Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember a man plausibly called “the Martin Luther of Eastern Orthodoxy.”


It is the 6th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Before the Protestant Reformation divided the church of the Latin West, there was an early schism between the Latin West and the Byzantine East. We tend to give that schism the year as 1054, but its roots go back earlier, to the 9th century, and the “Photian” schism, named after Saint Photius, a man remembered by our Orthodox Brothers and Sisters on this, the 6th of February.

You might remember that before the Fall of Rome, the Empire split in two. You had an emperor in Rome and another in Constantinople. These would also be the seats of the men who would become the heads of their respective churches: the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch in Constantinople.  

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Byzantines were in decline. Controversies over images and foreign incursions made them weak in comparison to the new Carolingian power and Renaissance in the West.

The Patriarch in the East was Ignatius, a pro-image Greek appointed by the Empress Regent after the Emperor’s death (their son, the future Michael III, was too young to rule). When Michael grew older, he came to side with his uncle, Bardas. Bardas was refused communion by the patriarch Ignatius and used his sway with Michael III to have him replaced. And thus he was, by the remarkable Photius. Perhaps the most learned man in Byzantium, he was the chair of philosophy at the University of Constantinople and was the author of a collection of works on law, theology, and philosophy. But there was a problem: Photius was a layman. He was given a whirlwind of ordinations over the course of a week, going from reader to Patriarch. This offended the Roman Pope, who did not see Photius as a legitimate Patriarch and decided to recognize the exiled Ignatius.

There was also the issue of the Balkans. The Bulgars were descending on this territory, and both the Pope and the Patriarch wanted their conversion and to have them under their own auspices. Photius was enraged with Latin missionaries to the East and furious when the Bulgarian Khan made an alliance with the West.

Add to this, Photius had heard that the Latin Missionaries were saying the creed differently. In the Nicene Creed, when they said the Spirit proceeded from the Father, they added “And the Son” or “Filioque” in Greek. They also ate dairy during Lent and had a few other deviations from the older traditions, and this put Photius over the edge. And so Photius would write “Errors Against the Latins,” the first salvo in the schism that finally broke open in 1054. This was a kind of “95 Theses” against the Papacy hundreds of years before and from the East.

He excommunicated Pope Nicholas, and the schism may have happened then if there had not been a new co-emperor coming to rule in the East. He was Basil the Macedonian, and he did not need a Roman-Byzantine split with the threat of foreign invaders. And so he had Michael III and Bardas killed; he deposed Photius and reinstated Ignatius. He would be reinstated, help convene a council, and be re-deposed and exiled in a furious few decades.

Things may have gone worse for Photius had he not been so popular as a scholar and had many of the Byzantines not already turned on Ignatius. Thus, it was a precarious time, and the new Pope used it as a time to consolidate his power; reconciliation was accomplished with more favorable terms for the Latin West.

Photius went into exile and continued to work as a scholar. His reputation would be eventually rehabilitated with his body returned to Constantinople for burial. There is some evidence that he reconciled with Ignatius before he died. Politics for the next two centuries led to an uneasy truce between East and West before Photius’ complaint about the “Philoque” (and the son) would become the basis (or some suggest the cover) for the official split in 1054. Photius would be venerated by the Eastern church and given a feast day, on this, the 6th of February- perhaps the day of his death in 893


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 102:

But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
    your renown endures through all generations.

You will arise and have compassion on Zion,

    for it is time to show favor to her;

    the appointed time has come.

For her stones are dear to your servants;

    her very dust moves them to pity.

The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

For the Lord will rebuild Zion
    and appear in his glory.

He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
    he will not despise their plea.

Let this be written for a future generation,

    that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: 


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Khans include the Bulgar, Shere, and Kobra, the snake man from He-Man. He is Christopher Gillespie. 

The show is written and read by a man who knows that Dave Batista’s first wrestling match was as “Khan” against Southtown Joe in World Extreme Wrestling. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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