This week, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in the Havana airport. The ignominious settting belied the event's historic significance. This was the first-ever meeting of the heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, and the meeting had been in the works for some time.
Why is this a big deal?
What is the Orthodox/Catholic split all about?
That requires a bit of history.
In 476, Rome fell to the Barbarians and the Roman emperor and Catholic Church was moved east, to Constantinople. That worked for about 300 years. Then, in 800, Pope Leo III decided to crown Charlemagne (the Frankish king) the Holy Roman Emperor. This made the imperial government in Constantinople rather superfluous; two hundred years of bitter relations followed.
Meanwhile, in 988, Kievan Rus accepted Christianity (or at least its leadership did), adopting rites from the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Things came to a head in 1054. In that year Pope Leo IX's emmisaries excommunicated Patriarch Michael and his church (interestingly, Leo had died since they left Rome), and Patriarch Michael returned the favor. (It was not entirely about theology, the Pope was also seeking the Patriarch's help in repelling attacks by the Normans on southern Italy. The Patriarch refused.)
Since that time, the churches have not been "in communion," meaning Catholics are not allowed to receive communion in Orthodox Churches and visa-versa. This, despite near-miss attempts to reconcile in 1274 and 1439, and, more recently, the 1965 reforms of Vatican II, whereby Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople rescinded their mutual excommnications.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the Russian Church began a rise in prominence and power; in 1589 its independence (or autocephaly) was officially accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, making Moscow one of the five Patriarchates. This led eventually to the promulgation of the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome.
So how different are the two churches?
There are myriad differences that have existed and evolved over a millenium, and the list could be very very long. Here are some of the more obvious and apparent variations:
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father 〈and the Son〉.
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.
Photo at top of post: Chora Church/Museum, Istanbul, fresco, Anastasis, Harrowing of Hell and Resurrection [Public Domain]
Russian Orthodox Christmas
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