Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the time the Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox churches attempted a rapprochement.

It is the 15th of May 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


I begin today’s show with a clear and unequivocal statement that the Christian rock group that Phil Keaggy played with in the 1970s was called the Second CHAPTER of Acts. Not “book” as I incorrectly and hastily remarked. I appreciate ALL the emails and ask for privacy for me and my family in this difficult time.

Ok- I also received an email recently asking me about examples of churches reuniting- we get all kinds of schisms, but are there any big examples of churches burying the hatchet? There are some, I’m thinking of post civil war reunions and some in the modern ecumenical movement- but today we have the story of a reunion that almost was, or at least, serves as one of the great “what-if’s” in church history.

We head back to the 16th century and a conversation between Lutherans and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Perhaps you say, “but Constantinople fell in 1453 how could there be a Patriarch representing a non existent country?” The Ottoman Turks knew it would be best to keep some structures and customs to keep the peace. And so there was a Patriarch. Unfortunately for them, the Patriarch Metrophanes III seemed keen on leveraging support for the Pope and thus they deposed him. The put in place the anti-Papal Jeremias II.

And then, in 1559, a Serbian deacon of the Orthodox Church, Demetrios Myros, was traveling through Wittenberg and met Philip Melanchthon- the former right-hand man to Martin Luther. Interested in a union of these churches, Melanchthon made a rough translation of his Augsburg Confession in Greek to be sent to the Patriarch Jeremias. Except, he did it under a pseudonym. He had been criticized for being too open to union with the Reformed when he altered his Augsburg confession. This was a similar “alteration” with a view towards union with the Greeks.

Unfortunately, nothing came of it, but the text lived on. In 1572, David Ungnad von Sonnegg was made ambassador to the Ottoman Empire by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II. His family had embraced the Reformation, he requested a chaplain, and the University of Tübingen sent him the Lutheran Stephen Gerlach. Gerlach brought with him a letter from the Lutheran faculty as well as a recent sermon translated into Greek from a sermon by Johannes Andreae, the giant of Lutheran orthodoxy. The Sermon was on the Good Shepherd and argued that the Christian hears the Good Shepherd through the word of God. In a private letter sent from Jeremias, he said he was fine with much of what was preached but concerned about what the sermon lacked as it made no reference to the voice of God speaking through the Church Fathers and Councils.

In a private letter back to Jeremias, Andreae claimed that he wished to preserve the ancient faith and continue a theological dialogue. Andreae would send Jeremias that Greek version of the Augsburg Confession written by Melanchthon. Jeremias requested multiple copies, distributed them to his advisors, and promised an article-by-article response.  

And it was on this, the 15th of May in 1576, that the response from the Patriarch made its way to the German Embassy. After splitting from Rome, Zurich, and Geneva, could the Lutherans and Orthodox form a united front? Luther himself had said that the Greek church “believe as we do… [and] preach as we do. [and are] the most Christian people and the best followers of the Gospel on earth.”

But there would be no union. The major impasse came with the doctrine of Scripture. Both Lutherans and the Orthodox believed that Scripture and tradition were necessary, but the Lutherans insisted that Scripture was definitive in a way tradition was not. They rehashed the same issue about the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, which helped to break up the Roman and Greek churches. The doctrines of salvation were at loggerheads as the Lutherans saw salvation as judicial categories (being declared righteous on account of Christ) while the Orthodox insisted on their interpretation of humankind as being united to Christ and deified as Christ did not so much die to make a legal pronouncement but to defeat death on a more cosmic level.  

There would be a few more letters exchanged, but finally, the Patriarch wrote: “Therefore, we request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor write to us on the same subject…You honor and exalt [the Fathers] in words, but you reject them in deeds…Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer concerning dogmas, but if you do, write only for friendship’s sake. Farewell”.

Ah well, what might have been? We remember the historic attempt at union and the response from the Patriarch that arrived in the German embassy on this the 15th of May in 1576.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from John 16:

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of May 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who told me the Wisconsinites don’t even want the Upper Peninsula. " It might as well be Canada,” they say—he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who is going to go listen to some Chuck Girard and his band “Love Tune.” 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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