What I’m reading now

For those curious, I would like to recommend the book I am currently reading: The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge. Mr. Asbridge is a professor of medieval history at the University of London. I’m only about a third of the way through it, but so far, the book is very insightful on just how the First Crusade started and how the crusading fire swept through Europe. Here’s a link if you want to take a look or purchase it. FYI, this is for your benefit, I get nothing from Amazon.





Welcome Back

As many of you know, my wife and I adopted a baby girl back in May. Though we had been in the adoption process for three years, we never knew when we would get the call that a birth mom had chosen us. In less than twenty four hours we went from a family of three to four. With all the craziness that surrounded our new bundle of joy, something had to give which unfortunately was this blog. Things are finally a bit more stable now at home with baby Lia almost 5 months old. The blog will be in full swing next week with regular posts coming, hopefully two to three times each week. Much has happened over the summer within the Catholic Church, and we will get to all of it plus the history. Also, be on the lookout for website development in the next few months, as I hope to give the page a makeover.




A Quick Book Recommendation

As we navigate the waters of the Great Schism, I will post resources for our research and reading, and here is one. I have recently finished a book entitled “The Eastern Schism” by Sir Steven Runciman, a noted British historian. He did extensive research on the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades, and I relied on his books during my Masters’ degree. This particular book is not very difficult to read and covers the relations between the Eastern and Western churches in the 11th and 12th centuries. What I liked about his book is that it treats both churches fairly and does not take sides. It is a true exploration of the differences and difficulties that Christianity faced during these centuries. Being only 170 pages, it’s a quick read and, I highly recommend it.
Next up, I’m working on two books: “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware (now Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of the Eastern Orthodox Church) and Rome and the Eastern Churches by Aidan Nichols. O.P. (a Dominican Catholic priest who lectured at Oxford University). I’ll post thoughts on these as I finish them.
Next big post is coming soon on the actual framework of the Schism. Stay tuned!



You didn’t build that!

hg1So it seems as though the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria has a problem with Lego. You know, that little company from Germany that we either grew up building or that we currently buy our kids. My son must have every set of their Ninjago line in existence. The problem in Austria has to do with the Lego Star Wars set of Jabba the Hutt’s palace from Return of the Jedi. Now the Austrian Muslims have two issues, one being that Jabba uses a hookah and lives in a domed structure. Now I’m not going to delve into any issues of how Jabba the Hutt may compare to any kind of Muslim or person of Middle eastern descent, but I will take some issue with the Lego model of Jabba’s palace being compared to a mosque. The issue here is that the Austrian Muslims are basing this comparison primarily on the Hagia Sophia or Church of holy Wisdom in Istanbul, the city formerly known as Constantinople.

Here’s the rub, the Hagia Sophia was built by Christians for Christians. It was the first cathedral ever built. For nearly 1000 years it was the largest church in the world (eclipsed by the Seville Cathedral in 1520). The great church was the brainchild of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. There was a first Hagia Sophia which was completed in 360 AD. It was burned to the ground during a riot in Constantinople after St. John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople, was exiled due to a conflict with emperor Arcadius’ wife, Eudoxia. A second church was built by emperor Theodosius II in 415 AD, but it was also burned to the ground (along with many other buildings) in riots aimed at Justinian and his corrupt advisers. Although the rioters failed to usurp Justinian, his corrupt officials were dismissed. Viewing the smoking city, Justinian saw his chance to remake the city according to his vision.

What would follow would be the greatest church ever built to that point in human history. Trusting the work to two men, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, the cathedral was finished in just five years. Two teams of 5000 men were raced from each end. Upon entering the church for the first time, Justinian legendarily remarked: Solomon, I have surpassed thee. The Hagia Sophia became not only the center of Christendom but the beating heart of the empire as well. All emperors after Justinian, save one, would be crowned there. During dire times, the people of the city would look the great church for solace and inspiration. Protected by the great land walls that surrounded the city, the Hagia Sophia reigned over the empire until gunpowder and cannons found their way into the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The walls were finally breached on May 29, 1453. Three days later, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque. Its glorious mosaics were plastered over, and the altar removed.

In 1935, it was converted to a museum and by Turkish law, religious services or praying was outlawed. Regardless of what you call it, church, mosque or museum, the Hagia Sophia’s massive domes and revolutionized architecture, and inspired the onion domes of Russia and many a Islamic mosque. Any attempt by the Turkish Cultural Community or anyone else for that matter to claim the Hagia Sophia as a piece of Islamic construction is just plain wrong. If you want to someone to blame for any similarities, go see either George Lucas who created Star Wars or Disney who owns the franchise now. I don’t often find myself quoting President Barak Obama but in this case his words are spot on: Muslims, you didn’t build that. Christians did. It’s design has for sure been copied, but if anyone deserves to be upset at Lego, its the Greek Orthodox Church. They are the inheritors of Byzantium, and the history of their culture, liturgy, and in this case, their architecture.


A Picture Worth a Millennium of Words

Francis and Bartholomew 3What has become known as the Great Schism or the East-West Schism has plagued Christianity for better part of the last thousand years. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches have had at times a tumultuous relationship with such things as the Crusades, pride, arrogance, anger, excommunications and counter-excommunications preventing the Church from fully executing the Great Commission: spread the Word of Jesus and save souls. The simple fact that it has done what it has is a testament to the love and power of God and the tireless work of many a saint, priest, pope, and patriarch combined with the efforts of the common man. Christianity did indeed spread to the four corners of the Earth. Paganism was defeated in the Roman Empire and replaced with the Universal Church, established by Jesus and started by His apostles across the Mediterranean. Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and his opening of the imperial treasury facilitated the building of churches throughout the empire. The Great Sees were established: Rome and Antioch, founded by St. Peter, Alexandria, founded by St. Mark the Evangelist, Constantinople, founded by St. Andrew, and of course Jerusalem, elevated to Patriarchal status by the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the various Gothic barbarian invasions, the Papacy isolated from its fellow Patriarchs and influenced by the German invaders found itself somewhat on its own.
If you Google the Great Schism, you will see the date 1054, the date commonly used to designate the Schism. This date of course is just for convenience. The cause of the Schism lies in centuries worth of smaller but significant events over doctrine, dogma, and leadership that built up to Cardinal Humbert placing a bull of excommunication on the altar in the Hagia Sophia (even though he had no authority to do so). Relations, however, continued with the common man having no real concept of Schism. The final breach did not come until 1204 when the knights of the Fourth Crusade were somehow convinced to sack the Christian city of Zara on the Dalmatian coast and then the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. With this unimaginable act, relations between east and west were severed. The Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople continually excommunicated each other at times through just sheer habit. The Universal Church was split, perhaps for all time.
Then a funny thing happened. The Roman Catholic Church elected a the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, a little known man from Poland who became Pope John Paul II. He reorganized the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He traveled the world and became the first pope to visit an Orthodox country (Romania in 1999). He then apologized for the actions of the Fourth Crusade. Now another non-Italian Pope has been elected, and for the first time in history, the Patriarch of Constantinople was present to witness the event. During the installation Mass, they exchanged an embrace and met later on as well. Another step in the reunification taken. As we continue to explore the Great Schism and the current efforts of reunification, let us all pray for these two men, the Universal Church, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Front Page Mosaic

A quick word about the mosaic that adorns the website. In the center of course is the Virgin Mary with Jesus sitting on a throne. To their right is the Emperor Constantine the Great, founder and builder of Constantinople presenting a model of the city. To their left is the Emperor Justinian, builder of the Hagia Sophia, the first great cathedral of Christianity and essentially the beating heart of the Byzantine Empire. The symbolism in this mosaic is immense. As the liberator, defender, and promoter of Christianity, Constantine presents a model of what became the capital city of not only the Empire but also Christianity to Mary and Jesus. Constantinople became a fusion of Church and State with the seat of secular authority in the emperor’s palace next to the Hagia Sophia, the seat of one of the five original great Christian Sees, the Patriarch of Constantinople. This fusion is completed by Justinian on the left with the Hagia Sophia. His vision for the great church is evident today as the Hagia Sophia still stands. Every emperor after Justinian, save one, would be crowned there. Unfortunately, its status today is much like the hearts of men who have forgotten or put aside the love of Christ, as the Hagia Sophia is now a museum. This mosaic lives on reminding us not only of the ancient union between the Church and State but also between the ever present synthesis of Christ in our daily life regardless of who we are, what we do, or where we go. As we will explore the reasons behind and pray for the eventual end to the Great Schism, this mosaic will continue to serve as our backdrop, a reminder of better times that will hopefully come again soon.

The Beginning

This project has taken fours years to finally get off the ground but here we are at launch date. As I was working on my Masters’ degree in Roman and Byzantine History, I kept coming back to a few key concepts and thoughts, the main one being the Great Schism that divided the eastern and western halves of the Church. I had of course learned of the Schism in middle school but looking back the class barely skimmed the surface of the murky depths of this unfortunate situation. I found myself wanting to learn more and discover why this separation still exists. As a Roman Catholic, I began to explore the eastern half of a church that once presented a unified front against the forces of evil and darkness. I attended my first Divine Liturgy at a Greek Orthodox Church and then a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. I discovered another part of the soul that is the Universal Church. I met a long lost brother who is part of my heritage as not just a Catholic but as a Christian. I found the other part of the Church commissioned by Jesus Christ. The two sides have stood the test of time just not together. Hopefully that will change….and soon.

My original thought for the first post changed with the election of Pope Francis. I had decided to discuss the basic history of the Schism and some of the factors and events that led to the split but this new Pope changed that. I still plan to do that and more but this post is the day before Pope Francis’ installation Mass in Rome. Normally, an installation Mass for a new Pope would not conflict with the discussion of the Schism, but this one will be different. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will attend the installation Mass. His attendance will be the first time a Patriarch from Constantinople will attend such an event since before the Great Schism occurred. The generally accepted date for the Schism is 1054. Of course, no singular event defines the Schism, but historians have to pick dates for things. What this means is that we will have the opportunity to see something that has not happened in about 1000 years. I’ve done some research and can’t exactly pin down when the last time a Patriarch attended an installation Mass for a Pope. I don’t know if Patriarch Bartholomew knows. Now he’s been to the Vatican before, but not for an event of this magnitude. Also, we are not that for off from a Pope visiting an Eastern Orthodox country (John Paul II in 1999, Romania), so the visit by Bartholomew I is extraordinary. The Patriarch should be congratulated for his courage to attend. I am sure there will be some Orthodox (probably on Mount Athos) who will not agree with this decision. Added to his attendance is that fact that Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Borgoglio, was mentored by a Greek Catholic priest. According to news reports, Greek will be spoken during part of the Mass. What a wonderful opportunity to heal some wounds and further the efforts of reunification. The time for hatred, accusations, and shame is past. It is time for the Church to reunify. For sure there will be difficulties ahead. There is much to debate. Economy, good will and compromise will be necessary. My wife recently said that there are amazing things at work in the spiritual world. As usual, she is right, and tomorrow the world will get a glimpse of the just how amazing the spiritual world is. While reunification may not happen tomorrow, another step will be taken. Whatever happens, we will talk about it here, as well as the past and explore the beginning and hopefully the end of the Great Schism.