he himself had directed; it was surrounded by the memorial steles of the Twelve Apostles, making him symbolically the thirteenth Apostle.
In the Orthodox Church Constantine is regarded a saint; he shares a feast day, May 21, with his mother Helen, and additionally has a feast day of his own, September 3.
So does he deserve the title of Great? He liberated the Christians from persecution and gave the empire a Christian set of values. He moved the capital of the empire to a more defensible location, which quickly became the center of Christianity and the wealthiest city in the world. He called the First Ecumenical Council of the Church establishing the pattern by which the Church formally dealt with deviations from the teachings of the Apostles. The first council formulated the creed, which we still use to this day. By treating the Church clerics with the status of imperial administrators, a union between Church and state was established that was to last throughout the Byzantine Empire. He also established the weekly cycle with Sunday designated for the worship of Jesus. In addition to his conversion to Christianity he was a great ruler uniting the Roman Empire and looking after the welfare of all the peoples of the empire.
The Church of the Seven Councils
What is the significance of the Ecumenical Councils?
Principle of Conciliarity
The early Church did not have a hierarchal decision making process like the western Church has today. Decisions were made based on the the way the Apostles first made decisions regarding the dogma of the Church. It was a process called conciliarity. The idea of conciliarity is the supreme authority lies in the action of a council. Originally it was a council of the Apostles. This later became the Ecumenical Council of all bishops of the church.
Conciliarity means that the supreme authority in the Church lies in the Ecumenical Council.
The Apostles showed us how to make a decision in the church. The first church council in history is often referred to as the Council of Jerusalem. It is described in Acts 15. It was called to resolve a disagreement within the early Church between those who desired that all should observe the traditional rules of Judaism and those represented by Paul, who did not believe that there was such a necessity. The central issue was circumcision of the Gentiles. There was an intense argument that occurred in Antioch and it was decided to go to Jerusalem and discuss it with the council of Apostles. Here it was discussed. All listened with an ear of discernment. For they were all of the Holy Spirit. Finally, James who was serving as the head of the council summarized the discussion and gave the final decision. We see here in operation a process that is sometimes referred to today as consensus decision making. It is rational, yet beyond rational and is a decision made collectively by holy persons through whom the Holy Spirit is actively working. It is this method that the process of the Ecumenical councils are based as well as all other synodal actions in the Church.
At the time of the First Ecumenical Council there were five Patriarchates. Originally where were three. One in Rome the capital city, one in the major cities of Antioch and Alexandria. Then the First Ecumenical Council acknowledged Jerusalem as a patriarchate. Then by the Second Ecumenical Council, after Constantinople had become the functional capital of the Roman Empire, the Bishop of Constantinople was given the title as patriarch and considered to be first in honor among the others except for Rome which was to be first in honor among equals.￼
The map above shows the location of these important centers of the church. For a decision in council to be considered “ecumenical” the process had to include representatives from each of these patriarchates. Throughout the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils these were the major centers of the Church.
the First Ecumenical Council
We have already discussed the important Council of Jerusalem where the process of decision making and place of final authority in the resolution of differences was established.
In Scripture we are told of a later convention which took place “When all of the elders were present.” (Acts 21:18) There exists a set of canons called the Canons of the Apostles, which may of come from this gathering. These were affirmed as Church canons later in the 6th and 7th council. It is believed that this set of canons is dated between 56 - 58 AD.
First Ecumenical Council
of Nicea in 325
Nicaea, today Iznik, is located on the shore of a lake close to the Asian coast of the Marmara Sea, in the historical region called Bithynia.￼Left is the ruins of Aghia Sofia Cathedral where First Ecumenical Council was held.
The first council was important because it dealt with a deviation from the teachings of the early Church due to the preaching of Arius, who was a priest at the church of Baucalis in Egypt. He was in open conflict with the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. The issue was the divinity of Christ. Arius taught that if Jesus was born then there was a time when He did not exist. If He became God, then there was a time when He was not. Therefore, He cannot be God. Jesus then was inferior to the father, a creature. What was at stake here was that if Christ is less than God, then it renders it impossible for our human deification (to become like God). It is only if Christ is both man and God that we can hope to be united with God. It is only God who can open the way of union and our salvation. The council declared this teaching to be a heresy decreeing that Christ is God. He is of the same essence (Homoousios) with God the Father.
This first Council made the doctrine of the Holy Trinity very precise to avoid future debates on this issue. The result was what is known as the Nicean Creed (it was added to in the Second Council as we will see in a moment). The council also set a uniform date for the celebration of Pascha (Easter).The Council involved what we today know as some of the most important Holy Fathers of the Church. Saint Athanasius the Great was one of the prime defenders against Arianism. He later became Bishop of Alexandria and faced over sixteen years in exile for staying true to his Orthodox beliefs.
Council of Constantinople in 381
This council was called by emperors Gratian and Theodosius I. This council was called to continue the work of the first council to expand the Nicean Creed to include teachings about the Holy Spirit. They also condemned the teaching of Macedius, who declared the Son created the Holy Spirit. Macedonius taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person (hypostasis), but simply a power of God. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son. In condemning his teaching the council further clarified the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The council declared that there was one God in three persons (hypostases): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
With this work the Creed, which is recited today, was completed. This Creed was later affirmed in later councils.
Third Ecumenical Council
of Ephesus in 431
This council was held under emperor Theodosius II at the request of Nestorius, whose teachings had been condemned by Celestine, the Patriarch of Rome. Nestorius believed that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God the “Logos”. Therefore, he said that the Logos only dwelled in Christ, as in a Temple. Christ was, therefore, only the bearer of God. Then the Virgin Mary should be called “Christokos”, Mother of Christ” and not “Theotokos” Mother of God.” He over emphasized the human nature of Christ at the expense of His divine nature. The council affirmed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one person and not two separate persons: the man, Jesus and the Son of God, Logos. They decreed that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Logos), is complete God and complete man, with a rational soul and body. The Virgin Mary is “Theotokos” because she gave birth not to man, but to God who became man. This union of the two natures took place in such a way that did not disturb the other.
This council affirmed the creed of the First and Second Councils without any changes.
Council of Chalcedon in 451
The fourth council was called under the emperor Marcian. Its task was to defend Orthodoxy against the heresy of Eutyches and the Monophysites. To counter the extreme of the Nestorian heresy, there were some who now emphasized the unity of Christ with the Divinity. The Monphysites saw Christ as one but where the human nature was completely absorbed by the divine. This resulted in Christ with one personality and only one nature.
The main proponent of this heresy was Eutyches. He proclaimed "After the incarnation of God the Word I worship one nature, the nature of God Who took on flesh and became man"; "I confess that our Lord consists of two natures before [their] union, and after [their] union I confess one nature." He boldly proclaimed, "He Who was born of the Virgin Mary is perfect God and perfect man, but does not have flesh which is consubstantial with ours."
Eutyches managed to convince the Emperor Theodosius of his view and convinced him to call a council to affirm this view. Such council was called, but it is not known as an ecumenical council, but as the “Robbers” council. When Theodoius died Marcian, who was deeply committed to Orthodoxy, took his place. Leo the Great, the Pope of Rome, called for a new council to deal with this controversy. This council was attended by over 600 fathers, more than any other. It proclaimed:
“Following the holy fathers, we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that He is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, true God and true man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching His Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching His manhood; having become like us in all things save sin only; begotten of His Father before the ages according to His Godhead; but in these last days, for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to His manhood. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets of old have spoken concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ has taught us, and as the Creed of the fathers has delivered unto us.”
Fifth Ecumenical Council
of Constantinople in 553
This council was called by the Emperor Justinian The Great. It was held in the most beautiful church ever built, the Hagia Sophia. It was called to finally end the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies which still raged. It confirmed the previous four Councils.
Sixth Ecumenical Council
of Constantinople in 680
This council dealt with the monothelite controversy. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius, taught that although Christ had two natures (divine and human), He nevertheless acted as God only. In other words, His divine nature made all the decisions and His human nature only carried and acted them out. Hence the name: “Monothelitism” (“mono” one and “thelesis” will)
Christ had two natures with two activities: as God working miracles, rising from the dead and ascending into heaven; as Man, performing the ordinary acts of daily life. Each nature exercises its own free will. Christ's divine nature had a specific task to perform and so did His human nature. Each nature performed those tasks set forth without being confused, subjected to any change or working against each other. The two distinct natures and activities related to them were mystically united in the one Divine Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So what were these council sessions like? In this case, the Emperor presided over this council surrounded by high court officials. On his right sat the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch and next to them the representative of the Patriarch of Alexandria. On the Emperor's left were seated the representatives of the Pope. In the midst of the assembly were placed the Holy Gospels. The Emperor was not able to be present during the 11th to 17th sessions, but returned and presided at the final gathering. The greater part of the eighteen sessions was devoted to an examination of the Scriptural and patristic passages bearing on the question of one or two wills, one or two operations, in Christ. George, Patriarch of Constantinople, was in agreement with the evidence of the Orthodox teaching concerning the two wills and two operations in Christ, but Macarius of Antioch, resisted to the end. In the 8th session, on 7 March 681, the council adopted the teaching of Pope Agatho in condemnation of Monothelitism.
Council of Nicea in 787
The seventh council was convened under Empress Irene. It was about the use of icons in the Church. In 726, in disregard of the protests of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Emperor Leo III issued his first edict against the veneration of images, and their exhibition in public places. This prohibition of a custom seems to have been inspired by a genuine desire to improve public morality, and received the support of the official aristocracy and a section of the clergy. But, a majority of the theologians and all the monks opposed these measures with uncompromising hostility, and in the western parts of the empire the people refused to obey the edict. A revolt, which broke out in Greece, mainly on religious grounds, was crushed by the imperial fleet in 727. In 730, Patriarch Germanos I of Constantinople resigned rather than subscribe to an iconoclast decree. Leo had him replaced by Anastasios who willingly sided with the emperor on the question of icons. In the Italian Peninsula, the defiant attitude of Popes Gregory II and Gregory III on behalf of image-veneration led to a fierce quarrel with the emperor. The former summoned councils in Rome to anathematize and excommunicate the iconoclasts (730, 732); Leo retaliated by transferring Southern Italy and Illyricum from the papal diocese to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The struggle was accompanied by an armed outbreak in the exarchate of Ravenna in 727, which Leo finally endeavored to subdue by means of a large fleet. This created a fierce conflict between iconoclast, who were suspicious of religious art and demanded that the Church rid itself of all such art by destroying it and the iconophiles who wanted to preserve them because they served the doctrinal teachings of the Church.
The council proclaimed the following:
"We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people. Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype. We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor (timitiki proskynisis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature, ... which is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerated in it the reality for which it stands."
John of Damascus was one of the famous defenders of icons.
Issues in Byzantine
What accounts of iconoclast arguments remain are largely found in iconodule writings. To understand iconoclastic arguments, one must note the main points:
1. Iconoclasm condemned the making of any lifeless image (e.g. painting or statue) that was intended to represent Jesus or one of the saints.
2. For iconoclasts, the only real religious image must be an exact likeness of the prototype - of the same substance, which they considered impossible, seeing wood and paint as empty of spirit and life. Thus for iconoclasts the only true (and permitted) "icon" of Jesus was the Eucharist, which was believed to be his actual body and blood.
3. Any true image of Jesus must be able to represent both his divine nature (which is impossible because it cannot be seen nor encompassed) and his human nature (which is possible). But by making an icon of Jesus, one is separating his human and divine natures, since only the human can be depicted (separating the natures was considered Nestorianism - the doctrine where Jesus was considered two persons rathe than a unified person), or else confusing the human and divine natures, considering them one (union of the human and divine natures was considered monophysitism).
4. Icon use for religious purposes was viewed as an innovation in the Church, a Satanic misleading of Christians to return to pagan practice. "Satan misled men, so that they worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. The Law of Moses and the Prophets cooperated to remove this ruin...But the previously mentioned creator of evil...gradually brought back idolatry under the appearance of Christianity."
5. It was also seen as a departure from ancient Church tradition, of which there was a written record opposing religious images.
The chief theological opponents of iconoclasm was John of Damascus. John declared that he did not venerate matter, "but rather the Creator of matter." However he also declared, "But I also venerate the matter through which salvation came to me, as if filled with divine energy and grace." He includes in this latter category the ink in which the gospels were written as well as the paint of images, the wood of the Cross, and the body and blood of Jesus.
The iconodule response to iconoclasm included:
1. Assertion that the biblical commandment forbidding images of God had been superseded by the incarnation of Jesus, who, being the second person of the Trinity, is God incarnate in visible matter. Therefore, they were not depicting the invisible God, but God as He appeared in the flesh. This became an attempt to shift the issue of the incarnation in their favor, whereas the iconoclasts had used the issue of the incarnation against them.
2. Further, in their view idols depicted persons without substance or reality, while icons depicted real persons. Essentially the argument was "all religious images not of our faith are idols; all images of our faith are icons to be venerated." This was considered comparable to the Old Testament practice of only offering burnt sacrifices to God, and not to any other gods.
3. Regarding the written tradition opposing the making and veneration of images, they asserted that icons were part of unrecorded oral tradition (parádosis, sanctioned in Orthodoxy as authoritative in doctrine by reference to 2 Thessalonians 2:15, Basil the Great, etc.).
4. Arguments were drawn from the miraculous Acheiropoieta, the supposed icon of the Virgin painted with her approval by Saint Luke, and other miraculous occurrences around icons, that demonstrated divine approval of Iconodule practices.
5. Iconodules further argued that decisions such as whether icons ought to be venerated were properly made by the church assembled in council, not imposed on the church by an emperor. Thus the argument also involved the issue of the proper relationship between church and state. Related to this was the observation that it was foolish to deny to God the same honor that was freely given to the human emperor.
Empress Irene was the wife of Leo IV. Her most notable act was the restoration of the orthodox veneration of icons or images, a policy which she had always secretly favored, though compelled to abjure it in her husband's lifetime. Having elected Tarasios, one of her partisans, to the patriarchate in 784, she summoned two church councils. The first of these, held in 786 at Constantinople, was frustrated by the opposition of the soldiers. The second, convened at Nicaea in 787, formally revived the adoration of images and reunited the Eastern Orthodox Church with that of Rome.
The Truth In Its Fullest
The Ecumenical Councils of the Church have served a critical importance. It is through these councils that the Church has been able to withstand political forces that have threatened to change the teachings of the Apostles. The great controversies that arose in the earliest days of the Church were in the end brought to a head in a council of bishops who through the Holy Spirit were able to affirm the truth of Christianity.
The Orthodox Church is known as the Church of the Seven Councils. This means that our doctrine is unchanged from the pronouncements of these councils. In the West there have been innovations from the earliest truths proclaimed by these Councils. The Eastern Orthodox Church remains true to the wisdom of these Seven Councils. This is why we say that Orthodoxy preserves the truth of the Christian faith in its fullest.
The Great Schism
What caused the split of the Church between East and West?
While the Church was unified for almost a thousand years, there developed differences in doctrine and practice that have separated them. While Orthodoxy has preserved the teachings of the first Seven Councils without change, there have been changes introduced in the other groups who call themselves Christians. We will briefly take a look at how this split occurred. Why is it important to know about this? Because this history affirms that the fundamental nature of Orthodoxy is that it’s doctrines do not change and that it holds the truths as proclaimed in the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church.
The Great Schism must not be conceived as the result of only one specific quarrel. There were political and cultural differences that arose along with doctrinal issues. The split occurred over a long period of time and formally came to a head in 1054 in what is known as the Great Schism.
Political and Cultural divergence
If we go back to the time of the Apostles there was a political and cultural unity because of the Roman Empire. The Empire embraced many different national groups, often with languages and dialects of their own. But all these groups were governed by the same Emperor. The Romans has assimilated the Hellenic culture so there was a broad Greco-Roman civilization in which educated people throughout the Empire shared. Both Greek and Latin was understood throughout the Empire with Greek being the common language of commerce at that time. These facts greatly assisted the early Church in its missionary work.
This unity gradually disappeared. In the third century the empire was divided into two parts, East and West with two emperors. Constantine furthered this process of separation by establishing a second imperial capital in the east, Constantinople. Then came the barbarian invasions at the start of the fifth century: apart from Italy, the west was carved up among barbarian chiefs.
The separation was carried a stage further by the rise of Islam. The Mediterranean, which the Romans once called "our sea," passed largely into Arab control. Cultural and economic contacts between the eastern and western Mediterranean became far more difficult.
Being isolated from Byzantium, the west proceeded to set up a "Roman" Empire of its own. On Christmas Day in the year 800 the Pope crowned Charles the Great, King of the Franks, as Emperor. Charlemagne sought recognition from the ruler at Byzantium, but without success. The Byzantines regarded Charlemagne as an intruder and the Papal coronation as an act of schism within the Empire.
Matters were made more difficult by problems of language. Educated men were no longer bilingual. By the year 450 there were very few in western Europe who could read Greek, and after 600, although Byzantium still called itself the Roman Empire, it was rare for a Byzantine to speak Latin. Photius, the greatest scholar in ninth century Constantinople, could not read Latin; and in 864 a "Roman" Emperor at Byzantium, Michael III, even called the language in which Virgil once wrote (Latin) "a barbarian and Scythic tongue."
Charlemagne’s Court was marked at its outset by a strong anti-Greek prejudice. Men of letters in Charlemagne’s entourage were not prepared to copy Byzantium, but sought to create a new Christian civilization of their own. Perhaps it is in the reign of Charlemagne that the schism of civilizations first becomes clearly apparent.
Charlemagne, rejected by the Byzantine Emperor, was quick to retaliate with a charge of heresy against the Byzantine Church. He denounced the Greeks for not using the filioque in the Creed and he declined to accept the decisions of the seventh Ecumenical Council.
The barbarian invasions and the consequent breakdown of the Empire in the west also strengthened the autocratic structure of the western Church. In the east there was a strong secular head, the Emperor, to uphold the civilized order and to enforce law. In the west, after the advent of the barbarians, there was only a plurality of warring chiefs, all more or less usurpers. For the most part it was the Papacy alone, which could act as a center of unity, as an element of continuity and stability in the spiritual and political life of western Europe. By force of circumstances, the Pope became an autocrat, an absolute monarch set up over the Church, issuing commands — in a way that few if any eastern bishops have ever done — not only to his ecclesiastical subordinates, but to secular rulers as well. The western Church became centralized to a degree unknown anywhere in the four Patriarchates of the east. There developed monarchy in the west and collegiality in the east.
There were differences in world views and how they thought. The Latin approach was more practical, the Greek more speculative. Latin thought was influenced by juridical ideas, by the concepts of Roman law, while the Greeks understood theology in the context of worship and in the light of the Holy Liturgy. When thinking about the Trinity, Latins started with the unity of the Godhead, Greeks with the threeness of the persons. When reflecting on the Crucifixion, Latins thought primarily of Christ the Victim, Greeks of Christ the Victor. Latins talked more of redemption and Greeks of deification.
Role of the Pope.
As suggested, these factors led to a different role for the Pope than the traditional role of a Patriarch. The Pope became an absolute authority over all of the Western church, while in the East there was still the sense of a conciliar approach. The Orthodox held that any doctrine difference had to include the entire Church and that no single person had the ability to make changes in doctrine. The absolute authority rested with the Ecumenical council as it had since the council of Jerusalem held by the Apostles.
The second great difficulty was the filioque. The dispute involved the words about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Originally the Creed ran: "I believe... in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and together glorified." This, the original form, is recited unchanged by the east to this day. But, the West inserted an extra phrase "and from the Son" (in Latin, filioque), so that their Creed now reads "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." It is not certain when and where this addition was first made, but it seems to have originated in Spain, as a safeguard against Arianism. At any rate the Spanish Church interpolated the filioque at the third Council of Toledo (589), if not before. From Spain the addition spread to France and thence to Germany, where it was welcomed by Charlemagne and adopted at the semi-Iconoclast Council of Frankfort (794). It was writers at Charlemagne’s Court who first made the filioque into an issue of controversy, accusing the Greeks of heresy because they recited the Creed in its original form. But Rome, with typical conservatism, continued to use the Creed without the filioque until the start of the eleventh century. In 808 Pope Leo III wrote in a letter to Charlemagne that, although he himself believed the filioque to be doctrinally sound, yet he considered it a mistake to tamper with the wording of the Creed. Leo deliberately had the Creed, without the filioque, inscribed on silver plaques and set up in Saint Peter’s. For the time being Rome acted as mediator between Germany and Byzantium.
It was not until after 850 that the Greeks paid much attention to the filioque, but once they did so, their reaction was sharply critical. Orthodoxy objected (and still objects) to this addition in the Creed, for two reasons. First, the Ecumenical Councils specifically forbade any changes to be introduced into the Creed; and if an addition has to be made, certainly nothing short of another Ecumenical Council is competent to make it. The Creed is the common possession of the whole Church, and a part of the Church has no right to tamper with it. In the second place, Orthodox believe the filioque to be theologically untrue. They hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, and consider it a heresy to say that He proceeds from the Son as well. It may seem to many that the point at issue is so abstruse as to be unimportant. But Orthodox would say that since the doctrine of the Trinity stands at the heart of the Christian faith, a small change of emphasis in Trinitarian theology has far-reaching consequences in many other fields. Not only does the filioque destroy the balance between the three persons of the Holy Trinity: it leads also to a false understanding of the work of the Spirit in the world, and so encourages a false doctrine of the Church.
Besides the issues of the role of the Papacy and the filioque, there are certain lesser matters regarding Church worship and discipline which have caused trouble between east and west: the Greeks allowed married clergy while the Latins insisted on priestly celibacy; there are different rules of fasting; the Greeks used leavened bread in the Eucharist and the Latins use unleavened bread or "azymes."
Formal Schism 1054
The formal break came when Michael Cerularius was Patriarch of Constantinople and St. Leo Pope in Rome. In 1053, Cerularius circulated a treatise criticizing in strong terms the practices of the Western church. Cerularius said the fact that Catholics did not allow their clergy to marry was contrary to scripture and tradition. He objected to the Catholics use of unleavened bread in their Eucharist. But his most serious concern was that the Latin Church had added the word "filioque" to the Nicene Creed, saying the Holy Spirit proceeded from both Father and Son.
Cerularius excommunicated all bishops of Constantinople who used the Western ritual and closed down their churches. This incensed Leo. He demanded that Cerularius submit to the Pope. Any church which refused to recognize the pontiff as supreme was an assembly of heretics, he said - a synagogue of Satan. The Eastern patriarch wasn't about to accept this characterization. The five patriarchs, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome were equals in his eyes. The bishop of Rome, as patriarch of the West, was given the courtesy title of "first among equals" and in a tie vote he could make the final determination according to tradition. Rome's growing claims to authority were deemed unacceptable to the other patriarchs, who believed (and who still believe) that Christ alone is the head of the Church.
Leo sent legates, headed by an unyielding man, Cardinal
Humbert, to discuss the issues. Before they could complete their
mission, Leo died. Humbert was so rude to Cerularius that Cerularius
refused to speak with him. Aggravated by this treatment, the legates
marched into St. Sophia on July 6, 1054, and placed a bull on the
altar, excommunicating Cerularius. After this act, Humbert made a
grand exit, shaking the dust off his feet and calling on God to judge.
Cerularius convoked a council and once more blasted Western practices. Humbert was anathematized. The Orthodox condemned all who had drawn up the bull. There was now no chance of reconciliation between the factions. The once united Church was now divided into two: Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
In more recent times there have been further differences.
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the new, Gregorian calendar and the East still uses the old Julian calendar to determine the date of Pascha. Consequently, East and West celebrate Pascha on different dates.
In the 1800’s the Roman Catholic Church established
both Papal Infallibility and Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be dogmas
of the universal Church. They also brought numerous Byzantine Rite
communities in Eastern Europe and the Ukraine into communion with
Rome, forming the greater part of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
In 1950 the Pope defined Mary’s Assumption (aka Dormition) as a dogma.
How did the Crusades impact the East?
The Crusades made the split firm. For those in the East the crusades were seen as “Frank Invasions”. The first crusade was a bloody success. The first city sacked was Antioch. While under Muslim control, Antioch was inhabited primarily by Christians. It was sacked and pillaged. Antioch was followed by Jerusalem in 1099. As a result of the invasion Latin Patriarchs were set up leaving the cities under two patriarchs, those who were appointed by Constantinople and those appointed by the conquerers with allegiance to Rome. The worst was the 4th Crusade (1204) which was a disaster and disgrace. The Crusades were originally bound for Egypt and then to go to the Holy Land, but it was delayed and the mercenary soldiers were running out of money and set out on a campaign for stolen goods. Constantinople was the richest city in the world at the time. This is where they headed and defeated the Byzantine Army and sacked the city. They destroyed churches and undertook systematic acts of sacrilege. Women and children were killed and women raped. It was a horrible scene. The holy relics were stolen and many that are to this day seen throughout Europe came from this Crusade as Constantinople was the center of Christianity and its most precious relics. The Latins then set up a government and their own bishops. All this was done with the blessing of the Pope in Rome.
Attempts at Reunion
After the Crusades the hatred was high in the East against the Western world. Now the split became generally accepted. There were firm doctrinal differences such as the “filioque” and each claimed to be the True Church. Shortly after the forth crusade Constantinople was recaptured by Emperor Michael VIII in 1261. But the impact of the fourth crusade was such an economic, political and military blow to the Empire it proved to be a mortal. This was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.
Michael sought alliances to protect him from the onslaught of the Turks and thought that a reunion of the Church was a prerequisite to security. There was a council meeting that took place in Lyons in 1274 in which a union was agreed to. The Eastern Church accepted the “filioque” clause. But there was a popular uprising because the political nature of this agreement was seen by the people and the monks in the monasteries.
Again in 1438 Emperor John VIII sought political
and military assistance and another council was held at Florence.
The Emperor and the Patriarch attended and the East agreed to the
Western doctrine and to keep their different rites. Again it was
rejected by the populous and repudiated by its Eastern signers. In
1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and all of the east was under
Muslim rule. This lasted for 400 years. Orthodox Christianity entered
a long period of suppression.
Today, the Ecumenical Patriarch continually works towards unity of the Church, but without giving up what Orthodoxy has stood true to for over 2000 years.
What role did the Orthodox Church play in the Reformation in the 16th Century?
The Eastern Church had split some 500 years earlier
and none of the issues that led to the formation of the Protestant
churches were issues in the Orthodox Church. This movement, which
saw the breaking away of many churches in Northern Europe, was due
mainly to a corrupt and heretical view on the use of indulgences
as penance. In short people could buy their way to heaven. Also the
appointment to positions in the Church was influenced by monetary
contributions. In objecting to these corrupt practices much of Holy
Tradition was rejected and a fall back to a reliance only on Scripture
as the basis of truth emerged. At this time innovative doctrines
such as salvation by faith alone were developed. All this lead to
thousands of branches of Christianity due to different individual
interpretations of Scripture.
The Eastern Churches continued their path unchanged under the Ottomans. Also at this time there was the rise of Orthodoxy throughout Russia. It became the center of activity for the Orthodox Church at this time even though they still held Constantinople in high honor. Here there were many monasteries and seminaries for training clergy. In short the teaching of the Church remained virtually unchanged relying of the doctrine that had been established in the Seven Ecumenical Councils as the basis of the Truth taught by the Apostles. The Tradition was passed on through the Russian Church and the Church under Muslim rule. Orthodoxy retained its unbroken historical and theological connection to the New Testament Church.
Church in America
How was the Greek Orthodox Church brought to America?
The Greeks suffered 400 years of Oppression and persecution under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The movement for Greece’s Independence took place on March 25, 1821 and independence was realize in 1829. The period following the fall of the Ottoman Empire was filled with poor economic conditions and instability especially in the Balkans. In 1923 as the result of the negotiations to end World War I there was a population exchange between what is now Turkey and Greece. There were over 2,000,000 involved in this massive disruption of normal life. Then Greece fell under the occupation of the Axis powers during World War II. In 1941 to 1944 there was a blockade by the Allies which led to a great famine in Greece where over 300,000 died of starvation. Then, followed a civil war that pitted family against family.
During these periods of conflict and struggle people left Greece to establish a better life for themselves. The United States was one of the better places for them to seek a new life. Thousands and thousands came. Many stayed long enough to earn money and return. Others stayed and sent a major portion of their income back to help families left behind and still struggling. Over 500,000 Greeks arrived in the United States between 1890 and 1924 another 200,000 between 1946 and 1982. As the immigrants came they brought their Church with them. The immigrants established the first Orthodox Church in 1864 in New Orleans.