Eastern Orthodox History

Learn the origin of Eastern Orthodoxy as a Christian denomination

Eastern Orthodox Church History mosaic of Jesus Christ

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Until 1054 AD Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism were branches of the same body — the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This date marks an important moment in the history of all Christian denominations because it designates the very first major division in Christianity and the beginning of "denominations."

Origin of Eastern Orthodoxy

All Christian denominations are rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and share the same origins. Early believers were part of one body, one church. However, during the ten centuries following the resurrection, the church experienced many disagreements and fractions. Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism were the results of these early schisms.

The Widening Gap

Disagreement between these two branches of Christendom had already long existed, but the gap between the Roman and Eastern churches increased throughout the first millennium with a progression of worsening disputes.

On religious matters, the two branches disagreed over issues pertaining to the nature of the Holy Spirit, the use of icons in worship and the correct date for celebrating Easter. Cultural differences played a major role too, with the Eastern mindset more inclined toward philosophy, mysticism, and ideology, and the Western outlook guided more by a practical and legal mentality.

This slow process of separation was encouraged in 330 AD when Emperor Constantine decided to move the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium (Byzantine Empire, modern-day Turkey) and called it Constantinople. When he died, his two sons divided their rule, one taking the Eastern portion of the empire and ruling from Constantinople and the other taking the western portion, ruling from Rome.

The Formal Split

In 1054 AD a formal split occurred when Pope Leo IX (leader of the Roman branch) excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius (leader of the Eastern branch), who in turn condemned the pope in mutual excommunication.

Two primary disputes at the time were Rome's claim to a universal papal supremacy and the adding of the filioque to the Nicene Creed. This particular conflict is also known as the Filioque Controversy. The Latin word filioque means "and from the Son." It had been inserted into the Nicene Creed during the 6th century, thus changing the phrase about the origin of the Holy Spirit from "who proceeds from the Father" to "who proceeds from the Father and the Son." It had been added to emphasize Christ's divinity, but Eastern Christians not only objected to the altering of anything produced by the first ecumenical councils, they disagreed with its new meaning. Eastern Christians believe both the Spirit and the Son have their origin in the Father.

Founding Patriarch of Constantinople

Michael Cerularius was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 1043 -1058 AD, during Eastern Orthodoxy's formal separation from the Roman Catholic Church. He played a prominent role in the circumstances surrounding the Great East-West Schism.

During the time of the Crusades (1095), Rome joined with the East to defend the Holy Land against the Turks, providing a ray of hope for a possible reconciliation between the two churches. But by the end of the Fourth Crusade (1204), and the Sack of Constantinople by the Romans, all hope ended as the degree of hostility been the two churches continued to worsen.

Signs of Hope for Reconciliation Today

To the present date, the Eastern and Western churches remain divided and separate. However, since 1964, an important process of dialogue and cooperation has begun. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras agreed to formally remove the mutual excommunication of 1054.

More hope for reconciliation came when Pope John Paul II visited Greece in 2001, the first papal visit to Greece in a thousand years. And in 2004, the Roman Catholic Church returned the relics of St. John Chrysostom to Constantinople. These antiquities were originally pillaged in 1204 by Crusaders.





Orthodox Christian Information Center


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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Eastern Orthodox History." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/eastern-orthodox-church-history-700623. Fairchild, Mary. (2020, August 25). Eastern Orthodox History. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/eastern-orthodox-church-history-700623 Fairchild, Mary. "Eastern Orthodox History." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/eastern-orthodox-church-history-700623 (accessed June 7, 2023).