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THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GREAT SCHISM
From the establishment of the Church by the Apostles until the eleventh century the Church was one in both east and west although there had been breakaway sects mostly in the east because of dogmatic differences concerning the two natures of Christ. In 451 at a Council held in Chalcedon near Constantinople the Orthodox dogma on the two natures of Christ was defined and the Churches that agreed with this dogma and remained in communion with the whole body of the Church are called Chalcedonian while those that split because of other beliefs such as the Nestorian Churches and the Coptic Church of Egypt are called Non – Chalcedonian.
Apart from these breakaway groups, the Church in east and west remained as one until the eleventh century. There were problems, but these were minor and could be justified by linguistic and cultural differences. The dominant language of the West was Latin, whilst that of the East was Greek. Soon after the fall of the Western Empire at the end of the 5th century, communication between East and West grew much more difficult. With linguistic unity gone, cultural unity began to crumble as well. As a result each side developed different liturgical rites and had different approaches to religious doctrines. But in spite of the differences the Church continued to be one because as yet there were no dogmatic differences, the Apostolic faith was still one and these minor differences were not reasons for east and west to split. The Main problems appeared in the 9th century.
A quarrel arose between the Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope Nicholas I which is known in the West as the Photian schism although the East prefers to call it the schism of Nicholas.
In 857, Patriarch Ignatius was exiled by the Emperor and while in exile had resigned under pressure. In his place was enthroned the New Patriarch of Constantinople Photius. Pope Nicholas refused to accept Photius’ election until he examined the dispute between the two Patriarchs and sent legates to Constantinople to examine the issue. He instructed his delegates to support Photius only if Illyricon and southern Italy, which were taken from his jurisdiction and ceded to the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 731, were returned to his control. The legates and the Council all agreed that Photius was the legitimate Patriarch. Whether the question of Illyricon and southern Italy was mentioned is not clear as the records of the Synod were destroyed, but they remained in the jurisdiction of Constantinople the New Rome. The Pope was not happy with the results and excommunicated his delegates upon their return. He then proceeded to re-try the case himself at Rome: and recognized Ignatius as Patriarch, and proclaimed Photius to be deposed. Nicholas was overstepping his authority. Under canon law bishops under condemnation were allowed to appeal to Rome and Rome had the authority to order a retrial if there was enough cause, but this retrial was not to be conducted by the Pope himself, but by the bishops of the provinces adjacent to that of the condemned bishop. His retrial of the Photian – Ignatian dispute was clearly an attempt by the Pope to impose his absolute power and authority in the East as he had already done in the West. The Byzantines were not prepared to grant him such authority and regarded his behaviour as an uncanonical interference in the affairs of another Patriarchate.
Relations with Nicholas became even more estranged when missionaries became involved with the baptism of the Slavs. Two groups of missionaries were at work at the same time, one from the Greeks and the other from the West by Germans. A clash between the two arose over the Filioque, which the Germans used in Bulgaria. (The Filioque is an addition to the Nicene - Constantinopolitan Creed made by the Roman Catholic Church (SEE “THE FILIOQUE”). At Rome itself the Filioque was still not in use, but Nicholas gave full support to the Germans when they insisted upon its insertion in Bulgaria. Photius was concerned by the German influence in the Balkans and by the question of the Filioque. In 867 he wrote a letter to the other Patriarchs of the East, denouncing the Filioque. In it he accused the Pope of inserting the Filioque into the Symbol of Faith; of improperly interfering in the Church of Bulgaria and attempting to dominate churches outside his jurisdiction; of endorsing an improper repetition of the sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation) on the pretext that Chrismation done by married priests from New Rome was invalid and of improperly interfering in disputes outside his jurisdiction. He then summoned a council at Constantinople which condemned various Latin practises, condemned the Filioque, and excommunicated Pope Nicholas from the Church, terming him a heretic who ravages the vineyard of the Lord. Nicholas died before learning of his excommunication and was replaced by Hadrian II, but not before writing to various Franks asking them to defend the Filioque.
There was now an open schism between Constantinople and Rome, but it was short-lived because in the same year Photius was deposed from the Patriarchate by the Emperor and communion with Rome was restored with Ignatius once more as Patriarch. Two years later, in 869 another Council was held at Constantinople, known as the Anti-Photian Council, which condemned and anathematized Photius. This Council was for a time considered by the West to be the Eighth of the Ecumenical Synods. When Ignatius died in 877, Photius once more succeeded him as Patriarch. In 879, another council was held in Constantinople which withdrew the anathema of the previous Council against Photius. This was officially accepted and recognized by Rome without protest and communion between Constantinople and the Papacy remained unbroken.
The problem with the Filioque again came to the forefront when in 1014 it was sanctioned by the Pope to be used during the coronation of Emperor Henry II at Rome.
As the Eleventh Century progressed, Rome gained a position of power in the West such as it had never before achieved: the Western Church became centralized to a degree unknown anywhere in the four Patriarchates of the East. Pope Leo IX revived the papal claims to universal jurisdiction, which Nicholas had made before in the ninth century. The Byzantines had no problem with the Pope claiming absolute power in the West, but they were not prepared to let him interfere with the Church in the East. The Pope, however, believed he had the power to be a kind of Monarch over the entire world with Rome as the centre of the Christian kingdom. This was uncanonical and the Pope was now disregarding the Seven Ecumenical Councils and placing himself above their authority. The Eastern Churches had always assigned to the Pope a primacy of honour, but not the universal supremacy which he regarded as his due. The Church had always been founded on the collegial system where all bishops sat as equals and where a primacy of honour was given, it did not mean that that Bishop was above the others.
Things became worse with the military aggression of the Normans in Byzantine Italy. The Normans began imposing Latin customs on the Greeks of Byzantine Italy, including the use of unleavened bread—with papal approval (SEE “THE EUCHARIST BREAD”). The Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, in return demanded that the Latin churches at Constantinople should adopt Greek practices, and in 1052, when they refused, he closed them. Among the practices to which Michael and his supporters particularly objected was the Latin use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. A letter was sent to bishops in the West attacking the Judaistic practices of the West. The Pope in response ordered a reply to each charge and also a defence of the papal supremacy. In 1053 Michael tries to patch up the differences with the Pope and writes to him offering to restore him name to the Diptychs. It’s probable that he was convinced to cool the situation by the Emperor who was on good terms with the Pope. In response to this offer, and to settle the disputed questions of Greek and Latin usages, Leo in 1054 sent three legates to Constantinople, the chief of them being Humbert, Bishop of Silva Candida. They arrived in Constantinople in April 1054 and when they called on the Patriarch they rudely thrust a letter to him from the Pope. Their attitude was not received favourably by the Patriarch who in return did not give them the welcome they would have liked. They stormed out without giving the usual salutations. The letter although signed by Leo had in fact been drafted by Humbert and was far from friendly. On receiving the letter the Patriarch noticed that the seals had already been tampered with. The Patriarch determined that the legates were worse than mere barbarous Westerners, they were liars and crooks. He refused to recognise their authority or, practically, their existence.
Pope Leo died on April 19, 1054, and legally the legates’ authority should also have ceased, but they did not seem to notice. Humbert and his companions remained in Constantinople waiting for a reply from the Patriarch, but the Patriarch refused to address the issue at hand. Eventually Humbert lost patience, and without papal authority decided to carry out an action that has become to be known ever since as the Great Schism. On the 16th July the papal legates entered the Church of Hagia Sophia and, while the clergy were preparing for the service at the third hour of the day on Saturday, they laid a Bull of excommunication on the main altar in full view of the clergy and people present. Going out thence, Humbert shook off the dust from his feet as a testimony against them, according to the words of the Gospel (Mathew 10: 14), exclaiming: “Let God see and judge.” A deacon ran out after him in great distress and begged him to take back the Bull. Humbert refused; and it was dropped in the street.
The Bull of excommunication did not directly excommunicate everyone, but only the Patriarch and his followers. In it was written the following: “As for the pillars of the Empire and the honourable, wise citizens, Constantinople is most Christian and Orthodox. But as for Michael, who is unlawfully called patriarch, and the champions of his stupidity, innumerable weeds of heresies are scattered in it... Let them be anathema, let them be anathema maranatha (I Corinthians 16:22). Amen.” In the document Humbert also accused the Greeks of omitting the Filioque from the Creed something which is now common knowledge that the Eastern Church did not delete anything; it was the Western Church that added these words to the original Nicene Creed. The legates left for Rome two days later, leaving behind a city near riots. On returning to Rome Humbert presented the whole incident as a great victory for the See of Rome, but back at Constantinople the Patriarch retaliated with a synod which anathematized Humbert and the other two legates. They did not anathematize the Roman Church, but from that time the Pope ceased to be commemorated in all the Eastern Churches during the Divine Liturgy. Thus the Great Schism had begun, but it was not until many years after that it became final. Relations between East and West continued and the majority of ordinary Christians remained unaware of the Schism.
The Schism between East and West became final with the Fourth Crusade in 1204. It brought about so much hatred and bitterness that even today the monks of Athos distrust the Christian West. It is a story of disgrace which should bring tears to those hearing how Christian brothers killed and raped fellow Christian brothers and then looted everything they could lay their hands on. The Fourth Crusade was between 1198-1204, but we’ll pick up the story towards the end. They were originally bound for Egypt, but were persuaded by Alexius, son of Isaac Angelus, the deposed Emperor of Byzantium, to turn aside to Constantinople in order to restore him and his father to the throne. The crusaders succeeded in restoring Isaac, to his Empire, but the reward which they required was extravagant, and Isaac’s efforts to comply with the stipulations provoked such resentment, that he was deposed by his subjects, and put to death, together with his son.
The Crusaders in the meantime owed a great deal to the Venetians. An agreement had been made for the Venetians to supply the food and transport to carry the so-called Christian army to Egypt. The service did not come cheap and the crusaders fell heavy into dept. They knew that Constantinople, the richest city of all Europe, was a richer prize than all the Holy Land and that it could be taken more easily. On the night of 12th to 13th April they entered Constantinople and sacked and pillaged the Great City. Nobody controlled the troops. Thousands of defenceless civilians were killed. Women, even nuns, were raped by the crusading army and churches, monasteries and convents were looted. The very altars of churches were smashed and torn to pieces for their gold and marble by warriors who had sworn to fight in service of the Christian faith. Even the magnificent Hagia Sophia was ransacked by the crusaders. Works of tremendous value were destroyed merely for their material value. Many of its priceless treasures were carried off to Europe. But the greatest prize of all were the relics, bones, heads and arms of saints, the crown of thorns, St. Thomas’ finger, and the Shroud. The knights showed no respect for anything sacred; Communion cups and sacred vessels were used as drinking cups in drunken revels. Prostitutes danced on the altar. Icons, even portraits of Christ were used as gaming tables. This systematic sacrilege is what shocked the Greeks more than anything else. How could men who had specially dedicated themselves to God’s service and bearing the Cross on their armour, treat the things of God in such a way? Tuesday the 13th of April was indeed a black day for the Christian world and even to this day the Greeks superstitiously regard Tuesday the 13th as unlucky in the same way the West regards Friday the 13th as unlucky.
The pillaging went on for three days and they are three days that Eastern Christendom has never forgotten. After 1204 the Greeks could no longer consider the Latins as their Christian brothers. Their actions were unholy in all respects and even the Saracens who were Muslim were more merciful that the crusader Knights. Christians in the West still do not realize how deep is the disgust and how lasting the horror with which Orthodox regard actions such as the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders. After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian East and Christian West were divided into two.