Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

‘We should not pretend we are close to solving this problem’

National Catholic Register
Monday, February 07, 2011

(Emphasis and [my comments] added)

There’s been encouraging — sometimes tantalizing — news in recent years about the growing potential for Catholic-Orthodox unification. Pope Benedict XVI is said to be viewed more favorably by the Orthodox than his predecessor. The Catholic Archbishop of Moscow exclaimed in 2009 that unity with the Orthodox could be achieved “within months.” And the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation issued a document last October that envisions practical steps each Church can begin taking to begin the process of reunification.

But Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev is a lot more cautious about any predictions of imminent unity between East and West. Archbishop Hilarion heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, a position that was held by now-Patriarch Kirill before Patriarch Alexei died in 2008.

At 44, Hilarion has experienced a meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. A brilliant theologian and author, he was elected bishop at age 35, has served as bishop of Vienna and head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. He is deeply involved in ecumenical dialogues with the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

He’s also an accomplished composer and is in New York for the U.S. English-language premiere of his St. Matthew Passion oratorio this evening. He also delivered the annual Father Alexander Schmemann lecture at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., on Saturday, where he spoke about the meaning of icons in the Orthodox Church.

Thanks to Father John Behr and Deborah Belonick of St. Vladimir’s, I was able to sit down with Archbishop Hilarion for a chat after the lecture. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

How important is Christian unity to the Orthodox Church?

The notion of Christian unity is essentially linked to the last words of Jesus Christ, which he pronounced at the Last Supper and, notably, those which were addressed to his father, when he preached about the unity of his disciples. It is a tragedy that Christ’s disciples throughout the world were unable to preserve this unity and that many schisms and divisions arose in the Church, and the call to Christian unity is the ultimate goal of our exposure to inter-Christian activities and to various dialogues which we lead with the Roman Catholic Church and with other Christian traditions.

So I think for an Orthodox Christian, it is essential to participate in inter-Christian exchanges in order to bring different Christian traditions closer to mutual understanding in order to overcome centuries of prejudices with the ultimate goal of the restoration of the full Eucharistic communion between various Christian denominations.

Of course, the Orthodox and the Catholic are the closest ones. We have certain differences in dogma, certain differences in ecclesiology, but we have the same teaching on the apostolic succession of the hierarchy, on the sacraments and on the Church in general.

Therefore, though there are obstacles to unity, they are, I believe, in no way insurmountable.


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Abbot Nicholas, on Holy Resurrection Monastery’s Practical Ecumenism blog, continues his thoughts on Pope Benedict’s “Reform of the Reform” here and here.  We discussed the first part of Abbot Nicholas’s thoughts here.

(Pictured above: The dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral, Petrograd)


I’m continuing my reflection on Cardinal Ratzinger’s (as he then was) 2000 book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy Cardinal Ratzinger is not only speaking of ‘image’ in the narrow sense of an icon. He is including in this understanding all Christian sacred symbolism, all liturgical action, including space and time and also sacred music. Celebration of the eucharistic prayer ad orientem or ad populumwould be included in this discussion of the image or the symbolic. Ratzinger says that we need sacred space and sacred time, mediating symbols so that precisely through the image, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. Surely, it is to heaven, to the Father that the eucharistic prayer is addressed. This symbolism has a long history in all the Apostolic Churches. It is always the Risen Christ, even His image on the Cross to whom the community looks as the true Oriens.

Cardinal Ratzinger asks: “Is this theology of the icon, as developed in the East, true? Is it valid for us (in the West)? Or is it just a peculiarity of the Christian East?” (p. 124.)

He goes on to say that the West in the first millennium emphasized, almost exclusively, the pedagogical function of the image. This is born out in such great Western Church Fathers as St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The so-called Libri Carolini, as well as the synods of Frankfurt (794) and Paris (824), came out against the poorly understood Seventh Ecumenical Council. This was partly due to faulty translations of the Greek text of the Council’s decrees into Latin. But the problem went deeper, touching on the theological function of symbols which in turn speaks to their anthropological function. In the East, the defeat of iconoclasm was the triumph of a vision of human life materially linked with the Divine through the Incarnation. Ratzinger certainly does not claim that the West rejected this vision—indeed it did not. It was not rejected, because it was not fully understood.

One suspects that the full consequences of this disconnect did not emerge for centuries, as long as it was submerged beneath the obvious similarities between the art of Christians on both sides of the Latin/Greek divide. At least until the thirteenth century the fundamental orientations of iconography remained essentially the same in East and West. But the Renaissance did something quite new. “Sacred art” now became merely “religious art.”

Now we see the development of the aesthetic in the modern sense, the vision of a beauty that no longer points beyond itself but is content in the end with itself, the beauty of the appearing thing. (p. 129).

Ratzinger sees Baroque art, in its Christian form, as an attempt to recapture the sacred. However, it is here that we see most clearly the ancient tendency of the West to regard art and symbols as pedagogical tools.

In line with the tradition of the West the Council [of Trent] again emphasized the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within. (Ibid.)

In short, what was missing from the western Baroque was precisely its iconic, which is to say liturgical function. Religious art did not seek to effect union between humanity and divinity, but merely to encourage, or describe, the inner experience of a highly individualized spirituality. Baroque art was capable of an intense emotionality (Ratzinger speaks of it as an “alleluia in visual form”, p. 130), but it was not itself a sacrament making possible the participation of human emotion—indeed, any aspect of human experience—in divine reality. We have here the old problem that the West, especially after Augustine, could never quite overcome: how can material creatures participate in immaterial life? The Baroque is, in many ways, the traditional Western solution expressed in a new way: we participate in God’s life through an inward adjustment of our emotional and intellectual capacities. We feel, we think like God, but we cannot be gods. And this means the world we inhabit, however beautifully it might reflect, by analogy, divine power, cannot be drawn up with us into divinized life.

Here, I have to inject my own observation that this problem that I have called “Western” penetrated deeply into the Greek, Arabic, Slavic and Balkan churches of this same period. The adoption by Orthodox Churches of Baroque styles of visual and musical art is well known. However, it would not be true to say that the more ancient, patristic view of the image as sacrament was entirely lost. The forms changed, and to some extent this inevitably obscured the theology of image, but not entirely. Icons retained their specifically liturgical function. Instrumental music was never accepted in the East. However powerful the enticements of Counter-Reformation Catholic vitality, the Orthodox retained an instinctive sense that art was more than a way of seeing within, but rather pointed outwards, beyond itself to the divine heart of reality itself.

By the time of the Enlightenment an impoverished view of the image deprived the Church of a stronger defense against the secularization of cultural and intellectual life. This in turn was the foundation for a fully developed “iconoclasm.”

The Enlightenment pushed faith into a kind of intellectual and even social ghetto. Contemporary culture turned away from the faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempt at compromise or lost itself in resignation or cultural abstinence. The last of these led to a new iconoclasm, which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. (p. 130.)

In the end the “new iconoclasm” of which Ratzinger speaks is not simply the abandonment of images, although it may at times involve this. Sometimes the kind of iconoclasm to which he refers could even take place within an explosion of images in a quantitative sense (as may be seen in many places in the 19th century, for example, with the embrace of kitsch). What matters is not so much the number of images and other symbols, nor even their form, but rather the theological and anthropological vision that determines how they are seen and experienced, either solely as expressions of individual spirituality or as means of communion. Cardinal Ratzinger says:

The Church in the West does not need to disown the specific path she has followed since about the thirteenth century. But she must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the east, coming to some kind of conclusion in 1551 at the council of Moscow. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her. (pp. 133-4.)

In any discussion involving the broad generalizations of “West” and “East” there is often the danger of making out distinctions in expression to amount to differences in faith. In ecumenical, or anti-ecumenical, polemics this danger is often eagerly embraced. I would hate to think that my reflections, and still less Ratzinger’s thought on which they are based, should seem to fall into the category of polemic.

The basic faith of the universal Church is, and has always been, that Jesus Christ unites in Himself all things in heaven and on earth (cf Ephesians 1:10). This is a fact, the fact of the Incarnation, and it forms the irreducible content of Christian hope. There are certain consequences of this faith in terms of the way in which Christians have access to the Incarnation as a historical and trans-historical fact: notably the sacraments, of which the Church herself is the first. This basic theological truth, and the practice it enlivens, form the common patrimony of the Eastern and Western Churches. It unites at the deepest level.

What divides, or at least distinguishes East and West, then, is not so much a matter of faith or practice, but of ways of explaining this faith and practice. What really divides us, then, is theological language.

I think that this is at least what Ratzinger thinks (and I certainly agree with him). What he is seeking to do in The Spirit of the Liturgy is not to make Roman Catholics adopt oriental icons or liturgical forms. Not at all! What he is trying to do is point out something that Roman Catholics already know is missing from their theological language, including their non-verbal, their iconic, language. The fact that they can sense that it is missing is a sign that they belong to the ancient Church, not that they are excluded from it. What Ratzinger sees in the Seventh Ecumenical Council is a way of giving back to Catholics something they have always known, but have never been able to completely express within the parameters and limitations of their own theological discourse. He seeks to give them a language to help explain what they have always tried to see within the “way of seeing” that is sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured, in the symbolic arrangement of their worship and devotional lives.

In short, it is not only Eastern Christians who are convinced that, in Christ, heaven and earth are mingled together (as one of the hymn writers of the Byzantine tradition puts it). Western Catholics believe this also. They know it; it informs their attitude to the world, to nature, to care for the poor, to the construction of Christian community, to the role of natural law and in so many other different aspects of the genius of the Roman Catholic tradition. What Ratzinger wants to do is strengthen this tradition by introducing, or re-introducing to it, a way of seeing that it will recognize with joy, because it already corresponds to its deepest insights and longings.

This is ecumenical work at the highest level. I am deeply grateful for it.

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From the blog of Holy Resurrection Monastery, Valyermo, CA, a traditional Byzantine monastic community under the omophorion of Bishop John Michael (Botean), Eparch of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, OH.



Abbot Nicholas has been re-reading Joseph Ratzinger (now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI) in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. He’s going to post some reflections on his reading over the coming weeks.

Here are some very general thoughts.

No decision of the Second Vatican Council has been as dramatic, as contentious and as influential in the practice of the Faith, or lack of, as the changes brought about in the liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass and through this, the general liturgical life of the Church. Many believe that getting this right is the most significant work for the Church and will have the greatest and most important results in resolving some of the greatest crises the Church is facing. There is much evidence to suggest that Benedict XVI is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of this position. When the liturgical life of the Church is authentic, everything else in the Faith will also become authentic. As an Eastern Christian, it is perhaps not surprising that I wholeheartedly agree with Pope Benedict in this matter.

Unfortunately many Catholics even so-called liturgical experts, lack a clear formulated theology of liturgy to under-gird the externals of liturgical celebrations. This is very unfortunate. As long as there are no agreed and secure theological foundations for the liturgy, the politicized, liturgical wars will continue reflecting the present Culture Wars in Western Societies. Whether the Mass is in Latin or the Vernacular seems to be the main dividing line for most Roman Catholics but, of course, it is not as simple as this, although this is certainly one of the issues. A correct English translation from the Latin and the use of sacral as opposed to a more horizontal language is another political fight that is currently taking place, not to mention the controversial arguments regarding so called gender-inclusive language.

Benedict XVI speaks of authentic liturgical reform according to the hermeneutic of continuity, of course, he believes the whole of the Second Vatican Council needs to be interpreted in this way. But, at least, with respect to liturgy, how far back in history do we need to go to make repairs where this break in continuity has taken place. For many Catholics, this break took place at Vatican II especially in the area of liturgy. This is why the ordinary form of the mass and the extraordinary form of the mass is such an important ideological battle ground for so many Catholics. For others the break happened at Trent. However, for Pope Benedict the break takes place long before then. Benedict XVI believes the Western Church never fully understood and therefore never fully received the Seventh Ecumenical Council and it is for this reason that a sound liturgical theology has not developed in the West. Basically, Joseph Ratzinger believes the West’s liturgical theology is semi-iconoclastic and sometimes, perhaps in the present close to fully-blown iconoclasm.

We speak of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church having the first Seven Ecumenical Councils in common but perhaps a lot more work needs to be done in this area to agree on a common and definitive understanding of the Orthodox victory over iconoclasm. I am very surprised that the Catholic-Orthodox International and American Theological Dialogues have never explicitly discussed this issue. Pope Benedict certainly believes a new iconoclasm is infecting the Western Church.

To be continued.


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Dr Adam deVille, at his blog Eastern Christian Books, raises the question of rethinking Eucharistic discipline between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, from the perspectives of two Orthodox authors: historian Antoine Arjakovsky, and philosopher/theologian David Bentley Hart.

As I said in my review in Logos (vol. 49 [2008]), Arjakovsky is someone who knows how to be at once faithfully Orthodox and fully ecumenical, not a common combination today, alas. In his essay “On Eucharistic Hospitality” [in Church, Culture, and Identity: Reflections on Orthodoxy in the Modern World (UCU Press, 2007), 231pp.], Arjakovsky proposes that the ban on eucharistic hospitality between Catholics and Orthodox be re-examined and changed where possible. I confess that prior to reading this essay, I was in favor of maintaining the traditional position, but after reading and considering the Arjakovsky’s arguments, I have changed my mind and can now see why eucharistic sharing between Catholics and Orthodox would be beneficial and could very well be justified. Arjakovsky is aware that some, perhaps most, of his fellow Orthodox will not agree with him, but he does cite as support the considered thought of such important figures as Olivier Clément and the Armenian Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, who in 1993 argued in favor of eucharistic sharing.

Perhaps the strongest argument Arjakovsky advances for revising the traditional ban on eucharistic sharing among Catholics and Orthodox is that first put forward by Nikos Nissiotis in 1968. To the usual argument that one cannot share the Eucharist because one is not fully united on each and every detail of each and every doctrine, Nissiotis retorted that such an argument is historically unsupportable (divisions in the early Church did not prevent eucharistic sharing in most instances) and, moreover, is currently belied by the fact that certain Orthodox Churches, who do enjoy a unity of faith on doctrinal questions, nonetheless do not practice eucharistic hospitality among themselves. Michael Plekon in his preface to this volume, and Arjakovsky in his antepenultimate essay “Porto Alegre’s Redefinition of Ecumenism and the Transformation of Orthodoxy,” both note that at a recent WCC gathering in Porto Alegere, the Orthodox were unable to come together to concelebrate the Eucharist, instead having two separate liturgies of the Moscow and Ecumenical patriarchs. How can these Churches turn around and maintain that doctrinal agreements are the sine qua non for eucharistic hospitality when plainly they are not among the Orthodox themselves, whose lack of eucharistic sharing must be explained by other reasons?

Nissiotis additionally notes that such an argument flies in the face of very traditional eucharistic theology and spirituality, which holds that the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality, the means of the healing of body and soul, the gift of the Divine Physician who binds all wounds and makes all whole. The Eucharist, according to Nissiotis, is not merely the fruit of unity but “also the God-given means of maintaining unity and of healing divisions if this unity is at stake or if the appropriate conditions for restoring it exist.” If that is the case, how much sense does it make to deny this most vital of all medicines to the most evangelically destructive of all diseases, viz., Christian disunity?

Such questions acquire even greater force when one considers the arguments of another Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart. In his “The Myth of Schism,” Hart asks pointedly: “not how we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that would enable or justify reunion, but howe we can possibly discover the doctrinal and theological resources that could justify or indeed make certain our division. This is not a moral question–how do we dare remain disunited?–but purely a canonical one: are we sure that we are? For, if not, then our division is simply sin, a habit of desire and thought that feeds upon nothing but its own perverse passions and immanent logic, a fiction of the will, and obedience to a lie.” Hart’s essay is in Francesca Aran Murphy and Christopher Asprey, eds., Ecumenism Today: the Universal Church in the 21st Century (Ashgate, 2008), viii+222pp.

Hart argues that the so-called East-West Schism no longer exists, if it ever did. Hence he can ask: are we really sure that we are really and truly divided? He’s not being flippant, either, but notes the serious canonical questions in support of his position: first, it was a “local” issue insofar as it was 2 hierarchs (Cardinal Humbert and Patriarch Cerulerius) excommunicating each other, not formally confecting a division between two churches. Second, there is extensive evidence of communicatio in sacris down through the ages, including into the 20th century. Third, the mutual liftings, in 1965, of the excommunications by the pope of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch should have resolved any lingering question. In the end, then, Catholics and Orthodox are (to use a Freudian heuristic) divided on a manifest level, but not at a latent level. And if that is so–and I think it is–then there is nothing to stop each from sharing the Eucharist with the other. One of the reasons Florence failed was that it did not have the people onside. Perhaps it is time for the people to push the hierarchs towards finally healing this division, and to do so by simply disregarding any sacramental-eucharistic distinction between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and instead receiving the sacraments in both. This is what I would call the Lev Gillet solution, and I think Orthodox and Catholics who are serious about unity should start availing themselves of this whenever and wherever possible. In a rebarbative world we can no longer afford the luxury of division.

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An interesting post from The Anglo-Catholic, an excellent blog by Anglicans seeking unity with the See of Rome:

Fr. John Guy Winfrey*, the parish priest of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Grand Rapids, MI, and a former parishioner of the Anglo-Catholic St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Ft. Worth, has written to offer the following piece on promising developments in Eastern Orthodoxy and his thoughts regarding their place in the larger drama of reconciliation between the “two lungs” of the Church, East and West.

Fr. Winfrey posits that the Holy Father’s recent Apostolic Constitution providing for the corporate reconciliation of Anglican groups, Anglicanorum Coetibus, is a sign to Orthodox Christians that the Roman Pontiff is truly committed to the pursuit of a genuine unity in diversity.

* Fr Winfrey also blogs here (on general topics) and here (on the specific topic of Western Rite Orthodoxy).  A previous essay of his, on the topic of the “Anglican Patrimony”, may be found here.

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Hailed for Peacemaker Spirit
ZALAU, Romania, JULY 7, 2010 (Zenit.org) – Greek Catholics celebrated on July 4 their first Mass in 62 years in the parish church of Bocsa, with what was described as a “festive and moving” atmosphere.
The Bosca parish is unique because, thanks to an agreement between Orthodox and Greek-Catholics, it will be shared between the two Churches.
The parish has been hailed as an example of conflict resolution between the two Churches, often at odds over patrimonial issues in former Soviet countries.
The Bocsa parish was confiscated by the Communist authorities in 1948 and given to the Orthodox Church, after the forced abolition of the Greek-Catholic Church. Catholics went underground until legalization was regained. Pope John Paul II re-established their hierarchy in 1990.
Since then, the Greek-Catholic community has worked legally for the devolution of confiscated churches (some 2,600 properties), whereas the Orthodox requested that the new balance of faithful be kept in mind, given that the Greek-Catholics have decreased significantly in numbers over the last decades.
In the specific case of Bocsa, the Greek-Catholic community asked the Orthodox to return the parish, or to seek an alternative over the use of the church.
The case was taken to court, while the Greek-Catholics continued to propose an agreement. At the beginning of 2010 the court decided in favor of the Greek-Catholics, though they continued to offer an agreement to the Orthodox.
The court proceeded last July 1 with the execution of the sentence, returning the church to the Catholics. A few hours later, the Orthodox accepted the proposal of an agreement, which was subsequently signed before the judicial authorities of Salaj.
Now both communities have committed themselves to share the use of the church with different timetables.
The first Greek-Catholic Mass was celebrated at 9 a.m. last Sunday. It was presided over by Father Valer Parau, dean of the Greek-Catholic Church of Zalau.
Father Valer insisted on forgiveness “to be able to heal wounds,” the Romanian Catholic agency Catholica.ro reported.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” he recalled. “We believe that with this realistic, pragmatic relationship in accord with the spirit of the Lord’s Gospel, other cases can be resolved in which Greek Catholics are obliged by the circumstances to pray in inadequate places. There is space for one another in the same church.”

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We continue with the second part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30).  Part one may be found here.
Update – Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum, has posted the first part of his reflections on the Conference.


Dr. Kolbaba is a secular historian for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. I relied in large part and on whose work on the background to the 1054 dispute in drafting my article on Patriarch Michael Cerularius.

In her lead presentation at the conference, “The Tenth Century: Orthodox Constructions of the West in the Golden Age of Byzantium”, she set out to explain not so much why the schism occurred, but why it occurred when it did in the latter half of the 11th century. Specifically, she sought to answer this question in such a way as to avoid a deterministic view of history which treats critical events in retrospect as if they were somehow inevitable. What made the timing of the schism so difficult to explain, in her view, was that it followed on a long period of generally good relations between East and West. The 9th century dust-up between Rome on one hand, and Constantinople in the person of Photius on the other was widely seen in retrospect in the 10th century as an aberration.

Nevertheless, Dr. Kolbaba noted that this earlier dispute had not occurred in a vacuum.

All the factors that were later offered up to justify the schism (the papal claims, the filioque, as well as liturgical and disciplinary differences) were of long standing and were known in the 10th century, though they were not yet seen at the time as obstacles to communion. Both East and West had gone through a period of missionary expansion early in the 10th century with their evangelization efforts overlapping notably in Moravia and Bulgaria. Differences in ritual practice had been noted in these shared missionary areas, but without the “other side” necessarily being seen as “wrong” as a result. Differing liturgical practices had also been a minor factor in the political and ecclesial rivalry between the Lombard duchies and the Byzantine empire in Southern Italy, though not one that had attracted much notice in Constantinople prior to the 11th century.

In essence, Rome was still viewed positively in the 10th century for its earlier role in resisting iconoclasm, and the West was correspondingly not then perceived as a source of heresy. Despite the 9th century controversy over the filioque, Dr. Kolbaba noted that a comprehensive review of extant documents has yielded not a single Greek treatise against the interpolation that can be traced unambiguously to the 10th century, a lacuna all the more remarkable as one would in later times be expected (she observed half jokingly) to write at least two before being taken seriously as an Orthodox theologian.  Furthermore, works condemning typically Western liturgical practices which would characterize Orthodox polemics in later centuries had yet to be written. So what changed in the 11th century?

Some early developments in the West were to have a latent impact on relations and on the way in which it would be perceived in the East. Dr. Kolbaba noted, for example, to the differing way in which Rome and the Frankish court were to receive the decisions of the 7th ecumenical council (albeit the Frankish reaction being based on a seriously flawed translation of the canons). The Gregorian reforms in the 11th century were to  usher in a harder Western line on clerical celibacy and independence from secular authorities, as well as on the Papal claims; but Dr. Kolbaba argued that it was the East rather than the West that was ultimately to pick fault with the other, and that it was in the East that we should look for the key developments that would leading to a change in attitude that in turn would make the schism possible. Specifically and perhaps surprisingly she pointed to the substantial improvement in the Byzantine military situation along the empire’s eastern and southeastern frontier in the late 10th and early 11th centuries as the key underlying game changer.

Territorial contraction in earlier centuries and the struggle against iconoclasm had resulted in a more homogenous Greek-speaking and liturgically Byzantine empire. These features were to become, for courtly and religious elites based in Constantinople, the empire’s defining attributes any weakening of which could be seen as posing an existential threat to its survival. The later reestablishment of Byzantine control in Armenia and northern Syria, however, was to significantly alter the political and cultural balance of power in the empire in ways that would prove threatening to these self-described “Guardians of Orthodoxy.”

The reversal of the empire’s fortunes was to occur under a successful string of emperors from military families with allegedly non-Greek antecedents. Non-Greek populations, most notably Armenians, were resettled in the reconquered areas, forming a client and martial recruitment base for these new military elites. In order to facilitate the incorporation of populations that had largely broken with the official Church over Chalcedon, emperors such as Basil II tended to adopt a policy of de facto religious toleration that was bitterly contested by the more “purist” traditional elites in the capital. For the Guardians of Orthodoxy, the policy of tolerance pursued by emperors themselves of allegedly Armenian descent became increasingly reminiscent of the heretical proclivities of the earlier non-Greek (“Isaurian”) iconoclast emperors. This led to fears that the new military elites now based in the reconquered east were poised to link up politically with the new non-Greek “other” increasingly associated with heresy, in a way that threatened the empire’s unity, purity and thus divine protection.

The ire of these traditional elites in Constantinople came to be focused on the main distinguishing features of the Armenian liturgy, namely the use of azymes (unleavened bread) in the eucharist portrayed as a deliberate downplaying of the Resurrection and thus of Christ’s humanity, i.e. of monophysite heresy made liturgically manifest. Dr. Kolbaba concluded that it is in the context of the resulting anti-Armenian polemics (in which difference in liturgical practice was linked conceptually with religious dissent, and in which non-Greekness came to be increasingly identified with heterodoxy) that previously low-level tensions over rite and jurisdiction in Southern Italy came to be seen in Constantinople in a new light, and in which the orthodoxy of the non-Greek, “azymite” West first came to be questioned.

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