Great Schism of Eastern and Western Churches


Great Schism

Great Schism of Eastern and Western Churches

Constantine The Great, decided to move the political center due to fierce and constant attacks of their northern neighbors, barbarians. Therefore he established the Constantinople as a new town in 330. He also proclaimed it, as the new capital of the Roman Empire.

First Council of Nicaea: From Paganism to Christianity

Constantine was the first ruler laying the foundations of Christianity in political terms. The first ecumenical consul gathered in the city of Nicaea (Iznik) in 325 and the principles of Christianity was decided upon. After the Nicene Creed, Patriarchs were assigned to some important cities and Pentarchy (Five Major Episcopal Sees) became the leading religious centers of Christianity.

These five cities were Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. Among these five cities, Rome and Constantinople were the foremost authorities. The unofficial leader of the Western Christians was Pope of Rome and leader of the Eastern Christians was Patriarch of Constantinople. Rivalry between them went on for centuries.

The First Council of Christianity Nicaea 325

The First Council of Christianity Nicaea 325

The First Council of Nicaea

The Pope and Patriarch

Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) developed a totally different culture than the former Latin Rome since it’s settled over the Greek speaking part of the Roman Empire. Even the beliefs were different altough both side were devout Christians.

Doctrines over the Jesus Christ’s nature caused the sects to appear. So while Latin Christian community named as Catholic, the eastern church and its followers regarded themselves as Orthodox. This term means the “right path”.

The western Christian community gathered around the Pope, who also acts like the new ruler of Rome. The eastern Christian society supported the Patriarch of Constantinople who was backed by the Byzantine Emperor.

Leader of Eastern Christendom – Patriarch of Constantinople
Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul

Patriarch of Constantinople

Orthodox Church Lead by the Patriarch of Consantinople

Constantine’s massive Roman Empire was divided by his successor, Theodosios. While the Rome reduced into a town by the invasion of Gothic leader Alaric,  Constantinople became a majestic metropolis. Especially during the Emperor Justinian’s reign (527-565). It stayed as the most civilized city of the world until Latin invasion in 1204.

With the help of the powerful Byzantine emperors, Patriarch of Constantinople, had great influence over the Christendom. Majority of Slavs and some of Arabs and Asians became Orthodox Christians. Eastern Church protected its power until the fall of Constantinople.

Leader of Catholic Church – The Pope
Leader of Catholic Church - Western Christian World Vatican's Pope


Roman Catholic Church Lead by the Pope

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there was a wide authority gap in the Europe. The Vatikan filled the gap with its religious doctrines and administrative hierarchy. The Pope’s great influence effected not only the Rome but the whole Europe. Kings were crowned by them.

So the power poisoning caused the Pope to refuse the legitimacy of Patriarch his one and only spiritual rival. The great schism or the great conflict of East and West was coming up.

Great Schism of Eastern and Western Churches

Great Schism of east and west means, separation of Catholics and Orthodox officially in 1054. Papal legats sent by Pope, declared the given statement in Hagia Sophia, the excommunication of Patriarch by the Pope.

Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated the Pope in return. Both leaders proclaimed themselves as the ecumenical leader of Christendom. The tension between two sides, grew in time and caused the Latin invasion in 1204.

Sacking of Constantinople by Eugène Delacroix
Great Schism of East and West

Sacking of Constantinople by Eugène Delacroix

Sacking of Constantinople by Latins (1204)

Following the Pope’s order, the Crusader armies of Europe marched through Constantinople in the 12th and 13th centuries.

During the IV.Crusade, the Latin army led by Enrico Dandolo; attacked, conquered and sacked Constantinople. Latin invasion lasted from 1204 to 1261 and it was finally repelled by a Byzantine prince.

Byzantines and Greek Orthodox Church never forgot this horrible period. Grand Duke Loukas Notaras claimed “Better Turkish turban than Latin Miter” before the fall of Constantinople.

Pope Paul VI and Patriach Athenagoras meets in Istanbul
End of the Great Schism

Pope Paul VI and Patriach Athenagoras 1950s

Reconciliation of Pope and Patriarch

The conflict between two sides, lasted almost a millennium. Eastern and Western Churches had never built good relationships up until 1950s. The Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras and Catholic Pope Paul VI finally buried the hatchet and shook hands in modern day Istanbul.

Great Schism by Serhat Engul


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