Orthodox Church History

History by the Century

Christian Church History: Important Events and Envelopments:

Below are links for each century of the Orthodox Christian Church. This church history emphasizes the main theological, liturgical and spiritual developments of each century. This index by century outlines important events which have played key roles in the course of the history of Orthodox Christianity. A better understanding of Orthodox Christian church history will aid in understanding the nature of the Orthodox Church today. Please click on a link below to begin:

The first century of the Christian era begins with the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. Christ lived, died, rose again and ascended into heaven in the first century. This time also witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples on the feast of Pentecost, the event which is often called the birthday of the Church. In the first century, the apostles preached the Gospel of Christ. We do not know exactly where the apostles travelled, with the exception of Saint Paul whose missionary journeys are recorded in the book of Acts. According to Tradition, all of the apostles were universal preachers of the Gospel, who, with the exception of Saint John, were killed for their faith in Christ.

The gospels and epistles and all of the books which comprise the New Testament scriptures were written in the first century. Also at this time, the first Christian communities were established in the main cities of Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly in North Africa. The Church was also established in the capital city of Rome.

The Church

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the Christian Church was first an urban phenomenon which only later spread to the rural areas. Also, it was composed mainly of people from what we would call today the “middle classes” of society. Thus, it is not true that Christianity gained its foothold in the world in uneducated and backward people who were looking for heavenly consolation in the face of oppressive and unbearable earthly conditions.

The main event of the Church of the first century was the admittance of gentiles into the Church who were not obliged to follow the ritual requirements of the Mosaic law. (See Acts 15, Galatians, Romans) Thus, although the Christian Church entered Roman imperial society “under the veil” of Judaism, it was quickly separated from the Jewish faith as the People of God called from all the nations, those who were united in Christ the Messiah, Who was confessed as the Lord and Savior of all men and the whole world. The requirements for entry into the Christian Church w ere faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, repentance from sin, and baptism in Jesus’ name with the subsequent reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those who fulfilled these requirements entered the Church which was founded in each place as a local community led by those called bishops or presbyters who received the laying-on-of-hands from the apostles. The apostles themselves were not local bishops of any particular Christian community in any place.

Each of the early Christian communities that we know about had its own unique character, and its own unique problems, as we see in the New Testament documents. Generally speaking, however, each church had great concern for the others and were all called to teach the same doctrines and to practice the same virtues, living the same life in Christ and the Holy Spirit:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, and communion, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.

And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:42, 44)

This description of the Church in Jerusalem can generally be applied to all of the early Christian communities.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The second century saw the further development of the Christian faith, and the greater persecution of the Church by the Roman imperial authorities, for whom Christianity was an “illegal religion.” The Christians were criminals in the eyes of the Romans, not only religiously, but politically. They transgressed the laws of the state because they refused to honor the earthly emperor as king, lord, and god. which was required of them as members of imperial society. They prayed for the civil authorities and gave “honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:1-7), but they refused to give the earthly king the glory and worship which was due to God, and to His Christ, alone. Thus the Roman law declared: It is not lawful to be a Christian.

One of the first witnesses to the Christians which we have in secular writing is found in the second century correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the Emperor Trajan, who ruled from 98-117. This correspondence reveals that Christianity was indeed proscribed, and that though Christians should not be sought out and were innocent of the gross charges against them, such as the sacrifice of children and the eating of human flesh (a misunderstanding of the eucharist which was conducted in “secret meetings”), the Christians nevertheless were to be executed if. when seized, they refused to give up their faith.

The persecution of the Christians in the second century was largely local, conducted according to the zeal of the local imperial authorities. Nevertheless, the persecutions were widespread and the Christians were generally hated even by the most tolerant and openminded of the Roman rulers. They were hated mostly for what was considered their stubbornness and intolerance due to their exclusive devotion to Christ as Lord. They were persecuted also for what was considered to be the political danger which they wrought to the unity of law and order in the imperial reign, particularly because of the increasing number of persons who were joining the Church.

Among the most famous of the Christian leaders and martyrs of the second century were the bishops Ignatius of Antioch (d.c. 110) and Polycarp of Smyrna d. 156), and the philosopher Justin (d.c. 165). Each of these men who were killed for the faith left writings which, together with the Didache, the Letter to Diognetus, the letters of Clement of Rome, the Letter of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hernias and the ipologetic writings of such men as Athenagoras of Athens, Melito of Sardis, Theophilus of Antioch and the greatest of the second century theologians, Irenaeus of Lyons, all give a very vivid picture of the raith and life of the second century of the Church.

Defense of the Faith: Apologists

The most important developments in the second century, in addition to the persecutions and the growth of Church membership, were the defenses of the Christian faith against the false teachings, the so-called apologies against the Christian heresies as well as against Judaism and paganism. There was also the development of Church doctrine and the beginnings of post-apostolic theology; the establishment of the same basic church order in each local community led by its bishop, presbyters and deacons; the first foundations of the Christian liturgy and sacramental life completely separated from the Jewish synagogue; and the beginnings of the establishment of the canon of the holy scriptures of the New Testament Church.

At the end of the first century and at the beginning of the second century, many false writings about Christ were produced. These were the so-called apocryphal writings (not to be confused with the Old Testament apocrypha), the so-called pseudoepigrapha. These false writings carried the names of the apostles and introduced into Christian circles many fanciful and legendary stories about the childhood of Christ, the life of the Virgin Mary and the activities of the apostles.

Together with the pseudoepigrapha, there also appeared the false teachings of gnosticism, the Christian heresy which transformed Christianity into a kind of spiritualistic, dualistic, intellectualistic philosophy. The genuine Christians of the Orthodox faith had to contend with these false teachings. The result of their struggle was the production of the theology of the apologists, that is, those who defended the true faith and the original gospel of Christ. The result also was the teaching of apostolic succession in the Church, the doctrine that the genuine faith and life of Christianity is passed over from church to church, from generation to generation and from place to place, through the succession of the Holy Tradition of the Church in the consecration of bishops, whose teachings and practice is identical to each other and to that of the apostles of Jesus.

Another result was that the Church began firmly to establish exactly which writings belong to the holy scripture of the Church and which do not, their decision being based on the genuine apostolic testimony contained in the writings, and their use in the Church at the liturgical gatherings.

Church Order and Liturgy

In the writings of the second century apologists, martyrs, and saints, it is seen that each local Christian Church was headed by one bishop who presided over the Church which was administered by the presbyters or elders, and served by the deacons. Thus Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes in his letters:

“I exhort you to strive to do all things in harmony with God: the bishop is to preside in the place of God, while the presbyters are to function as the council of the apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, are entrusted with the ministry (i.e., good works) of Jesus Christ.” (Letter to Magnesians 6, 1)

“Take care, then, to partake of one Eucharist; for one is the Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one the cup to unite us with His Blood, and one altar, just as there is one bishop assisted by the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants.” (Letter to Philadelphians 4)

“Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Letter to Smyrneans 8, 2)

Saint Ignatius was the first to use the term catholic to describe the Church. It is an adjective of quality that tells how the Church is, namely, full, perfect, complete, whole, with nothing lacking in it of the fulness of the grace, truth and holiness of God.

In the Didache and the Apologies of Saint Justin and Saint Irenaeus, there are also descriptions of the Christian sacraments:

“Baptize as follows: after explaining all of these points, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in running water . . .” (Didache 7, 1)

“Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those who are baptized in the name of the Lord . . .” (Didache 9)

“On the Lord’s own Day, assemble in common to break bread and give thanks (i.e., the eucha-rist, which means thanksgiving); but first confess your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarelling with his brother may join your assembly until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled.” (Didache 14)

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The Christian Church lived in relative peace from the death of Marcus Aurelius (185) to the time of the Emperor Decius (249). When Decius came to power, he inaugurated a universal persecution of Christians throughout the whole empire. The persecutions by Decius were continued in force by Valerian (253-260). During this time, not only were the Christians forced to sacrifice to the imperial gods, but the clergy were sought out to be killed and all Christian properties were to be confiscated and destroyed. There was an all-out attempt to purge the Church of its leadership and to destroy it completely.

After Valerian, however, Gallienus, his son, stopped the policy of general persecution and the Christians once more lived in relative peace until the end of the century. During this period, there was an astounding growth in Church membership which perhaps reached up to ten percent of the population of the empire.

The Lapsed

The persecutions by Decius and Valerian, as well as the peaceful times which preceded and followed, brought a great interior crisis to the Christian Church in the third century. The question arose about what to do with those Christians who denied Christ under the threat of torture and execution, and who lapsed from Christian life into sin in times of peace. The maximalists in the Church urged that there could be no repentance for grave sins committed after baptism. They denied repentance to those who “lapsed” from the Christian life and opposed the bishops who agreed to allow the repentance and readmittance of sinners to Holy Communion after periods of penance. Thus, there were a number of schisms in the Church which caused some people to leave the Church for what they considered to be a more pure and rigorous form of Christianity. Among those who left was Tertullian d.c. 220), the great father of Latin theology in North Africa, and a prolific writer of Christian treatises of every kind. Tertullian joined the heretical movement of Montanus which began in the end of the second century and claimed to be the church of the “new prophecy” of the Holy Spirit which was more perfect than that of the “second testament” of Christ.

The great defender of the Catholic Church at this time was Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (d. 258), who nimself died a martyr’s death after opposing the so-called “pure” Church of Novatian in Rome which opposed the reintegration of the “lapsed” into the communion of the Church. Although a great reader of the theology of Tertullian, Cyprian defended the Catholic Church of the apostolic and episcopal succession against the spiritualistic “pure” churches of the self-styled maximalists. He insisted that the Church, as Christ, exists to save sinners and that “outside of the Church there is no salvation.” (Letter 73):

“Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church . . .? This unity we ought to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopacy to be one and undivided . . . The episcopate is one, each part of which is held wholly by each one. The Church also is one . . .” (On the Unity of the Church 4, 5)

“It is not possible to have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.” (On the Unity of the Church 6)

“He is not a Christian who is not in the Church of Christ.” (Letter 55)

Development of Theology

The third century also witnessed the emergence of the first formal school of Christian theology. It was located in Egypt, in Alexandria, founded by Pantaenus, developed by Clement (d.c. 215), and crowned by the outstanding theologian and scholar Origen (d. 253). Whereas Tertullian, the father of Latin theology, absolutely rejected any alliance between “Athens” and “Jerusalem,” that is, between pagan philosophy and Christian revelation, the Alexandrians insisted that Greek philosophy was a sound preparation for the Christian Gospel and that the truths of the pagans could be and should be united to and fulfilled in the truths of the Christian faith. Thus, Origen wrote to his disciple Saint Gregory the Wonderworker:

“I desire you to take from Greek philosophy those spheres of knowledge which are potentially an introduction to Christianity, and whatever information from geometry and astronomy may serve to explain the sacred books . . .”

The work of Origen was phenomenal. He wrote numberless treatises on many themes. He did the first truly systematic and literary studies of the books of the Bible. His work laid the foundation for virtually all subsequent Greek theology in the Church. Much of the teaching of Origen was judged by the Church to be false, however, and, because of its persistence among his disciples, its author was formally condemned by the fifth ecumenical council in the year 553.

Among the theologians of the third century who must be mentioned with Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement and Origen are Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 265). Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235), Gregory the Wonderworker in Cappodocia (d.c. 270) and Methodius of Olympus (d. 311). All of these men developed Orthodox Christian theology, and particularly laid the foundation for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which would cause such controversy in the fourth century. Paul of Samosata and Lucian of Antioch also lived at the end of the third century and are known for their “heretical teachings concerning the Trinitarian character of God.

Liturgical Development

Writings also exist from the third century which give an insight into the canonical and liturgical life of the Church of this time. These are the so-called Teachings of the Apostles from Syria, and the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) who wrote in Greek. The former gives regulations concerning the hierarchal offices and the sacramental practices in the Church of Syria, and describes the liturgical assembly. The latter also gives similar information, in a more engthy and detailed way about the Church in Rome. It contains the text of the oldest fixed eucharistic prayer in Church history that we possess, as well as the form for the sacraments of baptism, chrismation and ordination.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York


The fourth century began with the greatest persecution ever waged against the early Church, that of the emperor Diocletian. The longest list of early martyrs comes from this period. After Diocletian’s abdication, a power struggle developed among the imperial leaders. In 312, Constantine engaged in battle with his main contender for the western throne, Maxentius. Before the battle of the Milvian bridge near Rome, Constantine had a vision, perhaps in a dream. He saw the Cross or Labarum (Chi Rho: XP) of Christ with the words, “In this sign, conquer.” He placed the Christian symbol on his troop’s tunics and weapons, and they won the battle. Constantine quickly moved to grant freedom to Christians to practice their faith in the empire, and also showed his own preference for Christianity by giving a number of privileges and advantages to the Church. Before Constantine died he built a city in the ancient site of Byzantium for his new imperial capital – a city named Constantinople, in his honor. Constantine himself was baptized only on his deathbed in 337. Together with his mother, Helen, who recovered the True Cross of Christ in Jerusalem, Constantine is recognized a saint of the Church. Christianity became the official religion of the empire in 380 by decree of the emperor Theodosius.

Inner Struggles

During Constantine’s time, the Church recovered its property and was free from external persecution. Inner troubles immediately arose, however, to disturb the peace. First, there was the Donatist Schism in North Africa. The schism is so-called for Donatus, the principal theologian of a group that rejected the regularly elected bishop of Carthage on the grounds that one of the bishops who participated in his consecration had shown weakness in the time of persecution. Instead of forcing the Church to solve its own problems, Constantine intervened in the controversy. First, he sided with the Donatists, then he sided with their opposers, using imperial power to enforce his decisions. The schism resulted in the ultimate destruction of the once glorious Church in North Africa, and established the precedent of imperial intervention in Church affairs.

The Arian controversy then arose. Arius, an Alexandrian priest, taught that the Divine Logos, the Word of God Who became man – Jesus Christ – is not the divine Son of God. He was merely a creature like everything else created out of nothing by God. According to Arius, God is not the uncreated Holy Trinity. God is the Father, the Creator, alone. God the Father created His Logos or Word or Son as the first and greatest of His creatures. This Logos, Who may be called divine only in a manner of speaking, is God’s instrument for the salvation of the world, being born as the man Jesus. Thus Jesus Christ is not the uncreated, divine Son of God having exactly the same uncreated divinity as God the Father. He is a creature, as is the Holy Spirit. God is not the Holy Trinity.

The First Ecumenical Council

The controversy raised by the teaching of the Arians was brought to the decision of the whole Church at the Council which Constantine called in Nicea in 325. This council, known as the First Ecumenical Council, decreed that the Logos, Word and Son of God is uncreated and divine. He is begotten – that is, born or generated – from the Father, and not made or created by Him. He is of one essence with the Father (homoousios). He is True God of True God, the Word of God by Whom all things were made. It is this uncreated, only-begotten divine Son of God Who became man from the Virgin Mary as Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

The Second Ecumenical Council

The decision of the Nicene Council was not universally accepted in the Church for a long time. The controversy raged for many decades. Numerous councils were held in different places which formulated various statements of faith. The Arian party gained imperial support and the defenders of the Nicene faith were greatly persecuted. The troubles persisted until 381 when, at a council in Constantinople, known now as the Second Ecumenical Council, the original decision of Nicea was reaffirmed and the divinity of the Holy Spirit was proclaimed. The combined statement of these two councils comprises the Symbol of Faith, the Creed of the Orthodox Church.

The Fathers of the Church

The great defenders of Nicene Orthodoxy were Saint Athanasius the Great, bishop of Alexandria (d. 373) and the Cappadocian bishops, Saint Basil the Great (d. 379), his brother Saint Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), and their friend Saint Gregory Nazianzen the Theologian (d. 389). These fathers of the Church taught and explained the true Christian faith, suffering greatly for their defense of the central doctrine of Orthodox Christianity, that God is the Most Holy Trinity: three uncreated and divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in one and the same uncreated, divine nature.

The Councils of the Church

The Council of Nicea also made a number of canons concerning the order and discipline of the Church. These canons confirmed the primacy of the Church of Rome in the West, Alexandria in Africa, and Antioch in the East (Canon 6), and the recognition of the dignity of the Church in Jerusalem (Canon 7). The council prohibited the practice of penitential kneeling at the Church’s Sunday liturgy (Canon 20). The Council of Constantinople also produced canons, one of which stated that “the bishop of Constantinople shall have the prerogative of honor after the bishop of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome.” (Canon 3)

Liturgical Development

The fourth century witnessed a number of liturgical developments. During this time, the eucharistic prayers of the divine liturgies, named after Saint Basil the Great and Saint John Chrysostom (d. 407) were substantially formulated. The catechetical sermons of Saint John Chrysostom together with those of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) show that the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation were being celebrated in the fourth century almost exactly as they are done in the Orthodox Church today. By this time, the 40 Day Lent and the Easter Feast were well established. The Nativity of Christ was separated from the feast of Epiphany or Theophany, thus becoming a separate feast of the church to offset the pagan festival of the Sun which was celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December.

Monastic Life

The fourth century also saw the flourishing of monastic life in Egypt – led by Saint Anthony the Great (d. 356) – in Syria, and in the West. Among the monastic saints of this period were Paul of Thebes, Pachomius, Hilarion, Sabbas, Macarius of Egypt, Epiphanius of Cyprus, and Ephraim of Syria. Among the monastic saints in the West were Jerome, John Cassian, and Martin of Tours. The famous bishop saints of the fourth century were Saint Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, Saint Spyridon Trimunthys, and Saint Ambrose of Milan.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Inner Struggles

At the beginning of the fifth century when Alexandria and Constantinople were feuding over their respective positions in the Church and in the empire, Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, made known his refusal to honor Mary, Christ’s mother, with the traditional title of Theotokos. He claimed that the one born from Mary is merely the “man” in whom the eternal Logos of God came to dwell, but not the Logos Himself. Thus, Mary could not properly be called Theotokos, which means the one who gave birth to God. Saint Cyril, the bishop of Alexandria (d. 444), forcefully rejected the teaching of Nestorius, claiming that it is proper to call Mary Theotokos since the one born from her, “according to the flesh,” is none other than the divine Logos of God. The only-begotten Son of God was “begotten of the Father before all ages” coming down from Heaven for man’s salvation, being born in the flesh, and becoming man from the Virgin. Thus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary is one and the same Son.

The Third Ecumenical Council

Nestorius and his followers refused to yield to Saint Cyril’s appeals for repentance. Thus, in 431, in the city of Ephesus, a small group of bishops under Saint Cyril’s direct control held a council to affirm the Alexandrian doctrine and to reject that of Nestorius. The decisions of this meeting were formally recognized in 433 by the Eastern bishops who had not been present. The Council of 431 subsequently became known as the Third Ecumenical Council.

The Robber Council

Again the decisions of this council were not immediately accepted. Controversy over the issue in question continued to rage. Saint Cyril and the majority of the Eastern bishops – who were inclined to oppose his teaching because of their fear that it did not adequately express the genuine humanity of Jesus – were able to come to a common understanding. After his death, however, Cyril’s fanatical followers again broke with the bishops of Constantinople and the East. In 449, a large number of bishops who considered themselves faithful to Saint Cyril’s position, held another council in Ephesus. This council came to be known as the latrocinium or robber council. It formulated a doctrine about the person and nature of Christ which so stressed the Lord’s divinity that His humanity all but completely disappeared. Thus, confusion and division continued to exist among Christians.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council

In 451, another council was called, this time in the city of Chalcedon, to solve the problem of the doctrine of Christ. This council, now recognized in the Church as the Fourth Ecumenical Council, succeeded in defending the teaching of Saint Cyril and the Ephesian Council of 431. It also satisfied the demands of the Eastern bishops that the genuine humanity of Jesus would be clearly confessed. In its definition, the Council of Chalcedon closely followed the teaching, formulated in a letter, of Pope Saint Leo of Rome.

The Chalcedonian definition states that Jesus Christ is indeed the Logos incarnate, the very Son of God “born of the Father before all ages.” It affirms that the Virgin Mary is truly Theotokos since the one born from her “according to the flesh” in Bethlehem, is the uncreated, divine Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity. In His human birth, the Council declared, the Word of God took to Himself the whole of humanity, becoming a real man in every way, but without sin. Thus, according to the Chalcedonian definition, Jesus of Nazareth is one person or hypostasis in two natures – human and divine. He is fully human. He is fully divine. He is perfect God and perfect man. As God, He is “of one essence” (homoousios) with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. As man, He is “of one essence” (homoousios) with all human beings.

The union of divinity and humanity in Christ is called the hypostatic union. This expression means that in the one, unique person of Christ, divinity and humanity are united in such a way that they are neither mixed together and confused, nor separated and divided. Christ is one person Who is both human and divine. The Son of God and the Son of Mary is one and the same person.

The Monophysites

The decision of the Council of Chalcedon was not accepted by the extreme disciples of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, nor by those who came to be associated with them. These Christians, called monophysites, rejected the Chalcedonian Council on the basis that the council spoke of two natures, thus rejecting the old formula of Saint Cyril which claimed that in His incarnation, Christ has but one nature. The supporters of the Chalcedonian decision claimed and still claim that though their words are different from those of the holy father, their doctrine is exactly the same and is simply expressed with greater precision. The disagreement was never settled, however, and although many attempts at reunion were made in the fifth and sixth centuries – and again in recent years – the dissenters from the Chalcedonian decision remain separated from the Orthodox Church.

Today, the so-called monophysite Christians are in the Coptic Church of Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Jacobite Church, the Syrian Church of India, and the Armenian Church. These churches are often called the Lesser Eastern Churches or the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The Councils

The Third and Fourth Ecumenical Councils made a number of canons of a disciplinary and practical nature. The Council of Ephesus forbade the composition of a “different faith” from that of the first two councils (Canon 7). This canon has been used by the Orthodox in opposition to the addition of the word filioque to the Creed as it came to be used in the Western Churches. The Council of Chalcedon gave to Constantinople, the New Rome, “equal privileges with the old imperial Rome” because the new capital city was “honored with the emperor and the senate” (Canon 28).

The West

The fifth century witnessed the decline of the Christian empire in the West with the fall of Rome to the barbarians. The inception of the Western dark ages followed quickly after the death of a man whose voluminous and highly debated writings exercised the greatest single influence in Western Christianity, both Roman and Reformed: Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (d. 430).

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Emperor Justinian I and the Monophysites

The sixth century of Orthodox Church history in the East was dominated by the person and policies of the Emperor Justinian 1 (527-65). Justinian understood the relationship between the Church and the state to be one of unity and cooperation between the priesthood (which “concerns things divine”) and the empire (which “presides over morals”). His goals were to regain the western part of his empire from the barbarian invaders, and to win back the monophysites to the Orthodox faith of the Council of Chalcedon. He hoped to reunite completely the one Church and empire. Justinian accomplished his first goal by the efforts of his armies which were led by the general Belisarius. He failed in his second goal, although his attempts were bold and persistent.

Justinian’s main attempt to win back the monophysites to the Orthodox Church was through the official condemnation of three theologians whom the supporters of the Council of Chalcedon generally favored, but whom the opponents of Chalcedon despised. By imperial decree in 544, and by decision of a council held in 553 (traditionally referred to as the Second Council of Constantinople and the Fifth Ecumenical Council) Justinian formally condemned the so-called Three Chapters. These were the objectionable writings of Theodoret of Cyr and lbas of Edessa, and the writings and the person of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

The condemnation of the Three Chapters displeased the strict supporters of the Chalcedonian Council. They did not agree with the wrong and ambiguous Doctrines of these three theologians, but they did not see any reason for their condemnation. Justinian’s efforts to appease the monophysite opponents of Chalcedonian Orthodoxy through the condemnation of the Three Chapters was ultimately fruitless. The measure did not convince the dissenters to reunite with the Church or the Empire.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council

In addition to rejecting the unorthodox and ambiguous teachings of the Three Chapters, the Fifth Ecumenical Council carefully clarified the Orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Christ. In a long series of statements, the Council affirmed, without ambiguity, the traditional Orthodox faith that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “one of the Holy Trinity,” one and the same divine person (hypostasis) Who has united personally (hypostatically) in Himself the two natures of God and man, without fusing them together and without allowing their separation in any way.

The Fifth Council also officially condemned the teachings of Origen (d.254) and his sixth-century disciples who taught and practiced a “spiritualistic” version of Christianity which held many unorthodox doctrines. They taught that Christ was the only created spirit who did not become material through sin; that men’s souls were pre-existent spirits; and that all creation will ultimately be saved through its spiritualization by God in Christ the Savior.

Emperor Justinian I and Reform

Justinian’s reign also saw a concerted attack against the remnants of Hellenistic paganism in the empire. The University of Athens was closed in 529 and exclusively Christian learning and culture was promoted. Justinian built many Church buildings in the imperial city and throughout the empire, particularly in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and on Mount Sinai in Egypt. His greatest creation was the temple dedicated to Christ the Wisdom of God in Constantinople – the magnificent Church of the Hagia Sophia. Iconography, engraving and mosaic work flourished during this time. The basilicas of Ravenna, the seat of the imperial authority in the West during the barbarian conquests, were built.

Liturgical Development

Many liturgical hymns were written, including the Christmas Kontakion and songs by Saint Romanos the Hymnographer (d.510). The emperor, Justinian, himself wrote the hymn Only-begotten Son, which is still sung at the synaxis of the divine liturgies in the Orthodox Church.

The sixth century witnessed a certain establishment and stabilization of liturgical worship throughout the Eastern Christian world, particularly because the liturgical practices of the imperial city of Constantinople were being accepted by other cities throughout the empire. The Church of Constantinople began to use certain liturgical feasts already in use in the Palestinian centers of Church life. These feasts were the Nativity and the Dormition of the Theotokos and the Presentation of Christ to the Temple. It is likely that the feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated in Constantinople by this time.

In addition to the festal celebrations of the capital city which spread throughout the empire, such elements as the formal liturgical entrances, and the chanting of the Trisagion and the Creed in the divine liturgy of the Church were added. The convergence of several factors caused numerous changes in the Church’s liturgical ritual and piety. These factors were the rise of the Constantinopolitan Church as the model for other churches; the development of the imperial churchly ritual; the appearance of the mystical theology of the writings under the name of Dionysius the Aeropagite; and the attempts of the imperial powers to pacify the monophysites.

At this time the practices of the Church of Constantinople were combined with the original Jewish-Christian worship of the early Church, the rule of prayer which had developed in the Christian monasteries, and the liturgical practices of the Church in Jerusalem, to form the first great synthesis of liturgical worship in Orthodox history.

Five Patriarchates

In the sixth century, Constantinople, at least in the minds of Eastern Christians, was firmly established as the primary see in the Christian pentarchy, which Justinian called the “five senses of the universe”: Con- stantinople, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The title ecumenical was given to all the chief offices in the imperial city. When John the Faster (528-95), the bishop of Constantinople, assumed the title of ecumenical patriarchate, the designation was forcefully opposed by Pope Saint Gregory the Great of Rome (590-604) as unbecoming of a Christian pastor. It is this same Saint Gregory whose name is traditionally connected with the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts which the Orthodox celebrate on the weekdays of Great Lent.

The West

In the West, in addition to Saint Gregory, the bishop of Rome who was a theologian and pastor of saintly reputation, was Saint Benedict of Nursia (c.480-542) whose monastic disciples were to have great influence on the subsequent history of the Western Church. Among the saints of this century, mention must be made of Saint Columba and Saint Augustine of Canterbury, the contemporaries of Saint Gregory. These men were the most famous of the missionaries in Western Europe, England, and Ireland who labored among the barbarian tribes.

In Spain, in the sixth century, the word filioque was added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This action, which was done to stress the divinity of Christ to the invading barbarians – who were Arians – was destined to have grave consequences in later Church history.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York.

Dionysius the Areopagite

The theological writings which appeared in the sixth century under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite were generally accepted by both the defenders and the dissenters of the doctrines of the fourth and fifth ecumenical councils. These writings had great influence on the liturgical piety of the Church through their symbolical explanations of the rituals of worship. They presented a mystical theology which stressed the absolute incomprehensibility of God, and His absolute “otherness” from everything else which exists in His divine creation. They did, however, contain a doctrine concerning Christ which caused grave difficulties in the seventh century.

The Dionysian writings contained the teaching that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, had one theandric will and action which completely combined the two distinct activities and operations of His divine and human natures. This doctrine was called monothelitism (which means that Christ had only one divine-human will), or monergism (which means that Christ had only one divine-human action, operation or energy). It was eagerly accepted by those who thought that this doctrinal formulation would finally solve the problem of the division of the monophysites, and reunite them to the Church.

The monophysites did, in fact, deeply appreciate the teachings of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings. The anonymous author of these works was himself most likely a monophysite. In spite of this, the expected reunion of those who were divided from the Church since the middle of the fifth century did not come. The reason why it did not come was the fierce opposition to the doctrine of the one theandric will and action in Christ by Saint Maximus the Confessor (d.662) and Pope Saint Martin of Rome (d.655).

Saint Maximus the Confessor and Saint Martin

Both these men, together with their staunch supporters, insisted that Jesus Christ must have two distinct and separate wills and actions, just as He has two distinct and separate natures in one person. The Holy Fathers insisted there is one Son of God Who is one Son of Mary, but this one Son wills and acts distinctly as God and as man.

Christ has the fullness of the divine will, energy, action, operation, and power which is the same as that of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ also has the fullness of the human will, energy, action, operation, and power which is the same as that of every other human being. Salvation consists in the fact that Jesus Christ, being a true human, freely and voluntarily submitted his human will (which is exactly the same human will that all men have) to His divine will (which is the will of God). Thus the divine Son of God became a real man with a real human will so that as a real man He could “fulfill all righteousness” in perfect, voluntary obedience to His Father. It is through His genuinely human action that Jesus Christ frees all men from sin and death as the New and Final Adam.

Saint Maximus and Saint Martin suffered greatly for opposing the monothelyte position. They were imprisoned, tortured, and mutilated by the imperial powers who wanted badly to use monothelytism as a way to reunion with the monophysites.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council

Ultimately, however, the doctrine of these saints prevailed. The Third Council of Constantinople, known as the Sixth Ecumenical Council, held in 680-681, officially verified their teaching and formally condemned both Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople and Pope Honorius of Rome, together with all who defended the false doctrine about Jesus that deprived Him of His genuine humanity.

Theological Writings

Saint Maxiinus the Confessor wrote also on spiritual and ascetical themes. His contemporary in Egypt, Saint John Climacus (d.649), abbot of the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai, wrote the classical work on the spiritual life, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Saint Andrew of Crete wrote his penitential canon in the seventh century which is still read in the Orthodox Church during Great Lent.

The Birth of Islam

The seventh century also witnessed the birth of Islam by the prophet Mohammed, who initiated the Moslem era by his flight to Mecca in 622. The followers of this new religion lost no time in attacking the Christian empire in both East and West, causing further difficulties for the Eastern Byzantines who were already at war with the Persians. It was during the Persian War that the emperor Heraclius recovered the true Cross from the armies who seized it, and brought it to Constantinople. This action marked the celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross throughout the Christian Empire. Until the thirties of the seventh century, a special day in September for the veneration of the Cross was observed only in Jerusalem.

The Quinisext Council or The Council of Trullo

At the end of the seventh century, most likely in 692, a council was held in Constantinople, in the dome room of a palace called Trullo, which made 102 canonical regulations. These canons, some of which were previously included in Justinian’s civil legislation, are called the canons of the Quinisext council which means that they are taken as the canonical rulings of the fifth and sixth ecumenical councils which issued no canonical decrees.

The council of Trullo also put into formal church law some of the early practices of the Church which had no official regulatory expression. For example, these canons formalized the rule according to which married men may be ordained to the diaconate and the presbyterate (priesthood) retaining their wives, but that already ordained deacons and priests may not marry. The council reinforced the law dating from Justinian’s time that only celibates, normally taken from among the monks, may serve in the office of the bishop. This council also set the ages for ordination, and reaffirmed the traditional churchly discipline regarding the clergy, such as their strict exclusion from direct participation in the political, military, and economic affairs of this world.

Liturgical Development

The canons of the Trultan Council clearly decreed that a 40 day period of fasting should preceed Easter, on the week days of which the eucharistic divine liturgy should not be celebrated, but that the liturgy of the presanctified gifts be served (Canon 52). It called for Christians to honor Christ’s resurrection by refraining from penitential kneeling on Sundays (Canon 90). This council forbade laymen from entering the sanctuary of the Church building, and forbid the sacramental marriage of Orthodox Christians with non-Orthodox (Canons 69, 72). It enjoined those who sing in Church to refrain from “undisciplined vociferations” and from using “any melodies which are incongruous and unsuitable for the Church” (Canon 75). It called for the excommunication of people, who for no good reason, miss the liturgy “three consecutive Sundays” (Canon 80). Finally, it called for the “penalty of murder” for those who “give drugs for procuring abortion and those who take them to kill the fetus” (Canon 91).

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The Icon Debate

In the eighth century the Isaurian rulers Leo III (717-741) and Constantine V (741-775) in the East attempted to subject the Church to their rule. The latter even dared to call himself “emperor and priest.” In order to gain control of the Church these two emperors viciously attacked the zealous Christians, especially the monks, who defended the integrity of the Church. The attack took the form of a fierce persecution against those who venerated the icons. The subject of the attack was well placed because there really existed an exaggerated veneration of icons among the pious people which truly bordered on idolatry and paganism.

A council held in 753 formally condemned the veneration of icons by Christians. It called for the removal of all images from the churches, public buildings’ and homes of the people. This council was not only a political move by the rulers to gain authority over the Church, but it showed a reasoned and well skilled argumentation against icon veneration. The basis of the position of the council was taken primarily from the biblical teaching that God is invisible, therefore visible, graven images are not to be made and adored by true believers. It is probable that this argumentation was inspired by close contact with the Moslems who were fanatically strict on these very points.

The bishops of the Church were under strong imperial pressure to condemn officially the veneration of icons. When they did, a vicious persecution of those who continued to keep and to venerate the holy images immediately followed. The time between 762 and 775 is known as the “decade of blood” since hundreds of Christians, mostly monks, were imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for harboring and honoring icons.

The Seventh Ecumenical Council

In 787, during the reign of the Empress Irene (780- 802), who favored icon veneration, a council was held in Nicea which defined the legitimate and proper use of icons in the Church. This council, now known as the Seventh Ecumenical Council, followed the theology of Saint John of Damascus (d.749). The decision of the council affirmed that icons may be made and honored but not worshipped.

The bishops of the council reasoned that the very essence of the Christian faith is the incarnation of the Son and Word of God in human flesh. God indeed is invisible. But in Jesus Christ the invisible God has become visible. The one who sees Jesus sees the invisible Father. (John 14:8) When icon painting and icon-veneration in the Church are denied, the true humanity of Jesus is denied. As well, it is denied that in and through Christ, the Holy Spirit has been given to men so that they may become holy, truly fulfilling themselves as created “in the image and likeness of God.” (Genesis 1:26)

Thus, it was the council’s decision that the rejection of the holy images is the rejection of the fact of salvation by God in Christ and the Holy Spirit. God the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot and must not be depicted. Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints can be depicted in iconographic form because they show the reality of man’s salvation by God. They show the true transfiguration and sanctification of man – and the whole of creation – by Christ and the Holy Spirit. The images may be venerated in the Church since “honor rendered to the image ascends to its prototype, and he who venerates an icon adores the person (hypostasis) of the one portrayed.” (Seventh Ecumenical Council) After the council of 787 the attack against the icons continued. It finally ended in 843 when the icons were returned to the Churches where they remain today.

Liturgical Development

Saint John of Damascus was also responsible for liturgical development in the eighth century. He was a highranking minister of the Moslem Caliph who became a monk in the St. Sabbas monastery in Jerusalem. He wrote many liturgical hymns still sung in the Church such as the Canon of Easter Matins, and certain hymns sung at the Orthodox funeral service. He is considered to be the original composer of the Octoechos which is the collection of hymns sung in the Church using eight different melodies, one each week on a rotating basis throughout the year. (See Book 2 on Worship) Saint John is the author of the first systematic treatise of Orthodox Christian doctrine called the Complete Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. This treatise can be found in part three of the work, The Fount of Knowledge.

The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple was introduced in Constantinople. According to St. Andrew of Crete, the feast was already being celebrated in Jerusalem as early as the sixth century. Thus, by the eighth century, it had found its place in the universal calendar of the Orthodox Church.

The West

In the West, in the eighth century, the barbarian tribes continued to be converted to Christianity. The greatest missionary at this time was St. Boniface (d.754). Also in this century the bishops of Rome became for the first time secular rulers who governed properties in Italy, and entered into close relation with the newly-emerging Carolingian rulers. It was these barbarian rulers of the Carolingian House, particularly Charlemagne, who were to restore the empire in the West with the cooperation of the bishops of Rome. In order to do so, however, they had to attack the legitimacy of the empire in the East. They made their attack by accusing the East of idolatry because of icon veneration, and by accusing the East of dropping the words “and the Son” (filioque) from the Nicene Creed. These accusations were contained in the Caroline Books given by Charlemagne to the pope of Rome in 792.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

End of the Icon Debate

Following the council of 787 at which the veneration of the holy icons was formally defended in the Church, new imperial rulers emerged who once again attacked both the veneration and the venerators of the holy images. When the Empress Irene died in 802, Leo the Armenian became the emperor. In 815 he ordered the icons in the churches to be placed beyond the reach of the faithful so that they could not be honored and kissed. On Palm Sunday in 815, Saint Theodore, the abbot of the great Studion Monastery in Constantinople, led a public procession with the holy icons. This procession was met by imperial attacks, tortures, and murders. Only in 842, with the ascendancy of the Empress Theodora, under the leadership of the Patriarch Methodius, were the holy icons returned once and for all to the Church. This formal return of the icons on the First Sunday of Lent in that year marked the beginning of the annual celebration of the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy still observed today.

Cyril and Methodius – The Mission to the Slavs

In the middle of the ninth century the patriarch of Constantinople, Saint Photius, sent missionaries into Moravia to bring the Christian faith to the Slavic people. The Greek brothers, Constantine and Methodius, arrived in Moravia in 863. Constantine had already created the Slavic alphabet – now called the Old Slavonic or Old Bulgarian – which the brothers used to translate church books into the Slavic language. Their work consisted of teaching the alphabet, introducing the liturgical books and ritual, and training men for the priesthood.

The mission of Constantine and Methodius created hostilities with the Frankish missionaries from the Latin Church who had come to Moravia earlier. They believed that the official languages of the Church should be Hebrew, Latin, and Greek only. They did not believe that the Slavic language should be used in the Church services. Thus Constantine and Methodius went to Rome in 869 to justify their work, particularly the use of the native language in the liturgy. Pope Hadrian II blessed the Greek missionaries for their work. Constantine died in 869. Just before his death he became a monk, taking the name of Cyril by which he is known as a saint of the Church, and from which his alphabet received the name Cyrillic.

Methodius was consecrated as the archbishop of Pannonia. When he returned to his missionary work, he was arrested by the Frankish-Germanic clergy with the help of Louis the German. In 873 when Pope John discovered what had happened to Methodius, he demanded his release. But, the Roman Church was unwilling to press too hard on this issue for fear of offending the rapidly growing Frankish and Germanic powers. Methodius died in 885 with his work all but totally ruined, as a result. Most of his disciples were arrested, exiled, or sold into slavery. Some escaped into Bulgaria where Saints Clement and Naum did great missionary work among the people there. The Bulgarians by this time were receiving the Christian faith. They had been attached to the Church of Constantinople in 870. The work of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the “evangelizers of the Slavs,” continued on from Bulgaria through the Serbian lands, and ultimately into Kiev and Northern Russia in subsequent centuries.

The Filioque Issue

The clash between the East and the West was not only over the mission to the Slavs. It had deeper roots in the role which the new Frankish and Germanic rulers were to play in Western Europe and in the Western Church. In the year 800, on Christmas Day, Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the Pope of Rome. In 792 this new ruler had already sent his Carolingian Books (Libri Carolini) to Pope Hadrian I. The reason for Charlemagne’s attack against the Eastern Church was that this was the only way in which he could discredit the Eastern emperor so that he himself could be recognized as the sole ruler in Christendom. In his vision of the new Holy Roman Empire Charlemagne wanted to include all of the East together with all of the West. In 808 Pope Leo III of Rome reacted against the charges of Charlemagne against the East. He had the creed without the filioque enshrined in golden tablets on the doors of St. Peter’s.

The Papacy

Although Charlemagne’s attempts to establish rule over all Christendom did not succeed, the Roman popes began to extend their churchly governance over the, whole of the West. By the middle of the ninth century, Pope Nicholas 1 (858-867) succeeded in gaining direct control over the entire Western Church by suppressing the local metropolitans and making all bishops in the West directly subject to the Roman see. He also referred to the False Decretals, documents later proved to be forgeries, which claimed that the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century had given certain powers and privileges to the Roman bishops. It was claimed that the powers included secular control over territories around Rome which later came to be called the papal states. This was the so-called Donation of Constantine.

Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople

From 861-886 the first open clash took place between the Eastern and Western Churches. In Constantinople there were two political parties struggling for power. To settle a dispute between these two parties and to provide a church leader which both groups could respect and would accept, a layman named Photius was elevated to the partriarchal office. Although Photius was the one candidate upon whom both parties could agree, the extremists of the so-called conservative party were not satisfied. They appealed to Rome, using the good name of the former patriarch Ignatius – who had peaceably retired for the good of the Church – against Photius and the imperial government which confirmed his election. Pope Nicholas seized the opportunity of this extremist appeal to interfere in the affairs of the Constantinopolitan Church, calling a council in that city in 861 to settle the dispute. When the papal legates came to the council they saw that Photius was the rightful patriarch, and all was happily settled. However, when the legates returned to Rome, Pope Nicholas rejected their decision, and held another council, this time in Rome in 863, at which he proclaimed Ignatius as the bishop of Constantinople, thus deposing Photius. His actions were ignored.

In 866 and 867 the Bulgarian Church was fluctuating between Constantinople and Rome. In 867 Photius and a council of five hundred bishops in Constantinople condemned Pope Nicholas for interfering in the affairs of the Bulgarian Church. In this same year there was another internal political conflict in Constantinople. When Basil I became emperor, Photius resigned as bishop for the sake of unity. For political reasons Ignatius was reinstated. In 869 Pope Hadrian II, the successor of Nicholas, excommunicated Photius again for his role in the Bulgarian affair. In 877 Photius, who was not in disfavor with the new emperor, again became patriarch when the venerable Ignatius died.

In 879 a huge council took place in Constantinople, once again with papal legates in attendance. At this council, presided over by Photius, the traditional privileges of the Pope of Rome in the East were clarified by Photius and accepted by John VIII who was the new pope. The councils of 863 and 869 which condemned Photius were declared null and void. The council of 787 was accepted as the seventh ecumenical council. The creed was affirmed without the filioque.

Photius was officially canonized a saint by the Orthodox Church in the tenth century. He was a man of many talents. He was a great theologian who wrote extensively, particularly on the question of the filioque by defending the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone. He was a compiler of classical and patristic writings. He sponsored the mission to the Slavs. He defended the authentic Church Tradition in confrontation with the Roman claims invented by Nicholas, while ultimately preserving unity with the Roman Church and Pope John VIII. He was an excellent diplomat in political affairs, with personal humility and wisdom which earned him the respect of good-willed persons of all parties in East and West. Saint Photius was one of the truly great bishops in Christian Church history.

Liturgical Developments

In the ninth century another great saint, Saint Theodore of Studion was responsible for liturgical development. Saint Theodore was the abbot of the Studion monastery in Constantinople who had, during his lifetime, about a hundred thousand monks in his charge. He is known for his defense of the holy icons, and for his role in the development of Orthodox liturgical worship. The liturgical typikon, the order public worship in the Studion monastery, has become the normative order of worship for the entire Orthodox Church since the ninth century. The service books for Great Lent and Easter, the Lenten Triodion and the Flower Triodion (also called the Pentecostarion) are almost totally the work of the Studite monks, among the most famous of whom is Saint Joseph the Hymnographer.

Also dating from the ninth century is a copy of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom which has the liturgy of the faithful in virtually the exact same form in which it is done in the Orthodox Church today.

Law Code

At the end of the ninth century the famous law code called the Epanagoge was published by the emperor Basil I. It reaffirmed the system of the “symphony” or unity between the church and state.

The West

Generally speaking, the ninth century was one of the most significant centuries in Church history. It was a period of renaissance in the East, while in the West it was one of increasing centralization around the Roman papacy. The only theologian of note in the West at this time was John Scot Erigena (d.877), who brought the strong influence of the Eastern theology of Dionysios and St. Maximus into the Western Church

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Cultural Renaissance

In the East, in the tenth century, there was a general continuation of the cultural renaissance of the ninth century. The writings of the Church fathers were collected. For the first time, Saint Simeon Metaphrastes codified the Church’s Lives of the Saints. There was also a renewed interest in pagan antiquity led by such men as Michael Psellus and John Italos whose extreme “hellenization” led to conflicts with the Church.

In 960 Saint Athanasius of Mount Athos (d. 1000) founded the Great Lavra and thus opened the way to the development of the great monastic republic on the Holy Mountain. Saint Simeon the New Theologian (d.1022) wrote his influential treatises about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians.

Church and State

The tenth century also saw the increasing interpenetration of ecclesiastical and civil aspects of Byzantine Society. The Church received greater control over such matters as marriage and the family. For example, a church blessing – regulated by Orthodox canon law – in time comes to be required if a marriage is to be acknowledged as valid by the civil authorities. At the same time, the Church had to become more concerned with establishing “minimum requirements” than it had been earlier. This can be seen in the so-called “fourth marriage dispute.”

In 925 the patriarch of Constantinople Nicholas Mystikos refused a fourth marriage to the emperor Leo VI, thus bringing into Orthodox canon law the strict prohibition of a fourth marriage in the Church to anyone, under any circumstances. This historical act is the origin of the grossly erroneous opinion that the Orthodox Church “allows” three marriages to its faithful. The Church’s theology of marriage upholds perpetual monogamy as its standard: a union of one man and one woman which is not destroyed even by death. Remarriage, even of widows and widowers, does not conform to this standard, even though it may be accepted as a concession to human weakness.

The beginning of the tenth century witnessed for the first time the “rite of crowning” as a separate marriage service apart from the context of the divine liturgy in which marriages were previously performed as sacramental actions of the Church. Civil law established the practice of “legal marriage” apart from the sacramental marriage of the Church. It also established a special secular form for the adoption of children which was also previously done only by the action of the Church.


In 918 Tsar Boris the Bulgarian, who was baptized in 869 with Michael III of Constantinople as his godfather, finally turned from Rome to Constantinople, thus establishing his church firmly within the Eastern family of Churches using the Slav language and the Byzantine liturgy. Particularly under his son, Tsar Simeon, Bulgaria was a powerful state and a Byzantino-Bulgarian culture flourished. However, by the end of the century, the heresy of the Bogomils – a dualistic, spiritualistic sect of the Manichaean tradition – was spreading.

Vladimir of Kiev

In 988 the subjects of the Kievan principality were baptized in the Dnieper River under the leadership of the Great Prince Vladimir, thus beginning the history of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine and in Russia. Vladimir received the Christian faith from Constantinople, being baptized there with the emperor Basil as his godfather. There is a legend that the legates of Vladimir could not find a more beautiful faith than that of the Byzantines. It is also well known that the Kievan prince found it politically and economically expedient to marry the Byzantine princess Anna, and to align his principality with the Constantinopolitan empire.

After his baptism Vladimir experienced a genuine spiritual conversion. He did much to establish Christian principles in his realm, and to enlighten his subjects with the Orthodox faith. For his personal and official acts of righteousness as a Christian prince of his time, Vladimir has been canonized a saint of the Church. His grandmother, the great princess Olga, who was converted before him and who apparently influenced his decisions and actions, has also been canonized a saint.

Liturgical Development

Liturgically the feast of the Protection of the Virgin Mary comes from the tenth century. Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ (d.956) saw a vision of the Theotokos interceding before God and protecting the praying people of Constantinople with her veil (omophorion-protection) during the time of an attack from the pagan Slavs. Ironically the feast of the Protection of the Theotokos, which has been detached from its historical roots and is now celebrated primarily as the feast of the presence of Mary in the midst of the Church, is kept as a popular feast almost solely by the churches of Slavic tradition.

The West

In the later ninth century the West entered one of the darkest periods in its history. New waves of invasions destroyed the relative security of the empire created by Charlemagne. The Church suffered from the domination of lay lords. Communication with the East was virtually cut off. In 996 the first German was elected as pope of Rome, with the name of Gregory V. In this century the Western reform movement began at the monastery of Cluny in France. The reform movement, among other things, brought the general practice of clerical celibacy and a powerful, centralized Roman papacy to the Western Church.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The Great Schism

In 1009 Pope Sergius of Rome wrote a confession of faith which included the filioque in the creed. At this time his name, and that of the Roman Church were omitted from the diptychs – being the official list of sister churches and bishops officially recognized and liturgically commemorated by a given church – of the church of Constantinople.

By 1052 a great controversy arose between Constantinople and Rome, not only about the filioque, but also about the place of the Roman papacy in the Church, and about divergent liturgical practices in East and West. The immediate cause of the conflict at this time was the Pope’s suppression of Greek liturgical practices in South Italy, and the suppression of Latin practices in the East by the patriarch of Constantinople. In 1053 the Pope sent legates to Constantinople in an attempt to restore communion between the churches. Michael Cerularius, the patriarch of Constantinople, refused to give the papal legates a hearing because he thought they were politically motivated.

On July 16, 1054, Cardinal Humbert, the head of the papal delegation, was tired of waiting. He was irritated by the lack of respect shown to the Roman ambassadors, so he placed a document of anathema and excommunication (applying only to the “patriarch Michael Cerularius and those in sympathy with him”) on the altar table of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) cathedral. At the same time, the cardinal was very careful to praise Constantinople as a “most orthodox city.”

The official reasons for Humbert’s anathema and excommunication of Cerularius were the removal of the filioque from the Creed; the practice of married clergy; and liturgical errors. Patriarch Michael Cerularius responded to Humbert’s action by excommunicating all responsible” for the July 16 incident. He drew up a long list of Latin abuses, mostly of divergent liturgical practices such as the use of unleavened bread for the eucharist, and the practice of baptism by one immersion.

Although Cardinal Humbert acted only against the person of the patriarch and his sympathizers, and although the patriarch reacted only against Humbert himself, the attempt to restore unity between East and West in 1054 resulted in a permanent schism between the two churches which persists until today. Several gestures of reconciliation, such as the symbolic “lifting of the anathemas of 1054” by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1966, were made, but to no avail.

The Papacy

The reforming spirit of the Roman papacy reached its height in the eleventh century under Hildebrand who, as Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), firmly established the papacy as a secular power. In 1089 the East asked Pope Urban II for a confession of faith. He refused to comply since such a compliance would presume that the bishop of Rome could be judged in the Church by another. Thus, although Patriarch Nicholas III of Constantinople (1084-1111) said: “Let the pope confess the orthodox faith and he will be first,” this was never again to happen in history.

The Crusades

By the time of the first crusade in 1095 no one in the East doubted that the Pope of Rome was emperor in the West. It was ultimately the crusades which sealed the schism between the churches. The crusaders took over Jerusalem in 1099, expelled the Moslems, and established a Latin hierarchy in place of the local, existing church order.

Kievan Russia

In Kievan Russia in the eleventh century the new Christian faith was flourishing. Saint Anthony (d. 1051) founded the monastery of the caves in Kiev, the Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra. Saint Theodosius (d.1074), its greatest saint, came to be called the “founder of Russian monasticism.” Saint Theodosius followed the example of the humble Christ of the gospels in an evangelical form of spiritual life. This form has come to be known as Russian kenoticism which means a life of self-emptying humility and love for the brethren. (cf. Philippians 2:6) The Kievan Monastery of the Caves was the center of Christian charity and social concern, as well as of spiritual and intellectual labor and enlightenment.

Boris and Gleb

Among the saints of Kiev are numbered the brothers Boris and Gleb who were the sons of Saint Vladimir. They refused to fight their brother Sviatopolk in a power struggle after the death of their father. As they knew that there was no hope of winning in battle, the two young brothers refused to fight in order to save the lives of their faithful followers who were certain to be punished if they did fight. As “sufferers of non-resistance,” Saints Boris and Gleb were the first to be canonized by the Russian Church in 1020. They were glorified – not as martyrs or Christian pacifists – but as those who laid down their lives that others might live.

Theological Works

During this period Saint Theophylactus of Bulgaria was writing voluminous commentaries on the holy scriptures in the East. Anselm of Canterbury (d.1109) in the West was producing his most influential theological discourses which contained the so-called “ontological proof” for the existence of God, a defense of the doctrine of the filioque, and the so-called “satisfaction theory” of the atonement in which it was contended that the death of Christ on the cross was the adequate sacrifice necessary to satisfy the justice and wrath of God the Father.

The West

The eleventh century in the West witnessed the Cistercian reforms of the Benedictine order (now known as the “trappists”). This movement’s greatest representative, Bernard of Clairvaux was an ascetical, mystical theologian and church activist. He preached crusades and fought with Abelard, the famous author of Sic et Non. The Carthusian movement of eremitic monasticism began as well at this time.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Major Trends

The twelfth century saw the continual struggle of the Comneni imperial dynasty in Constantinople with the crusading Latins from the West and the encroaching Moslem Turks in the East. The emperor Alexius Comnenus officially sanctioned Mount Athos as the center of Orthodox monasticism. Eudiymios Zigabenus produced his Dogmatic Panoply, a handbook of the official doctrines of the Church. Although there was a genuine interest in theology in the empire at this time, the actual theological work in Eastern Christendom was limited to a repetition and cataloging of traditional doctrines.

Art and architecture developed in the twelfth century with such classical Byzantine monuments as the church buildings and mosaics of the Church of Saint Luke and the Church of Daphni near Athens. In Russia Saint Alypius (d. 1114), the “father of Russian iconography,” lived in this period. Some of the greatest architectural and iconographic achievements of Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Pskov came from this time.

Kievan Russia

Christianity in Kievan Russia continued to expand and develop. A fire in Kiev in 1124 is reported to have destroyed six hundred church edifices -an indication of the great development of this cosmopolitan city which had become a leading center of European and Byzantine culture and trade. Early in this century, the Prince Vladimir Monomakh (d.1125) wrote his famous “charge to my children,” a document intended to guide his sons in their lives as Christian leaders. Byzantine influence was still very strong in Kievan Christianity. The Russian Primary Chronicle containing the lives of many early Kievan saints, was edited traditionally by the monk Nestor of the caves monastery.


The twelfth century witnessed the emergence of Serbian statehood through the efforts of the ruler Nemanya (1113-1199). It was Nemanya’s son, Rastko, who fled to Mount Athos to become a monk by the name of Sava. He was destined to become the great national saint and leader of the Serbian people. Sava finally brought his father to Mount Athos to end his life in the monastic habit with the name of Simeon, canonized by the Church as Saint Simeon the Myrrh-flowing. The Byzantine emperor Angelos gave the Serbian father and son the monastery of Hilandari on Mount Athos which remains until today as the Serbian monastery on the holy mountain.

The West

Together with the centralizing of papal power and the victory of the papacy over the secular rulers, the twelfth century West saw the rise of the Victorine school of Augustinian theology led by Hugo (d.1141) and Richard of St. Victor (d.1173). At this time Peter Lombard wrote his influential Sentences, while on the more popular level the spiritualistic, dualistic movements of the Waldensians and Albigensians were making their impact.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The Fourth Crusade

The thirteenth century began with what has been considered the final confirmation of the schism between East and West, the fourth crusade. In 1204 the crusaders sacked Constantinople. They destroyed and pillaged the churches. They desecrated the altars. They stole the holy objects. A Latin, Thomas Morosini, was named patriarch of Constantinople, and a Frank was named emperor. Now, for the first time, the Latin West became an open, enemy in the minds of the Greek people. Writings were directed against the papacy and the Latin Church as such. From this period the famous Byzantine slogan preferring the “turban of the sultan” to the “tiara of the pope” became popular. The Latin rule of Constantinople lasted until 1261 when the emperor Michael Paleologos recovered the city.

The Council of Lyons

Michael III was in the unbearable situation of being attacked on the East by the Turks, and having no assurance that the Western Latins would not return again. For political reasons, therefore, he sent a delegation of bishops to the council of the Western Church in Lyons in 1274 hoping to gain sympathy, and military and economic aid for his crumbling empire. The Westerners proposed to the legates of Michael what was to become a classical formula of church union in subsequent centuries. They proposed that the East could keep its liturgical rites. The use of the word filioque in the creed could be optional as long as the doctrine it professed was not denied as heretical. The pope was to be recognized as supreme.

Michael’s legates at the council of Lyons went further than was asked of them. They officially accepted the Roman formula of the papacy, and the Roman doctrine of the filioque – the first time in history it was required. The peace and help from the West which Michael desired, lasted until his death in 1282. When Michael died the acts of the union of Lyons were immediately rejected by the Eastern bishops. The emperor was buried without the funeral rites of the Church.


In 1217 Sava went to Nicea to obtain the blessing of the church of Constantinople for an independent national church for,the Serbians. In 1219 Sava himself was consecrated as the first “archbishop of the Serbian lands” by Manuel, patriarch of Constantinople, in the presence of the emperor Theodore. On Ascension Day in 1220, at an assembly of the Serbians at the Zitcha monastery, the newly-consecrated archbishop Sava crowned his brother Stephan, the grand zhupan, as the first “king of all the Serbian lands.”

After a life of outstanding leadership, after passing through many grave trials and difficulties, after traveling extensively throughout the Christian East, Sava died on January 14, 1235. Sava was succeeded in office by Arsenios, a man of his own choosing who was elevated to the episcopal rank by Sava himself. Archbishop Sava, the founder and father of the Serbian Orthodox Church and one of the truly outstanding personalities in Orthodox Church history, has been canonized a saint of the Church, together with his father, Saint Simeon, his brother, Saint Stephan the First-Crowned, and his successor, Saint Arsenios.


The thirteenth century witnessed the founding of the national church for the Bulgarians with the recognition of the archbishop of Tmovo as the head of the church in the Bulgarian lands.


Russia in the thirteenth century was overcome by the Mongolian invasion. The Tatar Yoke fell over the land when the Khan Batu led four hundred thousand men against the Russians in 1237. The Kievan state collapsed in 1240.

In 1231 Alexander Nevsky became the prince of Novgorod. This city-republic in the North had its own unique form of republican government as well as its own particular spiritual, architectural, and iconographic tradition. In 1240 Alexander led the Russians in a victorious battle against the Roman Catholic Swedes. In 1242 he once again led the Russian people to victory over the Teutonic knights who were attacking the Russian lands. Alexander then traveled to Khan Batu’s headquarters in 1247, seeking mercy for the Russian peoples under the Tatar Yoke. Alexander agreed to pay tribute to the Khan in order to have peace for his people. He returned from Mongolia with the title of Grand Prince of Kiev. He died at the age of forty-two in 1263. In 1380 he was canonized a saint by the Church for his personal holiness, his military bravery, and his practical wisdom and diplomacy – all of which he dedicated selflessly to the service of his people as a true Christian statesman.

Alexander Nevsky’s son Daniel went north to Moscow, beyond the Tatar Yoke, where he served as prince from 1263 until the end of the century. Saint Cyril (1242-1281) and Saint Peter (1281-1326), Metropolitans of Kiev, who were residing in the Muscovite principality, were the outstanding hierarchs of the period.

The West

The thirteenth century has been called the “greatest of centuries” in the Western Church. Innocent III succeeded in upholding the prestige and power of the papacy. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 defined the official doctrines of the Western Church. Francis of Assisi (d.1226) founded his Franciscan Order with its first great members Anthony of Padua (d.1231) and the theologians Bonaventure (d.1274) and Duns Scotus (d.1308). The Spanish Dominic founded the Dominican Order of preachers with its great theologian Albertus Magnus (d.1280) and his famous disciple Thomas Aquinas (d.1274) who wrote the theological “summae” which dominated official Roman Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council of the second half of the twentieth century. The mystic theologian Meister Eickhart (d.1339) was also a member of the Dominican order. The Carmelite order, together with a number of smaller religious groups, emerged at this time in the Latin Church.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Gregory Palamas

The fourteenth century was the time of the Palamite controversy in the Eastern Church. Gregory Palamas (d.1359) was a monk of Mount Athos. He was a practitioner of the method of prayer called hesychasm (hesychia means silence). By this method the person utilizes a rigorous bodily discipline in order to unite his mind and heart in God through continuous repetition of the name of Jesus, usually in the form of the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Through the use of this method of prayer the hesychast monks claimed to gain genuine communion with God, including the spiritual vision of the Uncreated Light of Divinity such as that seen by Moses on Mount Sinai, and the apostles of Christ at the transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor.

In 1326 the Calabrian Barlaam, a Greek uniate and a representative of the emerging humanist tradition of the Western renaissance, came to Constantinople. Barlaam and some Byzantine humanists who were highly influenced by Western philosophical and theological ideas, ridiculed the practice of hesychast prayer. They generally denied the possibility for men to be in genuine union with God. In 1333 Gregory Palamas confronted Barlaam’s position and defended hesychasm. He established the Orthodox doctrine that man can truly know God and can enter into communion with Him through Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church.

Essence and Energy

A council in 1346 upheld Gregory’s teaching. The holy monk made his famous distinction between the unknowable and incomprehensible Essence or Super-essence of God, and the actions, operations, or energies of God which are truly uncreated and divine (such as the divine light). These energies are communicated to men by divine grace and are open to human participation, knowledge, and experience.

After some years of political turmoil and theological controversy, councils held in 1347 and in 1351 (the year that Gregory became archbishop of Thessalonica) again upheld Gregory’s position as exactly that of the Bible and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church. Since that time the theological distinction between the divine Superessence and the divine energies has become an official part of the doctrine of the Orthodox Church. Gregory Palamas was canonized a saint of the Orthodox Church in 1368 just nine years after his death.

John V Paleologos and Rome

The leading Byzantine emperor of the fourteenth century John V Paleologos (1341-1391) continued to have the hope that the West would come to the aid of the Greeks in the face of the ever-increasing Turkish pressures in the East. In 1369 John personally entered into communion with the Roman Church, without an attempt at formal church union. This act produced no lasting results either for the ecclesiastical or political destiny of Constantinople.


The Russians continued in the south under the Tatar Yoke. In the northern wooded areas of Muscovy, led by the Prince John Kalita (d. 1341), and the Metropolitan Alexis as governing regent (1353-1378), the northern Russians remained free and continued to prosper. The genuine “builder of Russia” in the north at this time was Saint Sergius of Radonezh (d.1392).

Saint Sergius

Saint Sergius was born in Rostov in 1314. He became a monk in 1334, going alone into the forests to and pray, giving the name of the Holy Trinity to monastic chapel. Many persons followed St. Sergius, some to join him in his monastic life, and others to live around his monastic community as pioneers and settlers. St. Sergius was extremely humble. He dressed in the poorest clothes. He continually worked for others. He taught by example only, fleeing from his position of abbot – which had been forced on him by Metropolitan Alexis – when he felt that the monks rejected his leadership. He was a strict ascetic, a practitioner of silent prayer, and a mystic graced with splendid divine visions and living communion with God.

In 1380 Saint Sergius – who was regularly consulted by Metropolitan Alexius and the national leaders – blessed the prince Dimitri Donskoi to engage in battle with the Tatars. Dimitri’s victory marked the beginning of the end of the Tatar control over the Russian lands. The legacy of Saint Sergius to Russia and the Orthodox Church is immeasurable. Eleven of his disciples founded monastic centers in northern Russia around which lands were settled and developed. The mystics, spiritual life of the Russian Church, as well as the interrelation between the Church and the socio-political life of the Russian nation in later times was rooted in the person and work of Sergius of Radonezh.

Saint Stephen of Perm

A contemporary of St. Sergius, Saint Stephen of Perm (d.1396) was a learned bishop who undertook missionary work among the Zyrian tribes. Although his work did not remain, Saint Stephen created the Zyrian alphabet and translated the church writings into the native language. Thus he combined the Byzantine tradition of fostering local church life and laying the spiritual foundations for future missionary work of the Russian Church among the Siberian tribes and in Japan and Alaska.

Saint Andrew Rubley

Saint Andrew Rublev (d.c1430), the greatest Russian iconographer and perhaps the greatest iconographer in Orthodox history, did his marvelous work at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. He was a monk of the monastery of St. Sergius. He was the artistic follower of the iconographer Theophanes the Greek, and he worked together with his friend Daniel Chorny. Rublev’s most famous work is the icon of the Holy Trinity, painted for the Trinity St. Sergius monastery, depicting in a perfect harmony of colors and lines the Three Angels who came to Abraham in the Old Testament. During this same period there was a renaissance of church art in the Byzantine empire, with many famous frescoes and mosaics coming from this period.

The Serbians and the Bulgarians

The Serbians were enjoying a flourishing period of their history under the rule of Stephen Dushan. The Serbian Church became a patriarchate in 1346. Also at this time, Saint Clement of Ochrid (d.1375) lived and worked among the Bulgarians, being a leader of national enlightenment. Simultaneously, the Bulgarian monastery of Zoographos was established on Mount Athos.

Liturgical Development

Liturgically the fourteenth century reveals the order of worship in the Church as virtually the same as it is today. The Commentary on the Divine Liturgy was written by Nicholas Cabasilas. He also wrote a popular work called Life in Christ, which gives a symbolical interpretation of the liturgy showing ritual details which still remain in the Church practices today. For the first time the prothesis (proskomedia), as a separate rite preceding the liturgy of the Word, is found in the liturgical books.

The liturgical commentaries of Simeon of Thessalonica (d.1420) which provide detailed information about church worship came from this period. An interesting note in Simeon’s writings reveal that at this time the Holy Eucharist was still being given to Orthodox Christians in the sacrament of matrimony, and the blessed “common cup” was given only to those who were not allowed to receive Holy Communion in the Church.

The West

The West in the fourteenth century saw the “Babylonian captivity” of the Roman popes in Avignon (I 3 03-13 7 8), and the “great schism” within the Western Church between various claimants to the papal office. Catherine of Sienna lived at this time, as did John Wycliffe, the forerunner of the reformation in England, and the English mystical writers Walter Hilton and Juliana of Norwich. The end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries witnessed the development of the Brothers of the Common Life in the low countries. This movement’s greatest representative was Thomas a Kempis who was the author of the famous ‘Imitation of Christ’. The writing of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (d.1321) and the painting of Giotto (d.1337) was during this period of history.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

The Papacy

The West in the fifteenth century was in turmoil over, the relationship between the papacy and church councils. Some held that the papacy was supreme. Others held that the authority of the church councils supercedes that of the pope. A council was called in Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) to consider that question. Representatives of the Eastern Church arrived at this council once again looking for help in the struggle against the Turks. Among the Eastern Churchmen who were accepted at the council on “equal terms” with the Latins, were the emperor of Constantinople, John VIII; the patriarch of Constantinople, Joseph; and, the Metropolitan of Kiev, a Greek named Isidore.

The Council of Florence

At the council of Florence the Eastern representatives accepted a strong doctrine of papal power – although the issue was not deeply discussed – and the doctrines of filioque and purgatory. The Byzantine emperor pressed to stop theological discussions in the hopes of completing the union. All the Orthodox bishops signed the union statement except Mark Eugenikos, the bishop of Ephesus.

The union of Florence was not publicly proclaimed until 1452 in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. On May 29, 1453, the Turks under Mohammed II took the city which was renamed Istanbul, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire. The first act of the patriarch Gennadios Scholarios after the fall of Constantinople was to repudiate the union of Florence. The patriarch was under strong pressure of St. Mark of Ephesus in this action. Saint Mark, the firm defender of Orthodoxy against what has come to be called through him the “unrighteous union,” was canonized a saint for his actions.


Just as the Byzantine empire was falling to the Moslems, the seeds of the coming Russian empire were beginning to take root in Moscow. Ivan III the Great (1462-1505), the Muscovite prince, succeeded in extending his role in the Russian north by defeating and annexing Novgorod. He married the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologos in 1472, and accepted the title of Tsar (the Slav form of the old Russian imperial title of Caesar) and the symbol of the double-headed eagle. The ideology of Moscow as the “third Rome” after Constantinople was being born.

In fifteenth-century Russia a great controversy was waged over the role which the Church should play relative to the political and social life of the nation. The two leaders of the controversy – both of whom shared the legacy of Saint Sergius, and both of whom are canonized saints of the Church – were Nilus of the Sora (Nil Sorsky, 1433-1508) and Joseph of Volotsk (1439-1515).

Saint Nilus led the party of the “non-possessors” who lived beyond the Volga River. They are sometimes called the “transvolgans.” The “non-possessors” held that the Church, particularly the monasteries, should be free from owning and ruling over large properties. They held that the Church should be free from the direct influence and control of the state. They defended poverty as the chief virtue, with humility and spiritual freedom dominating the contemplative, silent life for monks. They were the inheritors of the mystical, hesychastic, and kenotic tradition of Saint Sergius and early Kievan spirituality.

The “possessors” were led by Saint Joseph. Hence, they are sometimes called the “Josephites.” They held that the Church and state should be in the closest possible relationship, and that the Church should serve the social and political needs of the emerging Russian nation. The ideal of the “possessors” was that the Church, particularly the monasteries, should control vast properties. The Church should foster a life of ascetic discipline and social service among the people which would be rooted in the strict observance of liturgical and cultic rituals. In this tendency the “possessors” also followed the tradition of Saint Sergius. Both Saint Sergius and Metropolitan Alexius played a very prominent role in Russian social and political life of the fourteenth century, as well as continuing the original Byzantine legacy of the Russian Church and nation which was present in the land from its earliest Kievan beginnings.

Although the spirit of the “non-possessors” always remained in Russian Orthodoxy, it was the way of the “possessors” which dominated Russian ecclesiastical and national development in subsequent centuries.

The Fall of Byzantium

Serbia fell to the Turks in 1459, Greece in 1459-60, Bosnia in 1463, and Egypt finally in 1517. For the next four hundred years the Moslem Turks held sway over the Orthodox Christians in the former Byzantine empire in the East.

The West

In the West, the fifteenth century saw the continual resistance to the power of the papacy by the conciliar movement mentioned already; by the rise of national consciousness among the various Western European peoples; by the religious movements forerunning the reformation era; and by the humanist movements of the renaissance now becoming most powerful in their stress on the natural man through the rebirth of interest in ancient Roman and Hellenistic culture. The name of Erasmus (d.1536) must be mentioned in this regard, as well as the artists and scientists such as Leonardo di Vinci (d.1519) and Raphael (d.1520).

Further mention must be made of the Czech leader Jan Hus who was condemned and burned at the stake in 1415 at the Council of Constance for his opposition to the pope and the practices of the Roman Church; of Savonarola, the fiery Dominican friar of Florence, who was burned to death by papal instigation in 1498 for his denunciation and condemnation of churchly wickedness and sin; of Fra Angelico (d.1455), the Florentine painter, many of whose masterpieces hang in Savonarola’s monastery of San Marco in Florence; and of Donatello (d.1466), Fra Filippo Lippi (d.1469), and Botticelli (d.1510).

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Russia during the Reign of Ivan the Terrible

In Russia, in the sixteenth century, the “third Rome” theory became apolitical reality. The monk Philotheus of Pskov informed the Muscovite Tsar Basil III (1505-1533) of his vision based on the book of Daniel that the Russian tsardom was to be the final earthly reign of God’s People. The first Rome had fallen through heresy. The second Rome, Constantinople, had fallen through sin. The third Rome, Moscow, was standing. There was to be no fourth Rome.

Tsar Ivan III the Terrible (1533-1584) established his reign on this foundation. He was crowned tsar in 1547 as the successor to the Byzantine emperor. He ruthlessly persecuted his enemies as he subjected both church and state to his personal control. Among Ivan’s many victims was Metropolitan Philip of Moscow. He was strangled by the tsar’s henchmen in 1568 for his open opposition to the actions of the mad ruler. Philip has since been canonized by the Church as a saint.

In 1547-1549 the Church of Russia formally canonized many saints from different parts of the country, utilizing the national veneration of these holy people – who were previously honored only locally – as a means toward national unification. In 1551, the Council of a Hundred Chapters – the Stoglav Sobor – further asserted the supremacy of Russian Orthodoxy over the other Eastern Orthodox churches. After the Russian defeat of the Turks in Kazan in 1551, Ivan built the famous Church of St. Basil in the Moscow kremlin in honor of St Basil, the Mosocw fool for Christ (d.1552). This church building is known for its combination of Christian and Oriental styles.

During the early part of Ivan’s reign his spiritual father was the priest Sylvester. Many of Ivan’s early reforms were guided by this simple pastor. Sylvester was the main contributor to a book called Domostroi or Home-builder which taught Russian Christian families how they should arrange their lives according to the ritual and ethical practices of the Orthodox Church. The Domostroi was a very popular book which influenced generations of Russian families. Ivan exiled Sylvester in 1559.

Also during Ivan the Terrible’s reign, Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow (1542-1563) wrote twelve volumes called Monthly Readings. It was a vast collection of commentaries on the Bible, the lives of the saints, sermons, and other material for spiritual reading. At this time, the “non-possessor” Saint Maxim the Greek (d.1556) was imprisoned and tortured for his attempts to revise and correct the liturgical books of the Russian Church. Saint Gury (d.1563), the bishop of Kazan, was carrying on his mission among the Siberian tribes.

Russia during the Reign of Theodore

During the reign of Ivan’s son, Theodore, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremiah II, came to Moscow in quest of aid. The patriarchal church of Constantinople was under the power of the Turks. So, under the obvious pressures of that situation, the patriarch recognized the Muscovite bishop, Job, as the first Patriarch of All Russia in 1589. The installation document of the new patriarch was almost a repetition of the prophesy of Philotheus about Moscow as the third Rome. Thus the theory, which had become practice under Ivan III, was now officially affirmed by the highest prelate in the Orthodox Church. In 1593 the Russian Church received the approval of its status as a patriarchate from the bishops of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch. Thus, it was officially recognized as the fifth in honor among the Orthodox patriarchates.

The Union of Brest-Litovsk

The sixteenth century saw the development of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom on the Western boundary of Russia. By 1569 Poland and Lithuania had become one under Sigismund. The kingdom had taken segments of the Russian lands as far east as Kiev – territory populated almost exclusively by Orthodox Christians. Jesuits had entered this territory earlier, bringing Latin learning and practices. The result was the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596 through which the Orthodox bishops of the area effected a union with the Roman Church on the foundations agreed to in Florence a century earlier. The rites and customs of the Church for the masses of Orthodox faithful taken into the “unia” remained the same. The ecclesiastical hierarchy, clerical, and academic leadership of the Church was totally subjected to the Latin discipline and doctrine of the Roman papacy. This union of 1596 remained in effect in the territories which have continued to be ruled by non-Orthodox governments such as Poland, Austro-Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. From its inception, the uniate movement was always confronted with substantial opposition. Opposers were mainly Orthodox laymen who were organized into brotherhoods and blessed by Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople to defend the Orthodox faith, as early as 1588. In the beginning the anti-uniate movement was helped by the use of the printing press of Ivan Fedorov. This man was expelled from Muscovy with his “diabolical invention” by Ivan III.

The East

In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Eastern patriarchs were in contact with the Protestant reformers in the West. Josaphat II (1551-1565) sent representatives to Wittenberg and Tubingen. They returned highly displeased with what they found. Jeremiah II, after a careful study of the Augsburg Confession – which was sent to him for his inspection – soundly declared the Lutheran teachings to be heretical. During this same period, Saints George and John the New (1526) were added to the Church’s list of saints for their martyrdom under the Moslems. Other Greek saints at this time were Saint Vissarion, Bishop of Larissa (d.1541) and Saint Philotheas of Athens (d.1589).

The West and the Protestant Reformation

The West in the sixteenth century went through the Protestant reformation and the counter-reformation of the Roman Church. Martin Luther (d.1545), John Calvin (d.1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (d.1545) led the reformation movement on the European continent. They attacked the practical abuses of the Roman Church as well as its official teachings. King Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church by the Act of Supremacy in 1534 and John Knox (d.1572) brought the Calvinist faith to Scotland.

The Roman Church held the Council of Trent (1561-1563) which officially formulated the doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, transubstantiation of bread and wine in the eucharist and other positions attacked and denied by the Protestants. The Protestant position is based on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. The Bible is the sole churchly authority, interpreted directly by each believer under the inspiration of God. The sacramental life of the Church is reduced to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which is understood primarily as a memorial meal, in no sense a sacrifice. The Council of Trent reinforced the doctrines of the supremacy of the pope of Rome and the authority of the church hierarchy. Both these doctrines were main targets of the Protestant attack.

The West and the Counter-Reformation

The Roman counter-reformation was led by the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus was founded in 1534 by Ignatius of Loyola (d.1556) for the specific purpose of defending the Roman papacy. Francis Xavier (d.1552) was the famous Jesuit missionary who reached the Far East during this period. The Dutch Jesuit, Peter Canisius (d.1597) led the counter-reformation in Germany, writing his famous Catechism which became a standard text of post-reformation Catholicism.

In Spain the mystical writers, Teresa of Avila (d.1582) and John of the Cross (d.1591) were leading the reform of the religious life of the Roman Church. In Geneva, the Roman bishop of the city, Francis de Sales (d.1622) was writing his works about the spiritual life. During this same time the artist Titian (d.1576) was painting and the musician Palestrina (d.1594) was producing his grandiose musical compositions which were used in the Roman Church.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Russia: Time of Troubles

In the seventeenth century Russia entered the “time of troubles.” Boris Godonov, who ruled from 1598, died in 1605. Basil Shuiskii ruled until 1610 when a Polish tsar was crowned. During this time of political and social upheaval the Poles seized control of the country. They captured Moscow and the monastery of St. Sergius. Patriarch Germogen, the national leader, was imprisoned and starved to death in 1612, later being canonized a saint. From the end of the reign of Ivan III Russia was besieged with political turmoil, famine, and national disaster. Saint Juliana Ossorgine (d.1604) was glorified by the Church at her canonization for her compassionate love and care of the suffering people.

Russia: The Old Believer Schism

The “time of troubles” was followed in northern Russia by the Old Believer Schism. Michael Romanov (d.1645) was crowned tsar in 1613. His father Philaret (d.1633) became the patriarch of the church and the country’s actual ruler in 1619. From 1645-1676 Alexis Romanov, a most devout and pious man, ruled as tsar. In 1652 Alexis chose the extremely popular and talented metropolitan of Novgorod, Nikon, to be patriarch of the Russian Church. Nikon refused the position at first. He accepted when he received the formal pledge of the leaders of church and state that they would give unwavering obedience to the gospels, the canons, the fathers of the Church, and to him personally as the “chief pastor and supreme father” of the Russian Church. During Great Lent in 1653 Nikon began his reforms of church practices which were to rend asunder both church and nation.

The reforms of Nikon were reasonable and un-revolutionary by modern standards. They called for the adjustment of the Russian liturgical practices to conform with those of the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. They called for corrections in the wording and spelling of liturgical texts. Concretely this reform meant that the Russians would henceforth cross themselves with three fingers instead of two, sing “alleluia” three times during psalmody instead of twice, and make other similar changes. In the Russia of Nikon’s time such reforms – which appear slight today – were explosive. They directly denied the “third Rome” theory and practice of the Russian church and state. They put Russian Orthodoxy in subjugation to the Eastern patriarchates which were presently suffering under the Turks because of their sins (according to Russian mentality).

In 1657 the tsar Alexis returned from the fighting on the Polish front to find his church and nation in chaos. The opposition to Nikon was led by parish priests who themselves were considered “reformers” because they had been calling for a return among the people to strict obedience to the traditional rites and customs of the Russian Church. Nikon, who acted as the tsar’s regent in his absence, felt confident that Alexis would support his actions by punishing those who were disobedient to him as “chief pastor and supreme father” of the Russian Church. The tsar, however, was not pleased with Nikon’s actions. His open statement of displeasure caused the patriarch to resign in 1658 after publicly rebuking the tsar. From that time until 1666 Russia had no acting patriarch.

Alexis tried to make up with Nikon, but to no avail. In 1666 the Eastern patriarchs were consulted. A council was called in Moscow, presided over by the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch. It was engineered by the unscrupulous Metropolitan of Gaza, Paisios Ligarides. The council first excommunicated the opponents of Nikon’s reforms – several million believers – from the Church. These opponents of Nikon, led by the Archpriest Avvacum, were called the Old Believers or Old Ritualists. The council then unfrocked Nikon for deserting his office and for showing disrespect to the tsar, The council officially refuted the Council of a Hundred Chapters which was held in 1551 – the most venerated of Russian Church councils. Thus the council of 1666-1667 formally renounced the “third Rome” theory and the assumed supremacy of Russian Orthodoxy over all other churches.

Nikon remained under arrest until he died in 1681. Although he never changed his position and never yielded his opposition to the council of 1666-1667, he was buried in the church with full patriarchial dignity. The opponents of Nikon, the dissenting Old Believers, rejected the council and went into schism with the official Russian Church. Their leaders, such as Avvacum, were sought out and violently persecuted. They were sent into exile and harsh labor, a condition which endeared them to the masses of people who shared their rigorous, conservative, unyielding spirit. Archpriest Avvacum was burned alive with three of his supporters in 1682 for the “great blasphemies … uttered against the tsar and his household.” His autobiography has become a classic of Russian literature.

In 1682 Peter the Great became tsar. His extreme and violent attempts to westernize Russia, and his fierce opposition to traditional Russian ways caused the dissenters to think of him as the Anti-Christ. The Old Believers, in their desire to preserve the pure Orthodox faith and rituals of Russia, succeeded in preserving ancient Russian forms of iconography and liturgical chant which otherwise would likely have been lost in history.

The Unia

In the seventeenth century, in the south of Russia, the unia continued in force, although large amounts of territory had been won back by the Russians. The lay brotherhoods in the Ukraine and Galicia served Orthodoxy well during this time by their absolute rejection of the uniate movement. Among these lay leaders were Constantine Ostrozhskii (d.1608) and Mileti Smotritskii who wrote his Lamentations of the Eastern Church in 1610.

Peter Moglia

In 1615 the theological academy of Kiev was founded. In 1620 Theophanes, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, consecrated seven bishops for the Orthodox in secret from the government. In 1633 Wladyslaw IV, the successor to Sigismund, gave permission for an Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev. Peter Mogila (d.1647), the leading man of the Kiev theological school, was chosen. Mogila was fiercely anti-Roman but he was trained in Latin schools and had a deep respect for Latin scholastic learning. Through his many works, which in- cluded a Slavic translation of the catechism of the Jesuit Canisius and a priest’s Service book, Latin influences entered the Orthodox Church in doctrinal formulation and liturgical practices. Mogila’s works were judged acceptable by the Orthodox bishops in a council in Kiev (1640) and again in Jassy, in Moldavia (1643). Nevertheless, together with the forced westernization of Peter the Great’s policies, they were a primary cause for almost two hundred years of captivity to Western influences in the theology and piety of the Orthodox people.

Cyril Lukaris

Cyril Lukaris (d.1638) served as patriarch of Alexandria and patriarch of Constantinople on seven different occasions under the Turks before they finally drowned him. His “confession of faith” was forthrightly condemned by the same church councils in Kiev and Jassy which upheld the orthodoxy of Peter Mogila’s catechism and service books. The “confession” of Cyril was a thoroughly Calvinist statement of faith. In 1662 a council of Eastern patriarchs in Jerusalem confirmed the decisions of the council of Jassy, and published a “Confession of Faith of the Eastern Patriarchs.”

The East

In the seventeenth century, the Turks destroyed the independence of the Serbian and Bulgarian churches. They submitted them directly to Constantinople thus establishing the Greek “Phanariot” rule over the non-Greek Orthodox Christians in the Turkish empire. At this time in Russia, the bishop Saint Dimitri of Rostov (d.1709) published his spiritual writings which included a twelve-volume edition Of the Lives of the Saints. The holy abbot, Saint Job (d.1651) of the Pochaev monastery also lived at this time.

The West

In the West the nations were recovering from the religious upheavals of the reformation and counter-reformation. America was being settled by the religious dissenters from England: Puritans, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers who were members of the Society of Friends founded by George Fox (d.1691), In 1611 in England, the King James Version of the Bible was published. The Roman Church of this time was troubled by the movement of Jansenism, the doctrine which held that grace is given only to the elect of God. At this time in France, Vincent de Paul (d.1660) founded his order dedicated to the works of charity and service to the poor and sick.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

In the course of seventy-three years in the eighteenth century, the patriarchal throne of Constantinople changed occupants forty-eight times. Some men held the position of patriarch as many as five different times. This is indicative of the horrible conditions in which the Christians were living under Turkish domination. Although some Serbians did manage to migrate into Austria and Hungary where they were given their own dioceses, for those Christians who remained under Turkish control this was the darkest hour. This time was the period when there lived three of the greatest saints of modern times.

Saint Cosmas Aitolos

Saint Cosmas Aitolos (d. 1779) has been called the greatest missionary of modern Greece and the father of the modern Greek nation. St. Cosmas was a monk of Mount Athos who left the Holy Mountain in order to spread the gospel of Christ among the Greeks living under Turkish subjugation. The saint left no writings of his own. However, he was an outstanding preacher and teacher whose words have been recorded. He also was a wonder-worker. Saint Cosmas died a martyr’s death at the hands of the Turks.

Saint Macarios of Corinth

Saint Macarios of Corinth (d. 1805) was the younger contemporary of Saint Cosmas. He spent time on Mount Athos where he defended the strict observance of Orthodox liturgical practices. He was a missionary preacher who was elected bishop of Corinth, but who was unable to function in the position. He is most famous for his insistance on the necessity and propriety of the regular and frequent reception of Holy Communion. The saint wrote many spiritual writings, many of which are on this very theme of the need for the faithful to participate in the Sacraments.

Saint Nicodemas the Hagiorite

Saint Nicodemas the Hagiorite (d. 1809) was in the same spirit as Saints Cosmas and Macarios. He was also a monk on Mount Athos where he was one of the leaders of the spiritual revival of Greek Orthodoxy under Turkish domination. He is best known for his editing of spiritual writings, including those of Saint Macarios of Corinth. His most famous work is the Philokalia, a collection of spiritual and ascetical writings of the fathers of the Eastern Church.

Russia: The Holy Governing Synod

The eighteenth century was a period of grave difficulty for the Orthodox Church in Russia. Peter the Great ruled until 1725, taking the title of emperor. He ruled the church with great power, submitting it totally to his personal demands and desires. When Patriarch Adrian died in 1700, Peter appointed the ambitious bishop of Novgorod, Stefan Iavorskii(d. 1772) to hold the office, promising an election. In 1721, Peter issued the Ecclesiastical Regulation. It was written by the protestantizing Ukrainian Theophan Prokopovich (d. 1738), and it officially abolished the patriarchate of the Russian Church. The Holy Governing Synod was put in its place.

The Holy Synod was made up of bishops, priests, and laymen appointed by the emperor and subject to him through its secular head, the government official called the ober-procurator. The Holy Synod was patterned to conform with the administrative system of the protestant churches of the West which Peter admired and envied. This radical violation of traditional, canonical Orthodox church order in Russia – imposed on the church by the emperor – was formally ratified and recognized by the Eastern patriarchs. It lasted until 1918 when a patriarch was once again elected for the Russian Church and the unorthodox method of ecclesiastical administration was abolished.

The first president of the Holy Governing Synod to be appointed by Peter the Great was Stefan lavorskii, the Latinizing Ukrainian. Its designer, as we have seen, was Theophan Prokopovich, a man of Protestant inclinations, from the westernized south of the country. This situation of leading Orthodox churchmen, both in Russia and under Turkish domination, being either pro-Roman or pro-Protestant, defending either Latin or reformed positions in theology, piety and church administration, was typical of the time. The living tradition of the Church was lost through historical circumstances. The leaders of the Orthodox Church were forced to choose and defend positions which were alien to the spirit and content of traditional patristic and conciliar Orthodoxy.

Russia: The Petersburg Imperial Era

The decadent period of the Petersburg Imperial Era of Russia which lasted until the twentieth century was a time of spiritual regeneration in the Church. This began with the first rediscovery of traditional Orthodox sources within monastic circles. Paisii Velichkovskii (d. 1794), a Moldavian monk, travelled to Mount Athos and returned to Russia with the treasures of the Philokalia. The monk translated the anthology into Church Slavonic. From his beginnings, the Russian tradition of spiritual guides called startsi or elders developed. The most famous blossoming of this development came in the nineteenth century in the Optina monastery.

The most famous saint of the Russian Church in the eighteenth century was Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (d. 1783). Tikhon was the ruling bishop of Voronezh who gave up his episcopal office – perhaps as much from despondency and frustration as from ill health – in order to live the monastic life. He was deeply immersed in the holy scriptures and the writings of the church fathers, particularly Saint John Chrysostom. He knew, as well, the pietist writers of the Christian West. Saint Tikhon wrote many books, including On True Christianity, and he had a great correspondence of spiritual direction and pastoral counselling. The leading Russian hierarch of the century was Metropolitan Platon of Moscow (d. 1812), the author of theological textbooks; the promoter of historical studies; and the architect of plans for the return of the Old Believers to communion with the Orthodox Church.

Alaskan Mission

During the eighteenth century Russian missionaries began to move across Siberia. In 1794 monks from the Valaam monastery in Russian Finland arrived on the island of Kodiak in Alaska. In this first missionary party to reach North American shores was Saint Herman of Alaska, the first canonized saint of the Orthodox Church in America.

The West

The eighteenth century in the West was a time of revival and missionary expansion. John and Charles Wesley (d. 1791 and 1788) began the Methodist movement in the Church of England which carried over into the first “great awakening” in America. The “awakening” was a revivalist movement dedicated to the breaking down of divisions between the various protestant churches. All protestant believers were called to unity through faith in Jesus as one’s personal Savior. Jonathan Edwards (d. 1758) and George Whitefield (d. 1770) were the leaders of this revivalist movement in America. At the same time deism was popular in Europe and America. Deism was an outgrowth of the period of the enlightenment, and of romanticism, which affirmed the existence of a Supreme Being detached from the world, not self-revealing, and not involved in the affairs of men.

David Hume (d. 1776) in England and Immanuel Kant

(d. 1804) in Germany developed the philosophy which removed God, freedom, and immortality from the realm of human reason. Thus Christianity was reduced to a religion of personal faith, pietistic devotion, and ethical action. This enlightenment philosophy was the direct forerunner of the liberal protestant theology of the nineteenth century. This theology was led by its “father,” Frederich Schleiermacher (d. 1834), who wrote his discourses to the “cultured unbelievers” of the time, calling them to a religion of “feeling” . . . the greatest expression of which was the religion of Jesus. The most inspiring spiritual achievement of Western Christendom in this century was the music of J. S. Bach (d. 1750), G.F. Handel (d. 1759), W.F. Mozart (d. 1791) and L. von Beethoven (d. 1827).

The Roman Church of the eighteenth century experienced both a great missionary expansion and a great conflict with the enlightenment spirit which led to revolution against both church and state in Europe and America. In 1773 the Jesuit order was dissolved by the pope under secular pressures. Many of the Jesuits took refuge in the Russia of Catherine II the Great. She was a devotee of the French enlightenment spirit, closing half of the monasteries during her reign. She confiscated all monastic properties, and gravely limited – by administrative and legal measures – the number of monastic vocations in the church.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Russia: Spiritual Renewal

The seeds of spiritual renewal, planted in the previous century, blossomed in Russia. The Church continued to live under the domination of the state. While the Church was subject to strict governmental control and censorship, and while there did not exist a patriarch or church council of any kind during the entire century, the life of faith continued to show itself splendidly in the lives of the Russian saints, missionaries, theologians, and writers of the period. The greatest Russian saint of the century, who has been called the greatest saint in Russian Church history, was Saint Seraphim of Sarov (d. 1833). Saint Seraphim was a monk who spent twenty years in total seclusion in the most intense prayer, fasting, and spiritual exercise. In 1825 he opened the doors of his enclosure, greeting the faithful who came to him with the radiant joy of the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit. In his spiritual instructions Saint Seraphim identified the purpose of the Christian life as the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” He was canonized in 1903. The most famous elders of the Optina monastery who lived at this time were: Leonid (d. 1841); Macarius (d. 1841); and Amvrossy (d. 1891). Amvrossy, together with Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, is considered to be the inspirer of the greatest Christian writer of this time, Fyodor Dostoevsky (d. 1861).

Within the movement of spiritual renewal were the teachers of the ascetic life and the practice of the Jesus Prayer, the bishop-monks Ignatii Brianchaninoff (d.1867), and Theophan Govorov, the Recluse (d. 1894) who wrote volumes of spiritual writings, including the Russian translation of the Philokalia. At this time, the popular book on the Jesus Prayer by an unknown Russian author, called The Way of the Pilgrim, made its appearance.

In the second half of the century Father John Sergieff of Kronstadt (d. 1908) lived and worked. Father John was a parish priest whose pastoral gifts earned him the title of “All-Russian Pastor.” Through his great faith the saintly priest prayed, celebrated the liturgical mysteries, taught, and healed. He is greatly responsible for the eucharistic revival among Russian Orthodox in this century. He insisted on the participation in the holy sacraments by those who came to pray with him in his parish. In order to facilitate and to deepen the preparation of the faithful for the regular reception of Holy Communion, Father John instituted the practice of corporate, public confession. A great benefactor of the poor and a healer of the sick, Father John’s spiritual counsels are published in his diary called My Life in Christ.

The leading Russian theologians of the nineteenth century were the great churchmen, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (d. 1867), and the layman Alexei Khomiakov (d. 1860) whose writings – such as the famous The Church is One – were not originally published in Russia due to government censorship. Considered as one of the most original and creative of modern theologians, Khomiakov was among the first to discover the traditional patristic courses of Orthodox theology and spiritual life. He encouraged Orthodox thinkers to break from the “Western captivity” of scholastic theology and to meet the intellectual and spiritual world of the West with a sound knowledge and experience of the genuine Orthodox Tradition.

In addition to Khomiakov and the writer Dostoevsky, mention must be made of the Russian religious thinkers such as I. Kireevskii (d. 1856), V. Soloviev (d. 1900), N. Federov (d. 1905) and the brothers S. Troubetskoy (d. 1905) and E. Troubetskoy (d. 1920). Also the name of Leo Tolstoy (d. 1913), the great novelist who rewrote the gospels, created his own religion, and was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church, should be mentioned.

Russia: Missionary Activity

The nineteenth century in Russia, as in the West, was a missionary century. The priest, Makarii Glukharev (d. 1847), dedicated his life to the evangelization of the Siberian tribes. The lay professor, Nikolai Ilminskii(d. 1891) translated the scriptures and church books of the Orthodox faith into the languages of these peoples. The theological academy founded in Kazan became the center of the missionary activity of the Russian Church. At this time as well, Bishop Nikolai Kassatkin (d. 1912) of Tokyo converted thousands of Japanese to the Orthodox faith, leaving at his death a self-governing local church with the scriptures and liturgical books in the native language, and a number of native pastors. Bishop Nikolai was canonized a saint in 1970.

Saint Herman of Alaska (d. 1837) was also canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1970 for his extraordinary holiness, expressed by his self-emptying love and care for the Alaskan people. In addition, the name of Father John Veniaminoff (d. 1879) must be mentioned in relation to the missionary activities of the Russian Church. Father John travelled across Siberia at the beginning of the century with his wife and children. He translated the scriptures, the church services, and a brief book of his own writing called The Way to the Kingdom of Heaven, into the Aleut language. He created the alphabet out of Slavonic characters. Father John was a great administrator, technician, and scientist. He was a teacher, a pastor, and a linguist. In 1839 he became bishop of Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands. In 1868 he was elected Metropolitan of Moscow with the name of Innocent. Metropolitan Innocent was canonized as “Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to America” in 1978.

The nineteenth century saw the growth of the Orthodox Church in America. Many immigrants came to the new world in the latter half of the century from the traditional Orthodox homelands of the old country. In 1812, the first Orthodox church building was constructed on the North American mainland at Fort Ross in California. In 1870 the first bishop of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands was named. In 1872 the center of the Orthodox mission was unofficially moved from Sitka to San Francisco, where it was officially established by Bishop Nestor in 1879. In 1898 Archbishop Tikhon Belavin, later to become the first patriarch of the Russian Church since the time of Peter the Great, was assigned as the American primate. He called for local autonomy, the use of English as the liturgical language, and the employment of the local civil calendar for ecclesiastical use.

The first Greek Orthodox parish in the United States was established in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1867. This parish was given its churchly vessels by the Russian tsar “in token of his imperial pleasure over the beginning of Greek-speaking churches in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Russia.”

The East

The nineteenth century in the East witnessed the independence of large numbers of Orthodox Christians from the Turkish yoke. The Greek uprising in 1821 caused the Turkish authorities to hang Patriarch Gregory of Constantinople, and five metropolitans, from the gates of the Phanar on Easter Sunday. After the independence of Greece was won, the auto-cephalous status of the Greek Church was declared in 1833. It was confirmed by Constantinople in 1850. The patriarchial theological seminary on the island of Halki was founded in 1844.

Five self-governing dioceses of Serbian Orthodox and two dioceses of Romanian Orthodox were set up outside the boundaries of the Turkish empire during the course of the century. Within the empire, the Bulgarian people sought and obtained permission from the Turks to have their own separate church jurisdiction. The Bulgarians were formerly governed in dioceses with other Orthodox Christians living in the same area by Greek bishops, who were appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople. Any action of establishing a separate church administration on the basis of nationality was officially condemned by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch in 1872 as the heresy of phyletism. This so-called Bulgarian schism was finally settled in 1945 when the Bulgarian patriarchate was established within determined territorial boundaries. The second half of the century witnessed the life of Saint Nectarios of Aegina (d. 1920). He was the Archbishop of Pentapolis, known for his evangelical preaching and manner of life – governed by humility, simplicity, poverty, and love for the brethren.

The West

The protestant West was characterized by missionary-expansion and liberal theology. This was the era of the “quest for the historical Jesus” through the means of historical and biblical criticism. It was the time when the Christian faith was considered by the theologians, primarily, as a religion of feeling or of moral behavior. At this time, there was a clash between the liberals and the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists, particularly in America, insisted on using the Bible as a manual of science to be interpreted literally in a manner inconsistent with the purposes and intentions of the holy scriptures as understood and interpreted in Church Tradition. Thus in the Western Protestant world of the nineteenth century, the dominant choice offered was that of either liberalism of a rationalist or pietist variety, or sectarian fundamentalism. In the

Roman Church at the end of the century, the papal ecclesiastical authority condemned the form of Roman Catholic liberalism called the heresy of modernism. This was officially done in 1907. Its roots, however were in the critical, rationalist movements of the nineteenth century with its emphasis on biblical criticism and the history of religions as the proper keys to the understanding of Christianity. Earlier in the century in 1854, Pope Pius IX, officially promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. In 1870, the First Vatican Council reaffirmed the doctrines of the Council of Trent, and officially, for the first time in history, defined the dogma of the infallibility of the pope of Rome. This dogma declared that when the pope speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith or morals, his decision is binding on all catholics – since it is considered to be infallible. The Vatican dogma explicitly states that the infallibility of the pope is binding when he speaks “from himself and not from the consensus of the church.” The Roman saints, John Vianney (d. 1859), the Cure of Ars, and Teresa of Lisieux (d. 1897) lived at this time.

The East and the West

In 1848, in response to overtures directed to the Orthodox by Pope Pius IX, the Eastern Patriarchs issued their famous encyclical letter in which the doctrine of the conciliar character of the Orthodox is clearly professed. Signed by all the patriarchs of the Orthodox Church, together with twenty-nine bishops fully endorsed by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, the encyclical letter of 1848 is held as the most authoritative document in modern Orthodox Church history.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

American Archdiocese

In 1898, Bishop Tikhon Belavin became the head of the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1900, the name of this diocese was changed to the diocese of the Aleutian Islands and North America. In 1905, the Holy Synod of the Russian Church elevated the diocese to the rank of archdiocese and Tikhon became an archbishop. During this same year, the center of the American archdiocese was moved from San Francisco to New York City where the St. Nicholas Cathedral was built At this time also, the first ecclesiastical seminary was founded in Minneapolis and the first general council (sobor) of the archdiocese took place in 1907 in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, near St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan where the archbishop had also founded a pastoral school for training priests.

Archbishop Tikhon

The Church in America during the time of Archbishop Tikhon, who remained its leader until 1908, was comprised of all Orthodox Christians living in the new world, from all national backgrounds. Many of the Slavs in the archdiocese were former Uniates, i.e.. members of the Roman Catholic church of the Eastern rite who came to America from those sections of Eastern Europe where the Union of Brest was still in force. Many of these Slav Christians were led back into the Orthodox Church by Father Alexis Toth (d. 1909), who, in 1891, joined the Orthodox Church with his parish in Minneapolis. Archbishop Tikhon had great ideas for the Orthodox Church in America. He wrote to the Holy Synod of the Russian Church in 1905-1906 that the American archdiocese should be an autonomous Orthodox Church made up of all Orthodox Christians of all nationalities, using the English language and the American civil calendar (i.e., the Gregorian calendar) for its church services and activities. English translations of the main liturgical services of the Church had already been done at this time.

It was Tikhon’s conviction that the American Church would be composed of many national groups and he himself had a plan for the gradual development of the self-governing church with a hierarchy drawn from all of the ethnic Orthodox peoples. In 1904, Raphael Hawaweeny, a Syrian archimandrite, was consecrated as bishop of Brooklyn to care for the faithful of Syrian and Lebanese origins in America. A similar plan was set for the consecration of a bishop from the Serbian clergy, who also would have a territorial diocese while tending to the specific needs of the Serbian Orthodox in the new land. Thus it was the consciously formulated plan to develop a local hierarchy, preserving the Orthodox territorial principle of diocesan government, and yet serving the pastoral needs of the various national peoples. Already in 1905, however, a “Hellenic Eastern Orthodox Church” was incorporated in the state of New York independent of the local Orthodox hierarchy, although, at the time, there was no Greek bishop in the country and no plans for a specifically Greek-American diocese.

From 1908-1917

After Archbishop Tikhon returned to Russia, the American diocese was headed by Archbishop Platon Rozhdestvenskii who served until 1914 when he returned to Russia to serve as a member of the Holy Synod under the provisional government. Platon was the former exarch of the Church of Georgia (Iberia) in the Russian empire. In 1912, the ecclesiastical seminary, called St. Platen’s, was moved from Minneapolis to Tenafly, New Jersey.

Father Leonid Turkevich, the future Metropolitan Leonty, one of the original teachers at the seminary, became, at this time, the dean of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. He wrote many articles during this period about the destiny of the American missionary archdiocese to become a self-governing Orthodox Church. With Father A. Kukulevsky, he represented the American diocese at the Russian Church Council of 1917-1918.

Church in Russia

The period from 1900 to 1917, in Russia, was a time of religious rebirth and ecclesiastical reform. While such atheist intellectuals as P.B. Struve (d. 1944), S.N. Bulgakov (d. 1944), N.A. Berdyaev (d. 1948), S.L. Frank (d. 1950), G.P. Fedotov (d. 1951) and others were effecting their conversions “from marxism to idealism” and into the Orthodox Church, the bishops and leaders of the Russian Church were subjecting the eccelsiastical structures to critical review. In 1905, the ober-procurator of the Holy Synod, K. P. Pobedonostsev, who had virtually ruled the church for a quarter century, made known the emperor’s declaration that at long last a council of the Russian Church would be held and that plans should be made “to carry this great task forward.” The civil power finally yielded to the demands that the Russian Church be free to carry on its life and work without interference from state control.

Council of 1917-1918

Much pre-conciliar work was done. Surveys of the bishops were conducted to receive their ideas. Discussions were held. Reports were filed. After much debate, it was decided that each diocese would send delegates from the clergy and laity to sit in council with the bishops, who, alone, according to the Orthodox Faith, would make the final decisions in matters of church doctrine and practice. In 1917, in the midst of revolutionary turmoil, the council convened. Its most momentous act was to restore the patriarchate to the Russian Church. On the morning of November 1, 1917, after vigil and prayer, an old monk drew the name of one of the three elected nominees from an urn in front of the icon of the Kazan Mother of God. Thus, Archbishop Tikhon, the former primate of the American archdiocese, became the first patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church since the time of Peter the Great.

Patriarch Tikhon

From the very beginning, the new patriarch struggled for the rights of the Russian Church in its new situation of legal separation from the soviet state. In January 1918, he issued a formal decree of condemnation and excommunication of all “open and secret enemies of the truth of Christ.” This decree, which referred directly to actions of the Bolshevik government, was confirmed by the church council which was still in session.

Patriarch Tikhon was also arrested and brought to trial for his refusal to give up consecrated church vessels which the government demanded during the time of famine and civil war, obstensibly to feed the poor. The primate offered all unconsecrated riches of the church and promised as well to raise money for the afflicted through free will offerings of the faithful that would equal the amount which the government was demanding, and which also would be distributed to the people directly by the church. In his struggles and trials, the patriarch tried to follow the path of political neutrality while he defended the rights of the church without compromise. He died in 1925 as a confessor for the faith and is recognized by many as a martyr and saint.

Living Church

Patriarch Tikhon also had to struggle against the Living Church, a group of ultra-liberal churchmen who enthusiastically supported the soviet regime. The Living Church was recognized by the state as the official Russian Church, and it was used by the state against those faithful to Patriarch Tikhon. This group of “renovationists” in many ways changed the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Church and were greeted by some in the West as the bearers of the Reformation in Russia. The Living Church died out in the late twenties when it was no longer useful to the state. It had no following among the people, and a number of clergy who had been in the movement in good faith repented and returned to the Orthodox Church.

Ukrainian Self-consecrated

In 1921, in Kiev, a concil of Ukrainian priests was held to form an autocephalous church for the Ukraine. At this meeting, at which no bishops were present, the priests “consecrated” their leader, Basil Lipkivskii, as a “bishop.” Thus began the group of “self-consecrated” called the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has since spread throughout the world.

Church in America

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Orthodox Church in America was thrown into confusion and chaos. Since 1917, the American archdiocese was without effective leadership. After the revolution, Archbishop Platon returned to America. He had the blessing of Patriarch Tikhon to care for the American church, but was without official papers of any kind. The third council of the American archdiocese, held in Pittsburgh in 1922, accepted Platon as its leader, but agreed to wait for official word from the patriarch in Moscow as to his official assignment. At the time, however, the patriarch was in captivity to the soviet regime and the official support of the state was given to the Living Church. In 1923, the unfrocked priest, John Kedrovsky, came to America as a “bishop” of the Living Church and demanded – and received by legal action – possession of Russian Church properties including St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. At this time as well, the seminary in Tenafly was closed and its properties and library were sold.

Detroit Council

In 1924, the fourth council of the American archdiocese was held in Detroit. This council, on the basis of Patriarch Tikhon’s decree of November 20, 1920, No. 362 – which declared that all dioceses of the Russian Church cut off from the patriarchate should govern themselves and carry on their church life under local supervision – declared that the American archdiocese would be a self-governing metropolitanate until such time as normal relations could be resumed with the Church in Russia. Platon was officially installed as the metropolitan and the church came to be called the American Metropolia, officially incorporated as the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of America.

American Disunity

The chaos of the post-revolutionary years gave opportunity for the non-Russian Orthodox in America to form their own ecclesiastical jurisdictions, thus in-augerating the existence of many church “dioceses” in the same territory for the first time in Orthodox Church history. In 1922, the patriarchate of Constantinople settled its problems with the Church of Greece over America and officially formed the Greek Orthodox Church in America under its jurisdiction. The Syrian bishop Raphael died in 1915 and the new bishop for the Syrian Orthodox in America, Aftimios, was consecrated in America in union with the local Russian bishops. At this time as well, local groups of Orthodox Christians from all national backgrounds were organizing themselves into parish communities in the new world with virtually no clear and consistent hierarchal leadership.

Church in Greece

In Greece, the first quarter of the century saw the influx of many Greeks from the Turkish territories, particularly at the time of the Greek-Turkish war of 1922 when the patriarchate of Constantinople lost a vast number of members who emigrated to other places, including the new world. In 1911, Father Eusebios Matthopoulos founded the brotherhood Zoe in Greece, an organization dedicated to the enlightenment of Christian Greece. The brotherhood founded many schools and unions and did much good work. It also brought many protestant doctrines, practices and pieties into the church.

Other Churches

In 1920, the five dioceses of Serbian Orthodox which had come into being during the time of the breakdown of the Turkish empire and the formation of the new European nations were formed into one national Serbian Orthodox Church with a patriarch in Belgrade. In 1922, this church was officially separated from the state. The Roumanian Orthodox Church with its patriarch in Bucharest, was established in 1925. It remains the national church of Roumania. The Antiochene Patriarchate in the middle east received its first Arab primate in 1898, not without the aid of the Russians. The Patriarchate in Jerusalem, however, continues to have a Greek primate, although a council of Arab priests and laymen was formed in 1911 to participate in church government. The Orthodox Church in Poland received autocephaly in 1924. By 1925, there were also two dioceses of Orthodox Christians in Czechoslovakia. The Orthodox Church of Finland has become autonomous under the guidance of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1923. In 1921, the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe was led by Metropolitan Eulogius Georgievskii (d. 1946) who was appointed by Patriarch Tikhon. The Patriarchate of Constantinople appointed a Greek exarch in London in 1922.

Synod in Exile

Immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution, a group of Russian emigre churchmen, together with leading monarchist laymen, formed themselves into the Russian Orthodox Synod in Exile, also called the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This group, led by Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitskii (d. 1936), finally established its center in Serbia where it received the right to function independently of the local ecclesiastical hierarchy. Because of its location in Sremski-Karlovtsy, the group also received the name of the Karlovatskii Synod. This group was officially condemned by Patriarch Tikhon, as well as the Patriarchate of Constantinople, for disturbing church order.

Ecumenical Movement

The movement for cooperation among Christians, which began among the protestants in the nineteenth century, developed more strongly in the first quarter of this century with the establishment of the International Missionary Council in Edinburgh in 1910. In 1920, the bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople issued an encyclical letter “Unto All Churches of Christ Wheresoever They Be,” calling for “a closer relationship and a mutual understanding among the several Christian churches.”

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Church in Russia

At the death of Patriarch Tikhon, the Church in Russia entered its darkest hour. Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodskii served as “deputy locum tenens” of the patriarchate from 1927 to 1943. This was the time of Stalin’s purges when literally millions of people, including thousands of clergy, were imprisoned, exiled and killed. The Stalin constitution of 1936 officially called for “freedom of religion and freedom of anti-religious propaganda.” Hundreds of churches, monasteries and schools were closed. What little church life remained was limited exclusively to liturgical services. The persecution of the church by the state was fierce and relentless.

Relative Freedom

A period of relative freedom came to the Russian Church during the Second World War. The government needed church support for the war effort. In return for rallying the people to fight for the fatherland, the Russian Church received concessions from the state. Many churches, monasteries and schools were reopened. In 1943, a church council officially elected Sergius as patriarch. Until his death in 1945, Metropolitan Alexei Simanskii was elected to replace him at a second council solemnly conducted in the presence of a host of foreign church dignitaries.

Russian Emigre Disunity

In 1926, Metropolitan Platon of the American Metropolia met with members of the Russian Synod in Exile to discuss the problems of caring for the Russian Orthodox Christians in diaspora. At this time, many Russian immigrants had come to America and joined the American Metropolia and, due to the circumstances, the feelings of Russian nationalism in the American archdiocese were high. When the Synod in Exile attempted to extend its jurisdiction over the American Metropolia, however, Metropolitan Platon objected. Thus, he and his church were “suspended” by the Synod in Exile, which by now had developed the position of considering itself to be the one true Russian Orthodox Church, the successor of the Church of Patriarch Tikhon. At this same time, Metropolitan Eulogius also met with the bishops of the Synod and likewise was “suspended” by them for refusing to recognize their assumed jurisdiction over all Russian Orthodox outside of Russia.

Moscow Pressure

In the nineteen-thirties, pressure was also applied to the American Metropolia and the Western European Exarchate by Moscow. Archbishop Benjamin Fedchenkoff came to America from the USSR demanding the Metropolia’s allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. The fact that a pledge of allegiance to the Soviet state was also demanded showed that the Russian church was not free and that the American Metropolia could in no way enter into normal relations with it. Thus, in 1934, the Russian Church officially declared the Metropolia to be illegal and opened the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate in America. In the same year, Metropolitan Platon died and Archbishop Theophilus Pashkovsky was elected primate at the fifth council of the American church in Pittsburgh.

American Destiny

In 1937, the sixth council of the American Metropolia in New York affirmed a “moral” relation with the Russian Synod in Exile, but when the Synod once more demanded to govern the American church, the “moral” relationship was broken. This sobor also blessed the establishment of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York City as a graduate school of Orthodox theology, and St. Tikhon’s Seminary as a pastoral school at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Both schools opened in 1938.

In 1945, the seventh council of the American Metropolia in Cleveland decided upon close “spiritual” relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, but when, once again, demands were made from Moscow for loyalty to the Soviet government, the “spiritual” relationship was not realized.

In 1950, upon the death of Metropolitan Theophilus, the eighth council of the American Metropolia in New York elected as primate Archbishop Leonty Turkevich, one of the original leaders of the American missionary diocese. By this time, the Synod in Exile had set up its center in America, and the Moscow Patriarchate was applying its strongest pressures for the reestablishment of jurisdiction over the Russian-American church which it continued to call “illegal.” Thus, at this eighth council, before his election as metropolitan, Archbishop Leonty made a speech reaffirming the specifically American destiny of the church which had been planted in the new world by the Church of Russia more than a century and a half earlier: “We will follow our line,” the archbishop declared, “the foundation of an administratively self-governing Orthodox Church in America.”

Western Europe

During this same period, the Moscow Patriarchate also demanded a pledge of loyalty to the soviet regime from the Russian Church in Western Europe. Metropolitan Eulogius refused to comply, and appealed to Constantinople. Thus, in 1931, the Russian Church in Western Europe became an exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Many famous Russian churchmen and theologians were in the exarchate of Metropolitan Eulogius who, in 1925, founded the Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, called by the name of St. Sergius. The theological institute became the center of Orthodox learning in the West where such men were gathered as Fr. S. Bulgakov (d. 1944), Fr. V. Zenkovsky (d. 1962), Bishop Kassian Bezobrazov (d. 1965), Archimandrite Cyprian Kern (d. 1960), Fr. N. Afanasiev (d. 1966), Fr. G. Florovsky, who later became dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York and taught at Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, and Prof. A. Katashev (d. 1960), the last procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church and the first Minister of Religion of the Provisional Government who served as secretary of the Russian Church Council of 1917-1918.

Mention also must be made of the pastors Fr. A. El-chaninoff (d. 1934) and Fr. S. Chetverikoff (d. 1947) who, together with many of the professors of St. Sergius, worked closely with the Russian Student Christian Movement, which did a great work among Russian emigre’s during this period.

American Jurisdictions

The second quarter of this century was a time of increasing Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdictions in America. The controversy over the Greek Orthodox in America between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate was finally solved, with the American archdiocese being, according to its by-laws of 1930, a Greek Church for Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. In 1937, Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, the future ecumenical patriarch, came from the old world to head the American archdiocese. In the same year, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School, which later moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, was opened in Pomfret, Connecticut. Athenagoras served in America until his installation as patriarch of Constantinople in 1949. He was replaced by Archbishop Michael Konstantinides.

In 1933, the Antiochene diocese, which had been led by Bishop Aftimios, split into two groups. In 1936, Metropolitan Antony Bashir became the leader of the larger group, while Archbishop Samuel David led the smaller group. Both dioceses were in the jurisdiction of the Antiochene partriarchate. Metropolitan Antony was one of the outstanding hierarchs in American church history. He was ordained a priest in 1922 and served as a missionary among Syrian Orthodox Christians for fourteen years until he was made the Metropolitan of the Antiochene Orthodox Archdiocese which, since 1925, was officially separated from the Russian mission. He was a pioneer in encouraging the use of English in liturgical worship and was an outspoken supporter of jurisdictional unity among all Orthodox in the new world. He was a founder and leading member of the Standing  Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas and was also a leader in Orthodox ecumenical activity.

A Roumanian diocese was formed in America in 1929 headed by Bishop Polycarp. After 1935, there was no bishop in America for this group. After the war, a great period of disorder reigned, during which time one group of Roumanian Orthodox in America was led by Bishop Valerian Trifa, whose episcopal consecration was judged irregular, and another group was formed under the jurisdiction of Bucharest. During the same period, a Serbian diocese was formed in America led by Bishop Dionisiye under the jurisdiction of the Belgrade patriarchate, and a Bulgarian diocese was also established led by Metropoion Andrey in connection with the national Orthodox church in Bulgaria which was officially established n 1945.

An Albanian Orthodox diocese in America by Bishop Fan Noli, who was consecrated by bishops of the Russian-American Metropolia, while another small group of Albanians was formed under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. During this time, the Albanian Church in the homeland, which was declared autocephalous in 1937, underwent grave persecutions.

In 1939, the patriarchate of Constantinople consecrated Bishop Orestes Chornock as head of the American Carpatho-Russian diocese composed of former uniate priests and people. At this same time, Constantinople also established a Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction in America led by Bishop Bohdan Shpilka. Another Ukrainian jurisdiction found its place in America also at this time, led by Archbishop Palladios, formerly of the Church of Poland. During this time, the Ukrainian “self-consecrated” church also established jurisdiction in the new world. Its leader in the United States was Metropolitan John Theodorovich. It was being argued by this group, during this period, that its situation had been “regularized” in various ways, but it continued to be denied recognition by the Orthodox churches.

Ecumenical Movement

In 1948, the World Council of Churches was formed in Amsterdam from the Faith and Order and Life and Work movements which had been meeting in the twenties and thirties. By the time of its second assembly in Evanstan, Illinois, in 1954, the partriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch, the Church of Greece, the Russian American-Metropolia and the Roumanian Episcopate in America had become official members of the WCC. During this period, the leaders of the Russian Exarchate in Western Europe, as well as certain Russians who remained faithful to Moscow, such as Vladimir Lossky (d. 1958) and Nicholas Zernov, also played a major role in ecumenical activity.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Church in Russia

In the late fifties and early sixties, the soviet state again began to persecute the Orthodox Church in Russia. There were no violent purges as in the Stalin era, but the new persecutions came in the form of “administrative” measures with supposedly legal foundations. There was the closing of schools and churches – from 22,000 churches open in 1960 to 7,000 in 1964. There was the heavy taxation and restricted registration of clergy. Severe punishments were meted out against churchmen for trivial or non-existent “crimes.” In 1961, new decrees of the government gravely limited the powers of the parish priests by giving all legal and administrative authority in the churches to the lay councils, the “twenty members required by soviet law for the formation of a local corporation with rights to use a church building for worship. The pastors were thus reduced to mere liturgical functionaries devoid of official involvement in the life of their churches. These “administrative” measures were the attempt to destroy the religious faith which according to marxist doctrine, should long since have died a natural death in the USSR. Official atheist propaganda of the period shows a grave concern over the persistence of religion in the land.

Churchmen Appeal

Because the leading members of the hierarchy of the Russian Church were silent and passive in the face of the new persecution of the church by the state, voices of protest arose from the church members. The most powerful appeals for just and proper action concerning the church came from Archbishop Yermogen of Kaluga and the priests, Nikolai Eshliman and Gleb Yakunin. These spokesmen in behalf of the rights of the Russian Church – on the basis of soviet law as well as the statutes of the Russian Orthodox Church promulgated at its council of 1945 – sent open letter of criticism to both church and state officials December 1965. They, together with a number of lesser known colleagues, were deprived of their churchly positions. Agitation among the clergy and laymen for reform in the Russian Church, for strong leadership and just treatment, goes on until today.

Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn

In addition to churchmen, men from academic and literary fields also made appeals in the name of faith and freedom in Russia. Boris Pasternak (d. 1960) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, both Nobel Prize winning authors and Christian believers, are in this number. Solzhenitsyn addressed his famous Lenten Letter to Patriarch Pimen in 1972. This letter was extremely critical of the policies and actions of the Russian Church in the face of state control. It received great international attention as well as causing much controversy within the Russian Church. It received, however, no official response from the Moscow Patriarchate.

Patriarch Pimen

Upon the death of Patriarch Alexei in 1970, Archbishop Pimen Izvekov was chosen as primate of the Russian Church at its council in 1971. This same council officially confirmed the administrative decrees of 1961 so opposed by the parish clergy. Patriarch Pimen, who has made visits to the other patriarchates since his elevation, has been silent in response to all criticism of church leadership in Russia, and has continued the policies of cooperation with the soviet authorities of Sergius and Alexei before him.

Japanese Autonomy

Among the last acts of Patriarch Alexei in 1970 was the official declaration by the Moscow Patriarchate of the autonomy of the Orthodox Church in Japan. Bishop Vladimir Nagosky, the American-born primate of the Japanese Church, which was affiliated with the American Metropolia since World War II, was made Metropolitan of Tokyo as the church became fully self-governing. The Moscow Patriarch reserved the right to confirm the election of the Japanese primate and to participate in his consecration. In all other respects, the Church in Japan is fully independent. At the time of Japanese autonomy, the founder of the Church in Japan, Archbishop Nikolai Kassatkin, was canonized a saint by the Russian Church. In 1972, Metropolitan Vladimir returned to the United States as the native Metropolitan Theodosius Nagashima replaced him as primate of the church.

Metropolia Development

The fifties and sixties in the American Metropolia were difficult years. The problems of this period were internal difficulties arising from the theological and spiritual development of the church and the desire for a more adequate churchly life. There was an eagerness for administrative and liturgical reform that generally took the form of clergy-laity struggles over respective rights and privileges. By the end of the sixties, however, a consensus was developing among the majority of priests and people in the church for the implementation of proper liturgical worship, administrative order and spiritual development in the metropolia. The theological schools by this time were firmly established. St. Tikhon’s Seminary had developed considerably. St. Vladimir’s had received a number of famous European professors – N. Arseniev,  A. Bogolepov, G. Fedotov, Fr. G. Florovsky, S. Verhovskoy, Fr. A. Schmemann, Fr. J. Meyendorff – and, in 1967, received the right from the State of New York to grant the degrees of bachelor and master of theology.

Metropolitan Ireney

Metropolitan Leonty died in May of 1965. At the twelfth council of the American metropolia, the assembly nominated Archbishop Ireney Bekish, the acting administrator, and the American-born Bishop Vladimir Nagosky of the Japanese Church as candidates for the office of Metropolitan, as no candidate polled the required two-thirds votes on the first ballot. Archbishop Ireney was subsequently elected by the Synod of Bishops to succeed Metropolitan Leonty. Metropolitan Ireney immediately addressed a letter to the primates of all autocephalous churches upon his elevation, urging an urgent discussion about the confused situation of Orthodoxy in America. His appeal at this time went unanswered. His requests of leading patriarchs for audiences to discuss the Church in America were refused. Metropolitan Ireney presided at the thirteenth council of the American metropolia in 1967 as the feeling ran high for action to declare the metropolia as the self-governing Orthodox Church in America without recourse to or recognition by any patriarchate across the seas. Although no official action was taken, a “straw vote” of the council showed the overwhelming majority of delegates ready to drop the name Russian from the church and to carry on officially as a church in and for America.

American Autocephaly

In the late sixties, informal talks began between representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the American Metropolia, usually at ecumenical gatherings, about the American problem. Official negotiations to settle the difficulties between the two churches began in 1969. The official delegates of the American metropolia – Archbishop Kiprian of Philadelphia, and Fathers Joseph Pishtey, John Skvir, Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff – insisted upon a totally self-governing status for the metropolia, with the complete removal of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Russian Church from American territory. After long and difficult negotiations, with many hesitations and compromises, and many meetings and discussions within both churches over this complex and sensitive issue, on March 31,1970, Metropolitan Ireney and Metropolitan Nikodim, head of the external affairs department of the Moscow Patriarchate, signed the agreement whereby the Russian Church would recognize the American metropolia as the fully autocephalous Orthodox Church in America.

Autocephaly Proclaimed

On April 10,1970, six days before his death, Patriarch Alexei, together with fourteen bishops of the holy synod of the Russian Church, signed the official tomos proclaiming the metropolia as the fifteenth autocephalous church in the Orthodox family of self-governing churches, the Orthodox Church in America. At the fourteenth council of the American metropolia held at St. Tikhon’s Monastery on October 20-22, 1970, the tomos of autocephaly – which had been formally received on behalf of the American church by a delegation of churchmen led by Bishop Theodosius Lazor of Sitka – was officially read and the event was solemnly celebrated. The new status of the church was accepted and affirmed by the members of the council by a vote of 301 to 7, with 2 abstentions. The council thus became the first general council of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. The second council of the Church, held at St. Tikhon’s adopted the official governing statute of the new church and officially accepted the Albanian diocese headed by Bishop Stephen Lasko into the Orthodox Church in America.

Canonization of St. Herman

On August 9, 1972, the Orthodox Church in America celebrated the canonization of its first saint, Father Herman of Alaska. A member of the first group of missionary monks to come to Alaska in 1794 from the Valaam monastery in Finland, Saint Herman, a simple lay monk, remained among the Alaskan people as their protector, teacher and intercessor before God. The canonization ceremonies, attended by Archbishop Paaveli of the Finnish Orthodox Church, took place in Kodiak.

Autocephaly Aftermath

The act of recognition by the Moscow Patriarchate of its former missionary diocese in the new world as the fifteenth autocephalous Orthodox Church has not been officially received by all of the churches. Only the churches of Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Finland have issued official statements of recognition. Violent opposition has come from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, its American-Greek Orthodox archdiocese, and other Greek-speaking churches. All churches, however, including the Patriarchate of Constantinople, are in full sacramental and spiritual communion with the Orthodox Church in America, thus giving it the recognition de facto, which, for various reasons, they have refused to offer de jure.

Ecumenical Patriarchate

The ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople from 1950 to 1972 was led by the imposing figure of Patriarch Athenagoras I. This world-famous hierarch was concerned primarily with the survival of the patriarchate in Turkey and with ecumenical activity. In January 1964, the patriarch met with Pope Paul VI of the Roman Church in Jerusalem, the first meeting between the primates of the Orthodox and Roman churches since 1439. The two prelates met again in 1967 in Constantinople and in Rome. In 1965, they issued statements nullifying the anathemas of 1054, thus signifying an era of friendship between the churches in the mutual quest for complete unity in truth and love. The patriarch also met personally with leaders of the Church of England and the World Council of Churches.

Athenagoras Criticized

For his bold words and deeds directed toward Christian unity – particularly in his relations with the Roman Church – Patriarch Athenagoras was both admired and attacked. While being virtually identified with the whole of Orthodoxy in the minds of most non-Orthodox, the patriarch was severely criticized by some members of the Orthodox Church for acting independently and irresponsibly, without proper consultation with the leaders of all of the Orthodox churches. Others in the church, primarily in the Church of Greece, on Mt. Athos, and in America, criticized not merely the manner of the patriarch’s acting, but the actions themselves as betraying the Orthodox Faith.

Great Council

In 1961, Athenagoras I called the first conference of representatives of all autocephalous Orthodox churches in Rhodes to discuss the common problems facing the Orthodox, and to begin serious preparations for the calling of a Great Council of the Orthodox Church which had already been discussed for decades. Several other meetings were held in Rhodes and Switzerland, but the convocation of such a Great Council of all Orthodox bishops in the world in the near future is most unlikely. In 1967, the ecumenical patriarchate refused to place the problem of the Orthodox jurisdictions in America on the agenda of the pan-Orthodox conference held that year in Switzerland. The request was made by the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America.

Inner Troubles

The ecumenical patriarchate continues to have trouble with the Turkish government. The hasty election of Patriarch Demetrios I, Papadopoulos, to succeed Athenagoras I in 1972 showed the power of the Turkish authorities over the affairs of the Orthodox Church within its territory. The patriarchal seminary on the island of Halki was closed because of Turkish regulations in 1971. The ecumenical patriarchate also is engaged in controversy with the Church of Greece over the jurisdiction of dioceses in the “new lands” of northern Greece, while the monks of Mount Athos – whose number reduced from about six and a half thousand at the beginning of the century to about one and a half thousand today – continue to rebel against Constantinopolitan leadership because of its ecumenical policies.

Church in Greece

The Church of Greece has had its own inner turmoils since the time of the civil war in the forties. The coup of the military junta in 1967, as well as its subsequent overthrow, have brought turmoil in church affairs, particularly on the hierarchical level.

Greek Archdiocese

The ecumenical patriarchate continues its jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox Church in America. In 1959, Constantinople appointed Archbishop lakovos Kou-kouzis to succeed the late Archbishop Michael. By his active participation in national life, be it in presidential inaugurations or in freedom marches in the South, the new primate quickly became a widely recognized spokesman for Orthodoxy in America. At the same time, he has continued the policies of his predecessors in America, Athenagoras (later Patriarch of Constantinople) and Michael, giving to his archdiocese a highly centralized administrative system and a pronounced Greek character. Perhaps inevitably, Archbishop lakovos has been criticized from many directions. Some have regarded him as inconsistent in his position toward Orthodox unity in the New World, while a number within his own archdiocese – particularly recent immigrants – have attacked him for what they consider his pro-American, anti-Greek actions.


In March of 1960, Archbishop lakovos hosted a meeting of the primates of all canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States to discuss their closer cooperation. On June 7 in the same year, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Arnericas was established. Although a consultative group with no canonical jurisdiction or authority, SCOBA has provided a symbol of Orthodox unity in the new world, and has given a structure for the coordination of inter-Orthodox activities. The most fruitful of the projects carried on under the official auspices of SCOBA are the Campus Commission for work among students, and the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, the outgrowth of inter-Orthodox action in the area of religious education which began in 1957 under the leadership of Sophie Koulomzin. The OCEC produces a complete curriculum of materials for Orthodox Church schools. SCOBA continues to exist today, although the presence of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America has forced it to reconsider its structure and policies. Though it has failed to resolve the canonical problems caused by the existence of many overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions in the Americas, SCOBA continues, under the chairmanship of Archbishop lakovos, as a coordinating agency and a platform for discussion among the Orthodox.

National Dioceses

The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in America elected Metropolitan Philip Saliba as its primate in 1966 upon the death of Metropolitan Antony Bashir. The small diocese of Toledo, headed by Metropolitan Michael Shaheen, continued its separate existence under the patriarchate of Antioch until 1977, when its longstanding differences with the Antiochian Archdiocese were resolved.

The Serbians in America split in 1963 when the Church in Serbia retired Bishop Dionisiye and replaced him with Bishops Sava, Firmilian and Gregory for three American dioceses. Bishop Dionisiye rejected his retirement and was unfrocked by the church authorities. He led a large group of clergy and people into his independent Serbian Church in America. Although the most violent period of strife between the two Serbian groups is over, the Dionisiye group remains outside of canonical relationship with the Orthodox churches while the patriarchate in Belgrade led by Patriarch German since 1958 continues to govern the three American dioceses. The small Bulgarian diocese in American also split during this period, with some members remaining faithful to the patriarchate in Sophia – with Patriarch Maxim replacing the late Patriarch Cyril in 1971 – while the others first formed their own independent group and later, in December 1976, entered into the Orthodox Church in America.

A small Romanian diocese in America remains in the jurisdiction of the Romanian Church headed by Patriarch Justin, while the Patriarchate of Constantinople continues to exercise jurisdiction over Albanian, Carpatho-Russian and Ukrainian jurisdictions in America.

OCA Additions

The Romanian episcopate in America, headed by Bishop Valerian Trifa, officially affiliated with the American Metropolia in 1960 and thus is an integral part of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America. Under the leadership of the late Bishop Stephen Lasko, the Albanian diocese, originally formed by Bishop Fan Noli, joined the Orthodox Church in America in 1971. The Orthodox Church in America opened its twenty-thousand member Mexican exarchate in 1972, headed by Bishop Jose Cortes y Olmos. At the Fifth All-American Council, held in Montreal, Canada, in October 1977, Metropolitan Ireney, due to reasons of health, resigned as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America. As no candidate for the office of Metropolitan received the necessary two-thirds vote for election on the first ballot, the assembly nominated two American-born bishops as candidates: Bishop Dmitri Royster of the Diocese of Hartford and New England, and Bishop Theodosius Lazor of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Bishop Theodosius was subsequently elected by the Synod of Bishops to succeed Metropolitan Ireney as ruling hierarch, thus becoming the first American-born bishop to hold the office of Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

European Churches

In 1951, the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia became autocephalous, while in 1967, the communist government of Albania declared the Orthodox Church there to be non-existent.

The Russian Exarchate of Western Europe, which was under the jurisdiction of Constantinople since the time of Metropolitan Eulogius, was “returned” by the ecumenical partriarchate to the Moscow Patriarchate in 1965. The exarchate refused to go under Moscow and declared itself independent and self-governing. In 1971, however, it appealed once more to Constantinople and was again received under its jurisdiction. The primate of the exarchate is Archbishop George of Brussels. The Moscow Patriarchate continues to operate its exarchate in Western Europe with Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in London and Archbishop Basil Krivosheine in Brussels as its most famous leaders.

In 1973, the Patriarchate of Alexandria consecrated four bishops for the Orthodox Church in Eastern Africa, among whom are two of its original leaders, Reuben Spartas and Theodore Nankyamas.

Ukrainians and Synod

Negotiations between the Ukrainian “self-consecrated” and the Patriarchate of Constantinople developed in the seventies, but without clear and conclusive results.

The Russian Synod in Exile, now centered in America with its main monastery in Jordanville, New York, continues outside canonical relations with the other Orthodox churches. The group’s anti-ecumenical and anti-communist views are propagated under the guise of uncompromising orthodoxy.

Ecumenical Movement

In 1961, in New Delhi, the churches of Russia, Roumania, Bulgaria, and Poland joined the World Council of Churches at its third assembly. The Russian Church in the sixties was extremely active ecumenically, led by the late Metropolitan Nikodim. This activity was greatly curtailed in the seventies, most likely due to the changing political needs of the Soviet government which continued to dominate official church policy.

Within the ecumenical movement the Orthodox, as a whole, continue to stress the priority of faith and order in the ecumenical dialogue, and to insist on perfect unity in the Orthodox faith as the sole condition for Christian unity and sacramental communion. The bishops of the Orthodox Church in America issued an official encyclical on this issue in 1973.

Roman Church

In 1959, Pope John XXIII announced the convocation of an “ecumenical council” of the Roman Catholic Church. This council, called Vatican II, opened in 1962 and closed in 1965. Pope John died in 1963 and was succeeded by Pope Paul VI. Attended by all Roman bishops and many non-Catholic observers, the council published official documents concerning all aspects of Roman Catholic church life. The council caused great changes in the Roman Church and the post-conciliar period has been one of confusion and conflict. The most significant changes of this time have been the radical questioning of the Roman system of ecclesiastical authority and the enthusiastic entrance of Roman Catholics into ecumenical activity. The recent changes in the Roman Church have had a tremendous impact on the entire Christian world.

From: Bible and Church History by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dept. of Religous Education – Orthodox Church in America, Crestwood, New York

Historical Articles

The persecution of the Christians began very early in the life of the Church. The first martyr, Stephan, was killed by the Jewish authorities because of his adherence to the belief in the Risen Christ. Thus, began the first general persecution against the Christians (See Acts 7 and 8) by the Jewish authorities. Not long after, the Roman persecution also began but this was much more selective and by the end had killed all of the Apostles (except St. John). The Jewish conflict ended at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the Diaspora of the Jews beginning around 70 AD.

This Diaspora, in fact, helped spread Christianity beyond the Middle East as Christians began to preach and teach throughout the Empire. This brought them in contact with Roman authorities which saw a threat to the state religion of worshipping the Emperors and gods. But under the Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) the persecutions were localized and not with much zeal. Many misunderstandings about Christians were cleared. However, this short period of toleration was followed by periods of harsh persecution.

From 185 to 249, under the rule of Marcus Aurelius there was a period of peace not only in the Empire but towards the Christians. However, the when the Emperor Decius came to power, he inaugurated a universal persecution against the Christians. These were continued by his successor Valerian until 260 AD. His son Gallienus stopped the persecutions and the Church experienced its largest growth to date, reaching up to 10 percent of the population of the Empire.

The final great persecution against the Christians was initiated in 303 by the Emperor Diocletian. The largest group of martyrs in the Church comes from this period as many met their death. The Emperor’s own wife was converted and martyred for the Faith. This persecution stopped when Constantine took the throne in 312 AD and not only recognized the Christians (his own mother Helen was a Christian) but he himself became a Christian and made it the official religion of the Empire.

Martyrdom was seen by the early Christians as a way of participation in the death of Christ. But they never went and looked to be put to death, but rather accepted it when it came to them. In reading the lives of the martyrs, one thing is clear (from the Protomartyr Stephan to the last of the martyrs) that it was a reflection of Christ’s own death and thus a hope in the Resurrection.

The lives of the martyrs became a great source of inspiration for the Christians and their lives and relics were greatly revered. Even to this day, relics of the saints are given great reverence in the Church. It also helped develop some of the liturgical worship such as having relics in altars, and the architecture of the buildings built for worship.

The age of martyrs also produced a great number of writers who wrote about Christianity and what they believe in order to dispel some of the myths about Christians (some said they were cannibals because they ate the “body and blood”) These writers became known as “The Apologists” and they were able to help clarify Christian theology to the pagans, leaving us with some of the greatest explanations of the Christian faith.

There were also theological issues in reference to Church order that developed. For example, what should happen to those who “lapsed” and renounced the Christian faith to save their lives….are they allowed back into the Church? Some felt they should not while others said they could. It was agreed to allow them in after a period of penance. Some people left the Church to form more rigorous forms of Christianity. Such examples as this was the Novatian Schism in the 3rd century and the Donatist Schism in North Africa in the 4th century.

While many of the decisions were local, they were soon tested by the universal Church. What became clear was a separation of Christianity from Judaism by the early Second century. The canon of the New Testament was established (which we use today) and early theological issues were being tested and Orthodoxy prevailing. The re-admittance of the “lapsed” became a defining moment in the Church because it allowed the sacrament of repentance and readmission to the Church despite issues of sin. Groups that left to find a “purer” Christianity were marginalized and rejected by the Church as a whole. Ultimately, the Church was able to develop a clear theology and explanation of the Faith which eventually lead to its acceptance and adoption as the Faith in the Empire.

Though there are many people who suffered during this period, there is comparatively little written. There are many lives of Saints compiled which tell the story of many of the martyrs. St. Justin Martyr is one of the most influential apologists of the period as is Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Other writers of note are Ireneaus of Lyons, Athenagoras of Athens, Melitio of Sardis and Clement of Rome. Other theological writers such as Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian and Origen are important. (The last two having left the Church to find a “purer form” are not considered canonized).

The source material for this is many. Any lives of the Saints (St. Nicholas of South Canaan’s Prologue from Ochrid) are helpful and varying in their degree of completeness The Apology of Justin Martyr, The Letter to DiogentusLetter to Barnabas as well as all of the works of Polycarp and Ignatius are very insightful and inspiring. The writings of Cyprian and Clement also have great theological elements on what constitute the Church and believers. Outside sources such as Josephus and Pliny the Younger help put the period in context.


The persecution of the Christians began very early in the life of the Church. The first martyr, Stephan, was killed by the Jewish authorities because of his adherence to the belief in the Risen Christ. Thus, began the first general persecution against the Christians (See Acts 7 and 8) by the Jewish authorities. Not long after, the Roman persecution also began but this was much more selective and by the end had killed all of the Apostles (except St. John). The Jewish conflict ended at the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the Diaspora of the Jews beginning around 70 AD.

This Diaspora, in fact, helped spread Christianity beyond the Middle East as Christians began to preach and teach throughout the Empire. This brought them in contact with Roman authorities which saw a threat to the state religion of worshipping the Emperors and gods. But under the Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) the persecutions were localized and not with much zeal. Many misunderstandings about Christians were cleared. However, this short period of toleration was followed by periods of harsh persecution.

From 185 to 249, under the rule of Marcus Aurelius there was a period of peace not only in the Empire but towards the Christians. However, the when the Emperor Decius came to power, he inaugurated a universal persecution against the Christians. These were continued by his successor Valerian until 260 AD. His son Gallienus stopped the persecutions and the Church experienced its largest growth to date, reaching up to 10 percent of the population of the Empire.

The final great persecution against the Christians was initiated in 303 by the Emperor Diocletian. The largest group of martyrs in the Church comes from this period as many met their death. The Emperor’s own wife was converted and martyred for the Faith. This persecution stopped when Constantine took the throne in 312 AD and not only recognized the Christians (his own mother Helen was a Christian) but he himself became a Christian and made it the official religion of the Empire.

The Issues

Martyrdom was seen by the early Christians as a way of participation in the death of Christ. But they never went and looked to be put to death, but rather accepted it when it came to them. In reading the lives of the martyrs, one thing is clear (from the Protomartyr Stephan to the last of the martyrs) that it was a reflection of Christ’s own death and thus a hope in the Resurrection.

The lives of the martyrs became a great source of inspiration for the Christians and their lives and relics were greatly revered. Even to this day, relics of the saints are given great reverence in the Church. It also helped develop some of the liturgical worship such as having relics in altars, and the architecture of the buildings built for worship.

The age of martyrs also produced a great number of writers who wrote about Christianity and what they believe in order to dispel some of the myths about Christians (some said they were cannibals because they ate the “body and blood”) These writers became known as “The Apologists” and they were able to help clarify Christian theology to the pagans, leaving us with some of the greatest explanations of the Christian faith.

There were also theological issues in reference to Church order that developed. For example, what should happen to those who “lapsed” and renounced the Christian faith to save their lives….are they allowed back into the Church? Some felt they should not while others said they could. It was agreed to allow them in after a period of penance. Some people left the Church to form more rigorous forms of Christianity. Such examples as this was the Novatian Schism in the 3rd century and the Donatist Schism in North Africa in the 4th century.

The Results

While many of the decisions were local, they were soon tested by the universal Church. What became clear was a separation of Christianity from Judaism by the early Second century. The canon of the New Testament was established (which we use today) and early theological issues were being tested and Orthodoxy prevailing. The re-admittance of the “lapsed” became a defining moment in the Church because it allowed the sacrament of repentance and readmission to the Church despite issues of sin. Groups that left to find a “purer” Christianity were marginalized and rejected by the Church as a whole. Ultimately, the Church was able to develop a clear theology and explanation of the Faith which eventually lead to its acceptance and adoption as the Faith in the Empire.

The Main People

Though there are many people who suffered during this period, there is comparatively little written. There are many lives of Saints compiled which tell the story of many of the martyrs. St. Justin Martyr is one of the most influential apologists of the period as is Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. Other writers of note are Ireneaus of Lyons, Athenagoras of Athens, Melitio of Sardis and Clement of Rome. Other theological writers such as Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian and Origen are important. (The last two having left the Church to find a “purer form” are not considered canonized).

The Sources

The source material for this is many. Any lives of the Saints (St. Nicholas of South Canaan’s Prologue from Ochrid) are helpful and varying in their degree of completeness The Apology of Justin Martyr, The Letter to Diogentus, Letter to Barnabas as well as all of the works of Polycarp and Ignatius are very insightful and inspiring. The writings of Cyprian and Clement also have great theological elements on what constitute the Church and believers. Outside sources such as Josephus and Pliny the Younger help put the period in context.


In the days following the death and the Resurrection of Christ, there was much confusion. Many of His apostles and disciples went into hiding awaiting word of what would happen to them and the infant Church. However as Christ had promised (John 14), he sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles who were gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2). The Spirit rested upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues and the Church was born as they were sent forth to preach the Gospel and baptize the people. However, the martyrdom of Stephen brought to light the coming controversies.

As the Church grew and many new people were brought into the Faith, there was some controversy on how to receive them, mainly by a group who wanted strict adherence to Jewish law (known as the Judaizers) in such areas as circumcision and dietary regulations. Such there was an disagreement on whether Gentiles need become Jews first then Christians. Also in questions was the need for replacements to their numbers as well as the apostleship of Paul and Barnabas.

The Apostles gathered in Jerusalem around 48 AD for the first council of the Church (Acts 15 and Galatians 2). James, being bishop in the city, presided over the meeting. After many important speeches, including a key one by Peter, the Council made a decision on how to receive the gentiles into the Church. This decision was vitally important for two reasons, first it opened the doors for non-Jews (gentiles) to be received into the Faith. Secondly, it showed the Church on how it should meet and it what way decisions need to be made.

The Issues

Peter made a major speech by showing that it was God’s will that Gentiles should hear the Gospel, that they had been given the Holy Spirit without discrimination, that the ceremonial law of the Jews was a yoke that they themselves could not bear, and finally that salvation was a Grace for both Jews and Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas reported on the remarkable success they had in growing the Church and believed that it would not have grown if God did not intend it to do so. James, considered a strict observer of the Law made the Scriptural argument God intended to save all (Gal 2) however, that there should be some general requirements, namely abstention from idolatry, fornication, eating of meat from strangled animals and the eating of blood. This was so that fellowship could be maintained. Plus, if they desired to become Jews, then they could go to any one of many synagogues around the Empire.

The Decisions

The major decision was the fourfold answer to the questions they faced and basically followed James’ recommendations. First was the repudiation of the Judaizers who began the controversy. Second was the support of the work of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles. Third was the authorization of Judas and Silas as delegates. And finally, the agreement that the people abstain from idolatry, from blood, from things strangled and fornication. It was insisted that the decision was of “The Holt Spirit and us.”

The Results

The results of these early decisions was the opening of the Church. It allowed for unprecedented growth among the gentile nations. Paul would go on and have 6 more missionary journeys bringing the Gospel all the way to the capital of the Empire, Rome. His great Epistles (or letters) not only established deep theological reflection of Christ and the Church but set down the first standards of operation and behavior within the Church. The other Apostles also went forth and brought the Gospels to all nations so that the Church began to spread throughout the known world. Many meet the fate of martyrdom in the name of Christ.

These early days also continued to see a more frictional relationship between the Jews and the Christians which eventually lead to their total break. Christianity as a whole were not accepted in the Empire and would not be until the Emperor Constantine legalized it in the early 4th century. So what would follow would be periods of great martyrdom and persecution which would drive the Church underground until such time that it could come out in the open. This, however, brought rise to the great apologists of the Church who would write some of the classic tracts on what it means to be a Christian and what exactly is the Church. These would formulate the basis for serious theological reflections in the later centuries. It would also give us the evidence on life in the early Church and how it was organized, confirming the unbroken traditions of the Orthodox Church today.

The Main People

The main people during this period were the Apostles Peter and Paul. They were the major missionaries of the Faith as it spread throughout the Empire. Both met their martyrdom in Rome. The other Apostles such as James were also especially important in the spread of the Gospel. In fact the Seventy as well as all those named throughout the New Testament contributed to the survival of the Church and are all canonized as saints, many spreading the message throughout the world and meeting their death.

The Sources

The first and foremost source for this period is found in the New Testament. Specifically in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul. They present a very accurate picture of the early Church and the issues that the people faced. It is worth reading Acts and Galatians for a specific view of the issues.

There were, however, other writings being collected and disseminated to the Church which were from the same period and survived to this day. Key among them are the Didache (or The Two Ways), the Shepherd of Hermes, the Apostles’ Creed, the Epistles of Clement of Rome, Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Barnabas.


The fourth century began with the worst persecutions against the Church and ended with the Church being the recognized religion of the Empire. Internal power struggles finally led to Constantine winning the throne in 312 AD. Before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, he had a vision of the symbol XP (chi rho in Greek the initials of Christ) with the words “In this sign conquer.” He placed the symbols on the shields of his army and they won the battle and he became Emperor.

Constantine was greatly influenced by his mother Helen who was a devout Christian (and found the true Cross in Jerusalem and eventually had many of the great churches built there). Soon he made sweeping reforms including giving the Church all the privileges and advantages of the Empire. He moved the capital from Rome to the ancient city of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople. He would call the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 AD (called Ecumenical because it included bishops from the entire empire and was headed by the Emperor) in response to theological issues and to help organize the Church. The later emperor Theodosius would make Christianity the official religion of the Empire in 380 AD. He would call the Second Ecumenical Council in 381 in the city of Constantinople in response to issues not finished at the first.

It was also during this time that great liturgical developments happened. The Liturgy was formed which we use today as well as many of the feast days established including Great Lent, Pascha and Nativity. Monastic life took form under St. Anthony the Great and others and great teachers rose such as Athanasius the Great and the Cappodician Fathers and John Chrysostom. The Sacraments took form which are celebrated in the exact form as found in today’s Church.

The Issues

The issues can be roughly divided into two major categories; theological and church order. Theologically the major challenge came from the priest Arius who taught that Christ was not divine but rather a created creature. God created Christ like everything else and thus He was not part of the Trinity. Thus, Christ did not have a divine nature. This issue would plague the Church for quite some time. Athanasius was able to prove in his classic book On the Incarnation that Christ had to be God because he took his divine nature from God and thus has to be of the same nature. In addition, the biblical references such as John 1 proves that Christ existed before the creation of the world. This would have a major impact on all theological developments that would follow it.

The other issues of Church order started with the Donatist Schism in North Africa. A group refused to recognize a canonically elected bishop on the grounds that he showed weakness at the time of the great persecution. Constantine intervened and confirmed the election. Other issues such as precedence of bishops, requirements for clergy, and dates of feasts were all taken up by the councils.

The Results

The greatest result was the formulation of the Creed as we say today. The first part was written at the 1st Council and completed at the 2nd. It defined who Jesus Christ was, what was his nature, how he came to be and what he set forth in the world. This symbol of faith remains at the center of our faith. The 2nd Council specifically affirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Great theologians arose during this time who helped explain some difficult theological points of the Trinity, Christ and the Holy Spirit. They also were instrumental in organizing the Church and establishing proper Church order. Much was written which explained exactly what the Church was comprised of and how one participates in her life. Monasticism was established as an accepted way of living a Christian life and great monasteries were established. The liturgical cycle was set forth which would guide the Church through time. Most importantly, the date of Pascha was officially established so that all Christians could celebrate it together.

One of the major defining elements of the two Councils was the increasing need to combat heresy. Heresy comes from the word meaning “to divide” and as such a heretic was someone who specifically had power to divide the Church and lead people away from the truth. There were many heresies that were formulated in the previous centuries all focusing on who the person Jesus Christ was and what was his nature. The Councils were able to define these questions according to biblical sources as well as sources of Church Tradition. Unfortunately, the heresies did not end but would continue in different forms, each one trying to redefine or reinterpret what was already said. It would take the remaining five Councils to finally put to rest the many differing views on the Church and Jesus Christ as her head.

The Main People

There are of course many great people from this period. Athanasius the Great who destroyed the heresy of arianism. The Cappodician fathers of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus who helped define the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. John Chyrsostom who left us the wonderful sermons and teachings. Cyril of Jerusalem who helped explain the sacraments. Anthony the Great, Macarius of Egypt, Nicholas of Myra, Spyridon, Ambrose of Milan and Jerome were among the great monastics and bishops of the age.

The Sources

There are many source to draw from. A great source for early church history is the Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius. The decisions of the Ecumenical Councils are also available to read in their fullness. A must read is Athanasius’ On the Incarnation as well as The Life of St. Anthony. Basil the Great’ On the Holy Spirit as well as Gregory of Nyssa’ letters and Gregory Nazianus’ Theological Orations. And of course, the many, many writings of John Chrysostom which cover everything from narratives on the Gospels to marriage and family life. There is an incredible richness in writings from this period which cover every aspect of theology and church life that it can be termed “The Golden Age” of theology. There is very few parts of church life that it did not touch.


The problems of theology and Church order was by no means solved by the first two Ecumenical Councils. Arianism continued to exist and there arose a new controversy on the nature of Christ. Led by Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, the movement taught that there were two distinct natures of Christ and as such Mary should not be called Theotokos or “Mother of God”. Challenging this was St. Cyril of Alexandria who wrote extensively against this new heresy. The Third Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus in 431 AD and confirmed St. Cyril’s position.

However, fanatical followers of St. Cyril misread his position and actually took it to a point where Christ’s natures completely disappeared. They held a council in 449 which was later rejected as the Robber Council. In 451 another council was held in Chalcedon to further solve the question of Christ’s nature. They confirmed St. Cyril’s position but added St Leo the Great’s position as a balance. Many of the far eastern Churches did not attend (i.e. Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian) and adopted a position which became known as Monophysitism (meaning one nature). They remained separated from the Church to this day. In the end, a proper balance was achieved and the famous statement on the nature of Christ was promulgated.

In addition, during this period, there was a great rise in monasticism and the codification of the monastic rules. Other issues of Church order and discipline were set down.

The Issues

There were three main issues at these Councils. The first were in direct contradiction to each other. One claimed that Christ’s natures (human and divine) were so distinct that they were separate and had no relationship with each other. This was know as Nestorianism. In reaction to this, the other group claimed that Christ’s natures were so close together that there was not distinction in them, that they were swallowed up in each other. This was know as Monophysitism. Both were in reaction to trying to explain more clearly the decision of the first two Ecumenical Councils. In the end both were rejected.

The other issue was on the Theotokos and whether it was proper to call her by such a title. Nestorius said that she could be called Christokos or Mother of Christ or Anthropotokos or Mother of the Man called Christ but not Theotokos or Mother of God. His argument was that she gave birth to the man and the Christ but not the God. However it was successfully argued that she gave birth to him “according to the Flesh” who is the only begotten Son of God, the Divine Logos, begotten before all ages. Thus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary are the same Son. This confirmed in a very real way that Mariology is in fact Christology….or in other words, we cannot speak about Mary apart from understanding Christ. Mary points to Christ (as in the icons).

The Results

The results were twofold, theological and political. On the theological front, the famous Chalcedon formula to describe Christ’s natures was put forth. Christ was one person in two natures but these natures were neither mixed nor confused nor separate or divided. This is combined together in a hypostatic union which meant in a unique way Christ the person unites humanity and divinity. Christ was fully God and fully man and had the nature of both. Thus the Son of God and the son of Mary are the same person.

The other issue was the loss of the Monophysite Churches of Egypt, Armenia, Ethiopia, Syrian Jacobites, Church of India and Armenia. By failing to ratify the Chalcedon agreement, they went their separate ways. The are know today as the Non-Chalcedonians or Oriental Orthodox Church. However, in the last 20 years, many of the arguments have been resolved and it looks likely that there will be full communion in the near future. Many of the problems were misunderstanding and mistranslation of texts.

The Main People

When talking about these councils there are a few key figures. From the Orthodox side, St. Cyril of Alexandria and St Leo the Great, Pope of Rome. It was the combination of their writings which formulated the Chalcedon formula. Opposed to them are Nestorius and Eutyches.

Other western fathers such as St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome are also making developments. Such monastic and spiritual writers such as St. Ephraim the Syrian are also well known. There is also the many desert Fathers who are beginning to make their appearance and shape monasticism to this day. Their lives and writings are among the most valuable in Orthodoxy.

The Sources

The main source is the actual decisions of the Councils which explain the theological arguments and results. In addition, there are some wonderful letters by St. Cyril such as “On the Unity of Christ”. St. Leo’s “Tome of Leo” is also quite important to read.

The writings of St Augustine are also wonderful to read, especially his Confessions and City of God. St. Ephraim of Syria’s Hymns on Paradise is wonderful and spiritually enlightening. St. Cyril of Jerusalem also wrote a wonderful book on the sacraments. Finally, it is about this time that the Philokalia is beginning to be compiled. This is the most famous collection of spiritual writings in the Orthodox world and comes from the writings of the desert fathers. It is extremely valuable and worth reading.


Despite the political problems of the 4th Ecumenical Council which saw the split of the Non-Chalcedonian churches from the Orthodox, the Church as whole remained strong. During this time, the concept of “pentarchy” took hold. This basically held that there were five main centers of Christianity in the world: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The list would grow as the Church continued to spread throughout the world. This was also a time dominated by a single person, the Emperor Justinian I (527-565 AD). He developed the concept of the synergy between the Church and the State and oversaw the greatest development and building programs.

The problem of monophysitism (one nature) did not disappear but rather evolved into other heretical notions such as monothelitism (one will) or monoenergism (one action). These would have to be dealt with as well as other continuing problems such as the theology of Origin among others. This would be the reason behind the calling of the next two ecumenical councils.

Finally, this was a time of great liturgical development. The Liturgy was codified and the services firmly established into what we see today in the Church. Justinian himself wrote the great “monogenes” part of the Liturgy which was a statement on the nature of Christ. Roman the Melodist wrote many of the great hymns we know and churches were built in the style we are know familiar with. Hagia Sophia, the great church in Constantinople was built and effected liturgical services profoundly. The order of services was firmly established.

The Issues

Justinian really was concerned with winning back the monophysites. He condemned three theologians (Theodoret of Cyr, Ibas of Edessa, Theodore of Mopsuestia) who were disliked by the monophysites in the so-called Three Chapters. The Fifth Council was called in 553 in Constantinople. It carefully defined the concept of the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Christ. It also condemned the teachings of Origin which held some radical views on materialism.

Following this council a new heresy arose which spoke about the one will and action of Christ. Known as monothelitism and monoenergism respectively, challenged the carefully worded doctrine of the Orthodox. St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Martin of Rome formed the response though suffering greatly in the process. In 663 the Sixth Council was called in Constantinople which formally condemned these teachings.

There was also a council in 692 in Trullo which continued the work of the Sixth Council in terms of Church order and Church law. It was also know as Quinisext because it continued the work of the last two councils. It reinforced existing laws and disciplines.

The Results

Justinian’s attempts to bring the east back into the fold was fruitless. The Three Chapters addressed the ambiguity of their teachings but did not convince the monophysites to return. But it did exactly explain how Christ hypostatically unites the divine and human in a unique way in one person. This would continue with the results of the other council which explained how Christ exercised his divine and human will perfectly. This would end much of the Christological controversies that had plagued the Church from the earliest times.

The most notable result was the emergence of a unified Church in terms of doctrine and worship which were seen as inseparable. Though there were some differences in certain regions, by the end of the 7th century, there really is one Church in the East which was unified. Many church buildings were built, monasticism flourished, iconography adorned the empire and great feasts were celebrated. The typikon of services was codified which enabled all churches to celebrate a common way. Many of the feast/fast periods and church disciplines came to be established. It was truly the height of development for the Church so far. But on the horizon was a great challenge, the rise of Islam (a Christian heresy) and iconoclasm.

The Main People

Emperor Justinian I is truly the key figure of the age and has effected the Church in many profound ways. He is joined by St. Gregory the Great. The four heretics of Theodoret, Ibas, Theodore, and Origin were the formidable opposition but soon defeated. Roman the Melodist is the great hymnographer of the Church. The writings of Dionysius the Aeropagite also had a great effect.

Later on, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Martin of Rome, St. John Climacus and St. Andrew of Crete were the most famous in the 7th century.

The Sources

There is a great wealth of reading from this time, many of it already familiar as it is part of the Liturgy. Justinian’s Monogenes (Only Begotten) is found in the Liturgy after the Second Antiphon (Only Begotten Son and Word of God….). The many, many hymns and texts of Roman the Melodist are found complied in the Menaion, the books of the liturgical texts. Whenever we here the text at the Vespers or Great Feasts, they are usually written by Roman.

The decisions of the 5th and 6th Councils are available which explain the reaction to the different heresies. The writings of Maximus the Confessor (Disputation with Pyrrhus), Gregory the Great (Pastoral Rules) are incredibly valuable.

Of course St. John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent is a classic and should be read by all. St. Andrew of Crete wrote the very famous Canon of St. Andrew which is sung the first week of Great Lent (and the fifth Thursday). It’s penitential character and poetic language has made it among the most beloved texts of the Orthodox Church.

Beginning in the early 8th century a strange event happened in the Church which would hold her captive for over a century and cost the lives of many faithful. The event was the rise in iconoclasm or the destruction of icons. It did, in the end, produce some great theologians and ended the many christological controversies which had plagued the Church since her founding 8 centuries earlier. It first arose when Emperor Leo III made it official by ordering the removal of icons from public places in 726 AD. It would end in 843 AD when the Empress Theodora ordered the return of icons and is now celebrated the First Sunday in Lent as the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

The exact reasons for the rise in iconoclasm is a mystery to many Church historians. There are currently four prevailing theories, each with merit, but individually they do not fully give an explanation. One theory held that the iconoclastic emperors were of Isaurian descent (Syrian) and were trying to consolidate their position against an established church. They had a tradition of monophysitism which rejected images. Another theory held that there was a problem with the religious culture which had an exaggerated piety for icons. Yet another theory suggests that the confrontation with Islam which was violently anti-image caused a backlash. Finally, a theory puts forth that the influence of Greek neo-platonism and the like caused a change in theological positions.

Regardless of the theories, iconoclasm became a law in the empire for many years, the result of a rogue council in Hieria in 754 AD and ultimately led to the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 AD during the reign of Empress Irene which confirmed the theologically Orthodoxy, necessity and explanations of images. Following the Council other iconoclastic periods arose with another council in 815 AD until resolved in 843

The major issue which led to the crises came from the Old Testament prohibition against worship images. (Exodus) There was a belief that one cannot worship any images. In contrast to that, the Old Testament is full of images being commanded by God to be constructed to assist in the worship. In addition, a belief that God is invisible pervaded so therefore cannot be represented. Plus if a painting represents the humanity of Christ then one is dividing His humanity from His divinity and hence a Nestorian and a heretic. And if His humanity and divinity are both represented then they are being confused and hence a Monophysite and a heretic.

In reply to these many clever arguments, two great theologians St. John of Damascus and St. Theodore the Studite were able to put forth the answers. St. John basically stated that since God became man, and walked among us, we knew what he looked like so there is a change in the relationship between God and His people. To say that Christ cannot be represented is to fall into the heresy of Arianism. So representation is not only good but necessary to prove the Incarnation. And, the argument went, we don’t divide or confuse natures in icons but rather pass honor through them to the prototype. Finally,, and this was a vital argument, one doesn’t worship (lateria) icons….that is reserved for God alone. But rather one venerates (proskynes) the icons as one would venerate any loved one. This veneration gives honor to Christ, the Theotokos and the saints of whom they represent. The honor passes through them to those worthy of honor.

Between 726 and 775 AD was know as the “Decade of Blood” as literally hundreds of thousands of Christians were killed, especially monks and nuns, because they held onto their icons. But the Seventh Council in 787 AD theoretically put an end to this. The Council was held in Nicea and applied the theology that St. John of Damascus put forth. It affirmed that icons are to be honored and not worshiped, placed restrictions on what would be considered an icon and how it was to be written and honored, and showed the theological necessity to represent Christ. It as the Council’s decision that a rejection of images was, in fact, a rejection of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The attacks, however, did not abate. Emperor Leo V renewed the iconoclastic policies in 815 AD. He ordered that icons be placed out of reach of the people so they could not be venerated or kissed. On Palm Sunday in 815 AD, St. Theodore the Studite led a procession through the main part of Constantinople with icons against the imperial decree. This was met by attacks, tortures and murders. His argument was against those who charged the nature of Christ was being confused. He stated that Christ became a particular man in at a particular time and thus His person is needed to be shown not his nature. In addition, since man was created in the “image and likeness” of God, we all are icons and as such, icons are a divine action. Finally icons lead us through our eyes to God and truth the same way our ears lead us to God by hearing the Scriptures. This was the final answer to the problem and iconoclasm abated.

The main people for this event are divided into two camps, iconoclasts and iconodules. The iconoclasts were the Emperor Leo III, Constantine V and Leo V. On the side of icons are St. John of Damascus, St. Theodore the Studite, Patriarch Nicephorus, and of course, we honor the Empress Irene and Theodora for their roles.

First and foremost, one should read the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. We also read the Synodikon at the Vespers of the Triumph of Orthodoxy each year. Canon 82 of the Synod in Trullo is also important in understanding early attempt s at iconoclasm as is the writings of the pagan Porphyry. But the classics, and they should be read as they apply equally strongly in today’s iconoclastic society, is St. John of Damascus’ On the Divine Images and St. Theodore the Studites’ On the Holy Icons. They are powerful theological works which fully answer every argument used against the veneration of icons….all of which we see being brought out today by protestant groups against icons. Interestingly, they both wrote many other works used in the liturgical services today.

The major event that is often cited as the separation of the East and West is the Great Schism of 1054. Actually at the time it was seen as simply another temporary schism between the two regions. But this one never resolved as the two Churches drifted farther apart. Also, though the date seems to be an easy reference, it must be seen as wider political and theological context which lead to the division.

The situation between Rome and Constantinople had been increasingly tense and the two centers were becoming increasingly isolated from each other. The temporary Photian Schism in the 860s was due to disagreements over papal interference into the life of the Church in Constantinople and Bulgaria as well as differing liturgical practices. Though resolved, the basic outline of disagreements were established but the two centers isolated themselves from each other.

By the mid-eleventh century, a disagreement arose over Byzantine liturgical practices in South Italy and Latin practices in the East. In addition, the recent popes were beginning to claim universal supremacy over church matters which led to further disagreements. The Orthodox Church failed to answer these issues in any substantive manner which led to further disagreements. Finally, political developments in the West led to the papal throne and other Western powers to make claims on property and jurisdiction over disputed areas which the Emperor in Constantinople was unwilling to concede. The result was increased tensions and a lack of communication which would be costly in the end.

With these issues in place, there simply needed to be an excuse which would spark the division. In 1053, Pope Leo IX sent legates to Constantinople to negotiate with Patriarch Michael Cerularius. He was a powerful supporter of the Church and not very accommodating to any changes or negotiations. He refused to see the legates led by Cardinal Humbert….all of whom would be influential in the papal reforms of Gregory VII and believed strongly in papal supremacy. On July 16, 1054, tired of waiting for an audience, the placed a document of Anathema or excommunication on the altar of Hagia Sophia. The document was only supposed to apply the patriarch and those who supported him. The reason cited for the excommunication was the removal of the Filioque from the Creed (which was never in there in the first places), the practice of married clergy (which had been a part of both churches’ traditions since the earliest times) and divergent liturgical practices (which the East had always followed). In response, Patriarch Michael drew up a list of Latin abuses and issued a Bull of Excommunication against them after a synod of Bishops on July 20. This was in turn supported by the other Patriarchates and the division was complete.

The results from there began to snowball. Documents were produced to prove the legitimacy of each side. One such document was the forged ‘Donation of Constantine’ which supposedly gave the Pope universal power over the Church since he helped cure the Emperor Constantine from leprosy in the early 4th century.

Interestingly, many of the issues that continue to divide the Church today came to be divisive much later. These included papal infallibility and Immaculate Conception which were later papal doctrines. But clearly there was a split among the Churches that would not heal. There was an attempt in 1089 for a reconciliation between Pope Urban II and Patriarch Nicholas III but it came to nothing. The Crusades really sealed the issue when in 1204, the Western powers sacked Constantinople and dragged the treasures back to Venice and Rome where they remain until today. The Churches lifted the mutual excommunications in the 1960s but it has led no where as the divisions and increasingly divergent practices and theology continue to divide us.

The main people from the Orthodox side were Patriarch Michael Cerularius. It is worth reading his life because of his truly interesting past and part in the drama. Leo of Ohrid wrote the famous tract against Latin Rites which outlines many of the Orthodox objections to the West. A life of Photius and the documents from the Photion schism also shed light on the events leading to the Schism.

On the Latin side, Pope Leo IX and Pope Urban II. Cardinal Humbert was the main legate. Bishop Peter of Amalfi and Cardinal Deacon Fredrick of Lotharingia (the future Pope Stephen IX) were also in accompaniment. Finally, the papal reforms of Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) really set in motion the shift in papal power and triumphalism.

The primary sources for the Great Schism are available in English as well as many of the recorded details of the events. Most historical books on the subject include these and they can be found quite easily over the internet. There are some interesting modern takes on the subject after Vatican II and the lifting of the anathamas which can prove to be illuminating.

There are many secondary sources which talk about the Great Schism in detail. Some are quite well done with an even handed approach, however many diverge into polemics and it is hard to gather the nature of the issues. Alexander Schmemann’s ‘The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy’ has a good chapter on this issue. Aristeides Papadakis’ ‘The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy’ is an exhaustive look at the subject and spans many centuries. ‘The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire’ by J.M. Hussey also has a great deal to say on the subject. For a more popular and readable version on these and other issues, read John Julius Norwich’s ‘Byzantium’ series of books.

Slowly but surely, the forces of Islam encroached on the Byzantine Empire. Piece by piece, land was given up and the power of the Empire eroded. Finally, in a desperate attempt to stop the encroachment, the Church and the Empire decided they needed help from the West.

The problem was that relations had been strained, to say the least, with the papacy and the West. After the Great Schism, the 4th Crusades in 1204, through the urging of Venice, sacked the city. They had broken through the great walls and ravaged the city, dragging off many of the treasures and attempted to set up a Latin patriarchate. The city never recovered. In 1274, Michael III turned to the West for aid and signed a tome of union at Lyons. They accepted all the papal demands but it was rejected by the vast majority of the Church. The aid was not enough.

By the beginning of the 15th century, the Turks were at the very inner borders of the Empire. Many of the Holy Cities had fallen under their control including many of the patriarchates. The Emperor John VIII and the Patriarch looked again to the West for help. In 1438-9, they met in Ferrara (then moved to Florence) in order to secure a union. The papal demands were many and there was little room for compromise. Eventually all the Eastern bishops except one, Mark of Ephesus, signed on. The papal promises of help never materialized and Constantinople fell to the forces of Mohammed II on May 29, 1453. It never emerged again.

The main issues during all of the negotiations revolved around theological, liturgical and hierarchical divergences between the East and the West. At the forefront of these issues was the idea of papal primacy over the Church. The Gregorian reforms in the late 11th century had established the concept and for any aid to come to Constantinople, there had to be a recognition of papal primacy. Other issues involved the species of the Eucharist (leavened vs. unleavened), the Filioque and purgatory. While many of the issues were not forced, there was a definite pressure brought to bear on the Orthodox participants. The patriarch Joseph died during the course of the council and in the end all of the Latin demands were met. The Orthodox did get to keep their Liturgy according to the formula.

Though the issues were not new (except for the recent Latin innovation on purgatory), they were expressed in very theological language. The issues of primacy, however, was only spoken about during the last few sessions. Throughout the whole council there was definitely seen a differing approach to theological questions with the Latins being more scholastic and the Orthodox being more in line with palamite theology. In the end only one person did not sign, Mark of Ephesus which prompted the Pope to respond “Then we have accomplished nothing.” In the end all the bishops who signed were thrown out or renounced their support for the false union and Orthodoxy stayed true.

The results can be looked at in two manners, theological and political. Theologically, the issues were defined and any attempts at union was thwarted for the time. The later Unions of the 16th and 17th century and the creation of the Eastern Rite Churches can be traced to this council. But the political fallout was greater. The aid never came and the forces of Mohammed II soon had Constantinople under siege. On the last day before the fall of the city, the emperor died on the wall and the Patriarch and the Latin Bishop together served the last Liturgy in Hagia Sophia. Constantinople, like many of the other Eastern cities passed under the Turkish yoke. Interestingly with the establishment of the millet system and other changes, the Church did survive and actually gained in influence with the people while maintaining a relationship wit the new Muslim authorities. But there were incredible restrictions placed upon them which slowly eroded it power.

There are many players involved in the events over the centuries. Emperor Michael III with the Council of Lyons. Emperor John V Paleologos who attempted another union with Rome in 1369. Emperor John VIII, Patriarch Joseph II and the metropolitan of Kiev Isidore were instrumental in putting the council together with pope Eugene IV. At the council itself, of course Mark Eugenikos, bishop of Ephesus is the most famous. After the fall of the Empire, the new Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios was vital in putting together the survival of the Church under Mohammed II.

There are a great number of books written on the subject the Council of Florence and the fall of Constantinople as well as the life of the Church under the Turkish yoke. Most of the documents are translated and can be readily found. As far as books, ‘The Council of Florence’ by Ivan Ostromoff is written from an Orthodox perspective. Other books include ‘The Christian East and the Papacy’ by Aristeides Papdakis, ‘The Byzantine Commonwealth’ by Dimitri Obolensky, ‘The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire’ by J.M. Hussey and ‘Constantinople and the West’ by Deno Geanakoplos. The famous book by Sir Steven Runciman, ‘The Great Church in Captivity’, is indispensable in learning about the Orthodox Church under the Turks.

Two of the most important stories to read on the time involve firstly the life of St. Mark of Ephesus. His life as well as the arguments that he presented and the solid and unwavering support for Orthodoxy provides a solid example for all future ecumenical activity as well as outline the Orthodox positions. This came forth with the infamous line, “Better the Turkish turban than the Roman miter.” This can be contrasted with the story of Metropolitan Isidore who acquiesced to Roman demands, became a cardinal and was eventually expelled from Kiev for his pro-Latin sentiments and ended his days in exile in the Vatican. The other is to read the story of the last days of Constantinople. There is a wonderful book called ‘The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy’ published by the Holy Apostles Convent which tells of all the events, the lives of the people involved as well as a poignant story on the last days of Hagia Sophia. It also outlines all the Latin demands and the Orthodox response to those demands. Be careful of the polemics.


The Orthodox Church in America traces its origins to the arrival in Kodiak, Alaska of eight Orthodox missionaries from the Valaamo Monastery in the northern Karelia region of Russia in 1794. The missionaries made a great impact on the native Alaskan population and were responsible for bringing many to the Orthodox Christian faith.

In the 1820s Father John Veniaminov arrived in Alaska and also conducted missionary work. Among his many accomplishments was the translation of Scripture and the liturgical services into the native dialects, for which he also devised a grammar and alphabet. Around 1840 Father John was elected to the episcopacy and returned to Alaska as Bishop Innocent. The Church continued to grow among the native Alaskans, but Bishop Innocent also visited California and the Orthodox community at Fort Ross. He subsequently returned to Russia as the Metropolitan of Moscow. [Today he is known as Saint Innocent, having been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church several years ago.]


While the Church continued to grow in Alaska, immigrants began arriving in what we today call the “lower 48.” In the 1860s a parish was established in San Francisco by Serbians, Russians and Greeks. [Today this parish is the OCA’s Holy Trinity Cathedral.] Gradually other parishes were established across the territory of the United States and, with the great waves of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Southern Europe at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the headquarters of the North American Orthodox Diocese was moved to San Francisco and later to New York.

By the early 1900s almost all Orthodox communities, regardless of ethnic background, were united in a single diocese, or “jurisdiction,” which was under the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, the first bishop for Arab-Americans, Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny, was also the first Orthodox Christian to be consecrated to the episcopacy in North America. He and the parishes under his direction were an integral part of the North American Diocese.


In 1917 the Russian Revolution broke out. As a result communications between the North American Diocese and the Church in Russia were greatly hindered. In the early 1920s the Patriarch of Moscow, [Saint] Tikhon – for ten years he had served as Bishop of the North American Diocese – issued a decree calling on dioceses outside the borders of Russia [by then the Soviet Union] to organize themselves autonomously until such time as normal communications and relations with the Church in Russia would be possible. Shortly thereafter, at a Council of all hierarchs and clergy and parish delegates, it was decided that the Church in North America could no longer maintain strict administrative ties with the Church in Russia, especially since Patriarch Tikhon had been arrested. [He subsequently died in 1925.]

Concurrently, various ethnic groups that had been an integral part of the single diocese organized independent dioceses, or “jurisdictions,” in most cases placing themselves under their respective Mother Churches. This gave rise to the present situation of Orthodoxy in North America, namely the existence of multiple, overlapping jurisdictions based on ethnic background, rather than following the canonical Orthodox principle of a single Church entity in a given territory.


In the early 1960s the OCA – at that time it was known as the “Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America,” or “The Metropolia” – entered into dialogue with the Moscow Patriarchate, which had grown to consider the Metropolia a schismatic body, in an attempt to “regularize” the Metropolia’s status. In 1970 the Metropolia once again entered into communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, which promptly granted it “autocephaly,” or administrative self-governance.


At a Council of hierarchs, clergy and laity held at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery the same year it was decided that the Church should be renamed “The Orthodox Church in America.” Today the OCA, in addition to counting the parishes of the former “Metropolia,” includes the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Archdiocese. Hence, it is inaccurate to refer to the OCA as the “Russian Church” since a good percentage of its constituency is not Russian. Further, within the past two decades the OCA has established some 125 new parishes, almost exclusively non-ethnic in origin and employing only the English language in worship. [Virtually all of the former “Metropolia” parishes now use a large percentage of English, or employ English exclusively in the services.]


The Orthodox Church in America is thus a canonical entity possessing a canonical episcopacy, and it is clearly seen as the same entity as that which traces its origins to the 1794 arrival of missionaries in Kodiak, Alaska. While its autocephaly is not recognized by some patriarchates, those same patriarchates maintain communion with the OCA and faithful of the Orthodox Church in America may receive the Eucharist in parishes of the other canonical jurisdictions in North America. The Orthodox Church in America is a full member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), together with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and the other member jurisdictions. It is well known that clergy of the OCA concelebrate regularly with clergy of other SCOBA jurisdictions, and it is not uncommon to see SCOBA hierarchs concelebrating the Liturgy and other services. This is especially evident on the annual celebration of the Triumph of Orthodoxy on the first Sunday of Great Lent.


As a self-governing Church, the OCA has the right to elect its own Primate, or presiding hierarch, without relying on any ecclesiastical entity abroad for ratification of its decision. The OCA Primate, Metropolitan TIKHON, presides at meetings of the Holy Synod of Bishops, consecrates the Holy Chrism which is used in the parishes, and so on. He is not administratively subject to the Russian or any other Church in another country. The Orthodox Church in America is fully committed to the unity of Orthodoxy in North America. Metropolitan TIKHON- like the hierarchs of other jurisdictions – is an outspoken advocate of administrative unity among the Orthodox Christians in North America according to the canonical principle of a single united Church in a given geographic territory.

The Greek Orthodox Church traces its history back to the time of Saint Paul who was the first to preach Christianity in Greece. Saint Paul preached at Athens, Philipi, Salonika, Verria, Corinth and Crete. From these cities, Christianity eventually spread to all of Greece.

At the early days of the Christian era, the Church of Greece comprised a diocese with Corinth as its center. At that time Corinth, known as Achaia, was the most important city in Greece. After the Roman Empire was divided by Constantine, Greece and Macedonia constituted the diocese of Eastern Illyricum, which was self-governing.

At first, jurisdiction was subordinated to the Bishops of Rome, but beginning with Emperor Leo the Third, in 733 A.D., Greece was acknowledged as a part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and thus the history of the Orthodox Church in Greece follows closely the history of the Church in Constantinople.

The Turkish Empire, which for centuries controlled Greece and the Balkans, began to fall apart in the nineteenth century as one by one the provinces fought for political independence. The new states wanted religious as well as national autonomy, and the first of the national Orthodox churches to come into existence was the Church of Greece. The spirit of Hellenism had been kept alive by the Greek Orthodox Church for many centuries and after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, the Orthodox clergy in Greece had worked to prepare the people for rebellion against the Turkish yoke. When the Greek people were ready to wage a war for independence, it was the Archbishop of Patras Germanos, who proclaimed the Greek rebellion against the Turkish Empire on Annunciation Day, 25 March, 1821.

After receiving independence, it became apparent that the Orthodox Church in Greece could no longer remain under the Patriarch of Constantinople who was still a captive of the Turkish Empire. And thus, from the time of the Greek War of Independence, the Orthodox Church of Greece practically severed all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Affairs of the church remained unsettled until June 15, 1833, when a Synod of Bishops representing the liberated areas of Greece met at Nauplia and declared the church independent.

After many discussions over 17 years, the Greek government applied to the Patriarchate for recognition as independent. In 1850, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a decree declaring the Church of Greece autocephalous. In 1864 the diocese of the Ionian Islands was added to the Church of Greece, and in 1881 the dioceses of Thessaly and a part of Epirus were added.

In 1927, during the dictatorship of General Pangalos, the statutes regarding the Church were again modified with the result that the Greek Orthodox Church was again government controlled. Government representatives were authorized to attend all meetings of the Holy Synod.

Today the Orthodox Church in Greece is governed by a Holy Synod presided over by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Athens. But the Patriarch of Constantinople is now regarded as the spiritual head of the church and the Holy Chrism used by the Greek Orthodox Church is consecrated by him. This is a practical arrangement, since the Patriarch is still required by the government of Turkey to be a citizen of that country.


In the United States, the first Greek Orthodox Church was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1864 by a small colony of Greek merchants. The church was blessed by a Ukrainian priest, Father Agapius Honcharenko, who had immigrated to the USA via Athens, Greece in 1865. Though Ukrainian, he maintained the chapel at the residence of the Greek Consul-General in New York. After the American Civil War, immigration from Greece increased dramatically and in 1891 a church was opened in New York. In 1898, a second Greek Orthodox Church opened in Chicago.

The number of Greek Orthodox Churches in the United States continued to increase, and by 1910 there were 35 congregations around the country. Under an agreement made in 1908 between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Holy Synod of Athens, jurisdiction of these churches was given to the Church of Greece, but no steps were taken to organize an American diocese until 1918 when the Metropolitan of Athens himself visited the United States. Greek Orthodoxy in the USA continued at an intensified rate throughout the early part of the 20th Century, and by 1920 60% of current Greek communities and their churches were founded.

Unfortunately, turbulent political events in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s divided the Greeks in America. Finally, in 1931 Archbishop Athenagoras of Corfu, Greece was appointed to head the Greek Church in America, headquartered in New York. Under his leadership, harmony was restored to the disunited communities, and the Greek Church in the New World increased to 286 parishes in the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico and South America.

Today, there are over 600 Greek Orthodox parishes and missions in North and South America, divided in some 9 Metropolitanates, headed by Bishops elevated to the positions of Metropolitanate Seats.