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Short Overview: Orthodox/Catholic History

In this post, we’ll give a short overview of the history behind the meeting in May between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The history of the Orthodox/Roman Catholic relationship, the early years of Christianity, the Byzantine (Roman) Empire, and the Crusades is rich and complex, so we won’t delve into it here. For those interested in further study, we offer resources below. Please comment if you have a beloved book, article, or even podcast that will aid others in their understanding.

The Schism of 1054

“Like any empire, Byzantium had enemies, and it defended its territories with its army. In its thousand-year history, the empire expanded, shrank, and expanded again. Over time, the large empire began to show signs of disunity. Emperors had trouble protecting the western portion of the empire from enemies. In 800, Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne as emperor of the Romans, rejecting the authority of the (Byzantine) Roman emperor in the east.

Over the years, the bishops of Rome and Constantinople began to disagree on questions of authority, church organization, practices, and beliefs between East and West. The Pope wanted to be recognized as the supreme head of the Church. Although the other Patriarchs honored Rome as the city of Sts. Peter and Paul, they did not believe that the Pope should govern the entire Church.

These conflicts reached boiling point in the year 1054. At a meeting in Constantinople to discuss the problem, the representative of Pope Leo IX, Cardinal Humbert, excommunicated Ecumenical Patriarch Michael Keroularios. In turn, the Patriarch excommunicated the Cardinal” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 16).

The Crusades

“In the eleventh century, the Roman Catholic Church and Western European rulers organized armies to recapture the Holy Lands from the Islamic armies that had conquered them centuries earlier. From 1095 to 1292, nine crusades were launched. The Fourth Crusade, which began in 1202, had a disastrous effect on Constantinople and the Orthodox Church. Instead of proceeding to Jerusalem, the crusaders attacked Constantinople. In 1204, they sacked the city, including the Church of Hagia Sophia. Many religious treasures were stolen. Today, many are in museums throughout Europe, especially in Venice” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 17).

Meeting of January 1964

The meeting in 1964 between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, of blessed memory, was the first time in over five hundred years that a pope and a patriarch had met face to face. This meeting resulted in the lifting of the anathemas of 1054 “from the memory and midst of the Church” (Joint Declaration, 1965). Additionally, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I declared the hope that this dialogue, with God's help, “will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God" (Joint Declaration, 1965).

2001 and 2004

Relics of St. Gregory the Theologian

Regarding the Crusades and the sacking of Constantinople, “Pope John Paul II asked for forgiveness for the Roman Church’s sins against the Eastern Churches, expressing his ‘pain and disgust’ at the events. In 2004 - the 800th anniversary of the Fourth Crusade - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew accepted his apology for the Sack of Constantinople. He then asked the Pope to take another step forward: returning the relics of two Ecumenical Patriarchs, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, which had been stolen from their rightful place in Constantinople in 1204. The Pope gladly agreed, and the Ecumenical Patriarch accompanied the relics home on November 27, 2004, which we now celebrate as a feast day” (Department of Religious Education, 2011, p. 17).

May 2014

Fifty years after the meeting in 1964, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet in Jerusalem to commemorate the anniversary of the 1964 meeting and “further the relations between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches” (Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2014). His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated, “may it be in Jerusalem again where the light of peace, mutual trust, and brotherly love shines brightly, for the sake of our two Churches and the sake of the whole world” (Ecumenical Patriarchate, 2014).

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