The Eastern Church is little known in the West, and it would seem that there is not much desire on our part to alter that condition of things. As the Eastern Hemisphere is separated from the Western by the Ural and Carpathian ranges, so is Eastern Christendom separated from Western Christendom, and more effectually, by the mountain barriers which our ignorance, prejudice, and indifference have set up. But it is well to remember the German proverb, Behind the mountains are also people, and that the people who are behind those mountains which have been the growth of centuries, form nearly one-fourth of the followers of the Faith of Christ, or about one hundred million souls.
The causes which have led to this indifference on the part of the West towards the East are many, but there are two which might be mentioned as being perhaps the chief.
(I.) The first of these is the inherent peculiarity of temperament, which finds its expression in habits of thought, and modes of action, in the East, against which the spirit of the West frets, and for which it has neither sympathy nor toleration. The quiet, meditative restfulness of the East -- its satisfaction with past attainment in the matter of Doctrine and Worship, its wistful retrospective gaze upon magnificent accomplishment, which the experience of centuries of trial has only intensified, are totally alien to the active, speculative, hopeful spirit of the West. Attainment is the boast of the East, and in that it rests content. Progress, achievement, is the craze of the West. Those temperaments, so obviously diverse, have for long parted company.
(II.) The other is the great Roman Church. Inspired with that spirit which commends itself to the Western mind -- its activity, its aptitude to fit itself to the ever-changing circumstances of the times, its progressive spirit, its thirst for achievement -- characteristics without which it could scarcely have survived amid the crash of falling empire, and the chaos of barbaric anarchy which marked its birth -- that Church for the past nine centuries has obtruded itself upon our attention, and claimed, nay demanded, our consideration. It pervades the West, its advocates are ubiquitous, its influence is everywhere felt. It was a knowledge of that Church and a very real acquaintance with its spirit and methods, which enabled the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to successfully wage war with it; and we realise that, in these days, to retain our freedom we must keep ourselves in touch with it, and by full and fresh acquaintance continue armed against its persistent aggressiveness. We are out of touch with the East, at no point do we come in contact with it; we have nothing to fear, though we might have something to hope from it. But we are in the West, and whether we will or not the Roman Church is always with us, and unceasingly demands our attention. So the Eastern Church fades from our view: out of sight it is out of mind, and it is the Roman Church that bars our vision.
But the Eastern Church deserves better at our hands than to be thus forgotten. In these days of unrest, when men's minds are unsettled on so many questions, a strange, alluring calm pervades our spirit when we overtop the barriers and look down upon the peace and quiet of Eastern Christendom. There, in all her pristine simplicity and attractiveness, as in the golden days of the Empire, as in the fierce conflict of the early middle ages when John of Damascus whetted the sword for the conflict, so now under the misrule and tyranny of the Turk, she holds in quiet restfulness the simple faith committed to her by the Apostles and Fathers, the same Church now as then.
Do we forget that the Fathers of the Eastern Church formulated our doctrines, and shaped our Creed, guarding it in every item with jealous care? Do we forget that the Churches founded by the apostles in Syria and Asia Minor still hold by the apostolic doctrine, and are parts of that great Church? Do we forget that the creed framed at Nicea is practically our creed, even as it is the creed of the Eastern Church? Do we forget that with unbroken succession, from the dawn of Christianity down to the present day, the bishops of that Church have handed on the torch of truth? We reap the blessings of Eastern fidelity to Christian truth, and forget, or ignore, the source whence it came to us. The high-sounding pretensions of Rome hide the facts of the case from us, and Rome, the first great dissenter from the Catholic Church, would not only claim for herself what does not belong to her, but would brand as schismatic and heretic all who differ from her in doctrine or practice. What modern Christendom would have been, had the Roman schism of 1054 never taken place, it is difficult to conceive. The suggestion opens up to our minds an alluring prospect, for we cannot forget that the revolt of the reformed faith in the sixteenth century was not from the faith of the East, but from the Roman Church with its accumulation of intolerable abuse.
Such thoughts should incline us sympathetically towards the Church of the East, and enable us to overtop the barriers which have been raised by incidents of history and unfounded prejudices and differences of temperament, which in no way affect the fact of our indebtedness to that Church, and consequently her claim upon our intelligent interest.
But we are told that, after all, there is little difference between the Roman Church and the Greek Church -- that the abuses of the one are the abuses of the other. That, we shall see shortly, is not the case. And we are told, too, that the Greek Church is a dead Church, and without missionary zeal. How a Church that has stretched out its hands to the farthest east, bestowing the blessings of the Gospel upon Tartar and Indian; southward, planting the Cross in Arabia, Persia, and Egypt; northward, diffusing light to the limits of Siberia, can be termed a non-missionary Church, is difficult to understand. How a Church that has fought hand to hand with idolatry, not only in the early ages when her spirit was young, but also during the past six centuries under the abominable superstition of the Turk, retaining her faith in Christ through it all, can be termed a dead Church, does not readily appear. No Church has provided more martyrs to the Christian Faith; and even during the course of the nineteenth century, in the Lebanon, at Damascus, throughout Syria, and in Armenia, men and women have chosen death rather than abandon their faith in Christ. If under persistent, unceasing persecution -- not for generations, but for centuries -- a Church can hold to its faith and maintain its testimony, the term dead cannot be applied to it. When in 1453 the Turk entered Constantinople, the history of the Greek empire was closed, but not that of the Church. She accepted the change of circumstances; and when her temples were despoiled, and her worship profaned, still held to her faith in Christ. If missionary zeal has languished, if life is faint in the midst of such experiences, is it to be wondered at? The struggle with oppression has been long, but now that the Ottoman Empire totters to its fall, the prospect brightens, and the Church which has so nobly maintained the conflict will doubtless reap her reward when the tyranny, which is meanwhile co-extensive with her beneficent sway, has for ever been removed.
Prior to the great schism of 1054, when the See of Rome separated from the East, and the Pope excommunicated Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in East and West, Christendom was practically one. The causes which led to that separation, which was fraught with momentous and far-reaching issues for Christianity, may be briefly referred to. They had their beginnings in the far past.
The building of Constantinople in A.D.330 by the Emperor Constantine on the site of the ancient Byzantium, and the subsequent transference of the seat of government to that city, were in reality the prime causes leading to that disagreement and alienation, which grew in intensity and broadened, till they reached the point of entire separation.
Prior to that event, Byzantium was but one of the many Sees of the Eastern Church, but thereafter its rank rose with the rising importance of the city, till at the Council of Constantinople, A.D.381, which closed the Arian controversy, the bishop of Constantinople was elevated to the second rank after the bishop of Rome, on the ground that Constantinople was the New Rome. No pre-eminence of jurisdiction was granted at that time, but it came in due course when, at the Council of Chalcedon, A.D.451, the canon of A.D.381, conferring second rank, was confirmed, and a range of jurisdiction granted. Against all this Rome, of course, protested emphatically, the Pope excommunicating the patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria, and for forty years the East and West were practically separated. At the end of that term, however, excommunication was withdrawn on the acknowledgment of the supremacy of Rome; but the estrangement continued and broadened. It was aided, on the one hand by the pride of the Greeks who plumed themselves on their unbroken succession from the Apostolic Church, their use of the language of the Apostles which was little known in the West, their introduction of Christianity into the West, and their formulation of Christian doctrine; and on the other hand, by the old spirit of Rome, which aspired to world-wide dominion both in Church and in State, and could ill brook rivalry on the part of the Greeks. The estrangement found its completion in 1054, when the addition of the word Filioque to the Latin creed, by which the Roman See expressed its belief in the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Ghost -- from the Father and the Son -- a doctrine against which the Greek Church had emphatically protested, supplied the ground for a renewal of the quarrel which this time resulted in separation complete and final, Pope Leo IX. excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople.
The responsibility for the great schism undoubtedly lies with Rome, and that should be remembered for all time. The introduction of Filioque into the Creed was a proceeding by no means called for. Christians could quite well have lived and worked together without dogmatising on that particular; but a pretext had to be found, and Filioque supplied it.