The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. After
having served as the seat of the
Patriarch of Constantinople for
centuries, it was turned into a
mosque. Since the secularizaiton
of Turkey at the end of World War I
it has been a museum.
The first notion to get out of our heads is the idea that the Greek Orthodox Church “broke away” from the Roman Catholic Church. Break they did, but the Greek and the Roman Churches broke away from each other, or rather, they broke with each other. The Greek—and other Orthodox Churches—were never “under” the Pope. As pointed out in the August 23rd entry, the five patriarchs were recognized as equals and each was seen as supreme in his own jurisdiction. The Roman Patriarch was the first among these equals, and recognized as such since the First Council of Constantinople. The other Patriarchs ranked—according to the Council in Trullo (recognized as Ecumenical by the Eastern Churches but not the Western) Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Indeed, Jerusalem was recognized almost solely for its antiquity as the Mother Church; it really had no daughter Churches to speak of in its patriarchy. Antioch on the other hand controlled the Churches of Syria, Iraq, Persia and down into India—a vast region. Alexandria led the Churches of Egypt and North Africa as well as along the Red Sea with the Coptic Church of Ethiopia. And then there was Constantinople. The Patriarch claimed descent from Saint Andrew, the First-Called and elder brother of Peter. These titles nudged the Bishop of Rome a bit about his position. Yes, Peter was the leader, but it was Andrew who told Peter that he had met the Messiah and invited Peter to come along in discipleship. (John 1:41). Andrew the First-Called was a reminder that, well maybe, Constantinople should be first and Rome, Peter’s See, second. After all, Constantinople was the capital of the Empire and Rome was now just a backwater town, abandoned and in ruins. And the Emperor—the real Emperor, not that German fool in bearskins and with dirty feet—reigned in Constantinople. And there was the great basilica of the Hagia Sophia and the splendid liturgies in Constantinople while in Rome Saint Peter’s was falling down around the congregation as the papal chaplains stood around yawning and scratching their backsides at Mass.
The tension was building on a number of fronts. Constantinople was sending out missionaries to convert the Slavic Peoples to the North and West in what is today Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania. The Holy Roman Emperor was sending out missionaries with papal ties to the Slavic Peoples in what is today the Czech Republic, Poland, and Croatia. What would happen when the western missionaries spreading papal ties met up with the eastern missionaries spreading dependency on Constantinople? Meet they would in what is today Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and along the fault line between eastern and western Slavs. (I don’t mean to imply here that the Hungarians are Slavs—they are not—but they got caught in the mix, sort of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.) Actually in 862 the Greeks had sent the brother team of missionaries Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs but the brothers had been politic enough to first go to Rome and get the pope’s encouragement for their mission as well. Both Catholic and Orthodox Slavs look to these brothers as their Apostles, but the peace the built between East and West and was not to last.
Greek missionaries had reached beyond the Black Sea up the Dnieper River to the site of modern Kiev where they had made progress in converting the local Rus people. The Rus were of Viking extraction, peoples from modern Sweden, who had colonized along the Rivers of the Ukraine as the Norse had settled along the Seine and Loire in France. There is an old story that Prince Vladimir the Great, the leader of the Rus, had wanted to introduce Christianity (the religion of his Grandmother, Saint Olga) to his subjects and so he sent an embassy first to Rome and then to Constantinople. The ambassadors witnessed Mass in the Vatican Basilica. It was ok. Proceeding on to Constantinople, they witnessed the Divine Liturgy in the Hagia Sophia. “We did not know,” they claimed, “whether we were in Heaven or still on earth” for the beauty of the Divine Liturgy. It is a lovely story, but the facts are that the ties of the Russian Church had always been to the Constantinople Patriarchate. While the Roman Church never claimed authority over the Russian Church, the spread of Greek Christianity among the Slavic Peoples on the frontier between the two empires was an annoyance to both sides.
Then came the Photian schism. You can read about it in the August 23rd entry. Basically the Emperor deposed Patriarch Ignatios of Constantinople because he had offended the Emperor’s uncle. The Emperor, Michael III, appointed a new patriarch, Photios, in Ignatios’ place. The Pope, Nicholas I, felt that as senior patriarch he had to defend the cause of the Ignatios, claiming that an Emperor had no authority to depose a Patriarch. In the end Ignatios was restored, the breach was healed and when Ignatios died Photios was elected in his own right and Pope and Patriarch played nice. But it was remembered that the Pope had interfered in internal matters of the Greek Church. The Greeks resented this. The Latins, for their part, stopped claiming that Nicholas had done this as senior patriarch protecting the rights of his second-in-dignity confrere, and instead began to claim that the Pope had a universal jurisdiction over all Christians. This was a considerable advance in the theory of papal authority. And the Greeks would respond in kind—but that is for the next entry.