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.

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