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.