Question: Why were the Greek Orthodox so upset about Pope John Paul's recent visit?
Answer: The "Great Schism," the rupture that split Christianity into Catholicism in the west and Orthodoxy in the east was much more than a doctrinal disagreement like those that the Church had experienced in earlier centuries.
Before Christianity became legal in the early fourth century the Roman Empire had been partitioned into two major parts, each governed by a "Caesar" and an "Augustus," or an emperor and a co-emperor. The division was necessary to govern the vast territory of the Roman Empire in its heyday. At the time of the legalization of the Church, the Eastern Emperor, Constantine was establishing his new capitol, a "second Rome," at Constantinople, but there was no question that the head of the Church was the Pope in Rome.1 Saint Peter had established Church government there, moving from Antioch to the center of the Empire in Rome.
But, soon after the reign of Constantine, the Empire, and particularly the western portion, began to be overrun by invaders from the Germanic and Scandinavian countries, by the Huns from Mongolia, and in a few hundred years by the Moslems. In the West, the Church and the native Romans often tried to deal with the invaders in an attempt to get the best terms - too powerful to fight, they were a force with which to negotiate. On Christmas day in the year 800, the Pope crowned the barbarian Charlemagne as emperor in the West. From the point of view of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Pope had crowned an invading usurper.
To make matters worse, Charlamagne, seeking to bring unity to his Empire by standardizing matters in the Church, seized upon the fact that the Easterners recited the Nicene Creed without the clause "filioque," that had been added in fifth century Spain, and had gained acceptance in the Gallican parts of the Western Empire (i.e. modern Spain, France, and Germany, but not in Rome).2 Not surprisingly, the Eastern reaction was that those who changed the historic Creeds were the heretics - not those who preserved them intact! Charlemagne compounded the problem by favoring the "iconoclasts" - those who wanted to do away with the veneration of pictures and statues of the saints - but at least in this matter he was restrained by the Pope.
Around 860, Pope Nicholas I intervened on behalf of Ignatius, the former Patriarch of Constantinople, who had resigned under pressure from the Eastern Emperor. While the East recognized Ignatius' right of appeal to Rome, it held that a second investigation and trial should have been held in Constantinople and not in Rome. Photius responded by writing an encyclical to the other Patriarchs, taking the West to task over the "filioque." Only a few years earlier, Pope Nicholas had sent German missionaries into Bulgaria, to Latinize that formerly Greek rite country, causing great concern about German presence on the Byzantine border.
The de facto schism was healed by the Emperor, who deposed Photius in 867. But it was renewed again at the beginning of the eleventh century when the Creed was introduced into the Roman Mass at the request of the Western Emperor, Henry II - with the "filioque."
Within the same century, Pope Sergius IV insisted on the addition of the "filioque," the Norman invasion of Sicily forced the Latin rite on Greek Catholics, and Hildebrand assumed the Papacy as Gregory VII, claiming political power over the entire Empire. It helped not at all that Hildebrand and most of the popes of the last half of the century were of barbarian stock. No precise date can be given to the Great Schism, although the Norman controversy in 1054 is usually given. In reality, though, more or less normal relations continued for a hundred and fifty years.
The Crusades forced Latin influence on the East. The European Kingdom of Jerusalem had its own Latin rite Patriarch as did Antioch, establishing the unheard of situation of cities with rival bishops.
The final chapter in the Schism was no doubt written in 1204 when Western Crusaders sacked the city of Constantinople, pillaging not only the city but its churches. Theoretical differences in theology became cast in stone because of the political breach. In some places the hatred remains to this day. No doubt it has been exacerbated by the movement of Modernist Rome towards Protestantism and non-Christian religions, and away from the orthodoxy of the undivided Church, that has taken place since Vatican Council II. Theoretical differences have given way to real differences.
1. The title of "second Rome" and the patriarchical
precedence of Constantinople immediately affter that of Rome was decreed in 381
by the ecumenical Council of Constantinople.
2. The "filioque" clause indicated that the Holy
Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son, true according to Western theology,
but ever since denied in the East. In any event, it was an addition.
2. The "filioque" clause indicated that the Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and the Son, true according to Western theology, but ever since denied in the East. In any event, it was an addition.