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Chapter 13: Faith in a New Rome (451 – 900) – Part 1

Hello folks and Happy New Year!

We’ve definitely come a long way since we first embarked on this book last year and hopefully garnered much since then – let’s keep the momentum going throughout this year.

For our next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9, we’ll cover the first two sections of Chapter 13 that deals with the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church“A Church to Shape Orthodoxy: Hagia Sophia” and “Byzantine Spirituality: Maximus and the Mystical Tradition”.

We’ll spend the next couple of months dealing with the Orthodox Church that will hopefully lift the veil of obscurity that most evangelical and Western Christians have of it.

For next week, please write your summaries on one of these topics:

  • What was your overall impression of the Eastern Orthodox Church as depicted by MacCulloch in these two sections of the chapter?  What had you known before about the Orthodox Church?  How did reading this chapter change your perspective of this church?  Why do you think most people in the West are in the dark about the Orthodox Church?  Or do we know enough about them already?
  • The legacy of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora who were the last Christian monarchs before the 19th century British Queen Victoria to wield an influence throughout all sections of the Christian world in their age.  What do you think was their greatest achievement (or achievements) or failures?  Why?
  • The Eastern theology of theosis or ‘deification’ – union with the divine:  Do you think it’s heretical?  Unbiblical?  Or something Western Christians can learn from or should incorporate into their spiritual practice?
  • The impact of John the Ladder (tis Klimakos, Climacus), one of the most important shapers of Byzantine monasticism and his work Ladder of Divine Ascent
  • The legacy of the greatest theologian in the Byzantine tradition: Maximus or Maximos (c. 580 – 662), known as ‘the Confessor’.  His thoughts on theosis, the Logos, his opposition to monenergism or monotheletism, etc.  Do you agree with some of his theological ideas?  Why or why not?
  • The works of Pseudo-Dionysius whose works were complied in Syria eighty years before Maximus.  Discuss his influence on the mystical writings of Orthodox Christianity and his use of Neoplatonism

Hagia Sophia, present-day Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, interior

Please submit by 6:00 pm on Thursday, Jan 9th.

Written submissions will be posted on this site by the end of Thursday, Jan. 9th.



  1. orthodoxchristian2 says:

    This Church, when it was a Church, was the mirror image of Eastern Orthodox theology and belief in it’s day and age. It was the biggest Cathedral in the world for around 900 years, and was filled with mosaic icons made from gold glass and other precious materials, had a huge silver iconostasis, 2 heads of Saint John the Baptist, the girdle of the Virgin, a piece of the True Cross, and many other relics inside the Basilica. It was constructed by Greek mathematicians, and was a great feat of engineering. Losing this Cathedral was very sad for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Very little of it’s previous architecture and interiors as a Church have been destroyed and Islamized. It used to be filled with flickering candles of the worshippers inside the Church, too! It was the Orthodox faith incarnate, and the centre of the Eastern Orthodox world, many pilgrims coming to see it. It was quite literally a meeting point between Eastern Europe and the road to the Holy Land. Every pilgrim in it’s time as a Church had to go see it. I just wonder what it would have been like in all it’s Orthodox, Byzantine Christian glory! Must of been absolutely stunning! No church would have been like it, nor is there any now like it. It’s unique. Just a shame so little evidence is left us as to what it would of looked like. I have seen digital reconstructions of it, and most of them aren’t satisfying enough. They just remove the minarets, add a cross, and remove some of the Islamic art on the inside, but don’t add any possible icons it may of had, an iconostasis, clergy in rich and lavish vestments, Byzantine emperors and empresses in their rich and lavish clothing covered in gemstones and pearls, Orthodox Christians holding candles, religious processions, or any of these things.

    They need to make more movies about the Byzantines. The fascinate me as a civilization. It lasted around 1100 years as an Empire, which just blows me away. It’s strange no major film has been made about them. There are certainly enough theatrics, tragic deaths, plots, adultery, beautiful costumes, important events in history, dramatic scenery and what not to make a movie about them, or at least a tv series or mini-series. It’s uncharted territory for movie directors! It would bring something new and fresh to Hollywood! What do you think?

    • I would love to one day go to Istanbul and visit the Hagia Sophia. I studied architecture in college and I remember spending a good amount of time studying the Hagia Sophia, esp. the dome. I remember being blown away by the beauty and grandeur of the church. I’ve visited St. Peter’s about 15 or so years ago, but I was a bit disappointed when I first entered. But i think Hagia Sophia would be different.

      In the book we’re going over, the author wrote that the dome and Hagia Sophia was supposed to represent heaven on earth and the surroundings were supposed to transport you into heaven.

      The Western world and the Western Church unfortunately are mostly in the dark when it comes to the Orthodox Church. I wouldn’t be surprised if you asked 10 people about what the Orthodox Church is here in America, about 7 or 8 persons on average wouldn’t have a clue about what you were talking about. The Roman Empire is glamorized here in America, but the Byzantine Empire? For Americans, it’s some exotic, foreign, distant empire, not realizing that it’s more or less the Eastern Roman Empire. Yes, the fact that the Byzantine empire survived right until several decades before Columbus came to the Americas is quite astonishing.

      In the next coming weeks, as we’re finishing up the section on the Byzantines and Orthodox Church, I’ll share a special about Byzantine engineering that I’m sure you’ll enjoy – so stay tuned!

      In the meantime, for my group, I’m going to plan a visit to the Byzantine art gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art very soon. Should be very interesting.

      • orthodoxchristian2 says:

        Should be good 🙂 We have lots of churches here in Russia that are inspired by the Hagia Sophia, as is the case in all Eastern Orthodox Christian countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I have heard even many mosques have been inspired it, too, in the Muslim world.

        I can’t get the link you gave me to open, but it sounds interesting. I went to this Musuem once, and went to see the cloisters in the Musuem, as well as whole Ancient Greek and Roman ruins, old armor, rooms from Venetian hotels and many other things. It is a great Musuem! New York is a fantastic place to go to, and one of my favorite American cities. Washington D.C is so bland and dreary to me, though! Hardly any places to eat, to shop, or anything else for that matter, unless you are interested in politics, which they have a lot of. Never been into politics, though. Too many politicians lie, and it’s quite dry stuff, too, especially modern politics.

        I also went to the Getty in Los Angeles, which was more oriented towards art. I saw some Orrhodox Christian artifiacts, but mostly Catholic ones, like the Books of Hours, which are stunning, by the way, especially the ones made in the early 15th century, near the end of the Middle Ages, in the International Gothic style. So elegant and dainty, and of course embellished with gold leaf and beautiful, fanciful letters, bright, jewel tone colors, elegant and lovely pictures of saints and Christ Himself, with His troops of Angels, and the amazing bindings. The printing press put to death these amazing works of art. Modern bibles and devotional books can be so bland, uninspiring, and unnatractive nowadays.

        And yes, I also found St Peter’s greatly lacking. It is not all it is cracked up to be. And I do not understand why the Vatican has status as a country. The Papal States when they existed before the times of Italian Nationalism, was, of course, a political entity, but the Vatican is not. It is just a big church with a grandiose appartment for the Catholic Pope, with no natural boundaries or anything else for that matter. No army to speak of, either. We have better churches here in Rostov, that aren’t even that famous! Ours are beautiful and colorful, with gold and multi-colored onion domes, and other interesting and eccentric trimmings on top. They sometimes remind me of charming fairy tale stories. The Vatican is very white and bland. And I have never been a fan of late Renaissance and early baroque art: it’s just too busy, and lacks order for me, with angels and saints in incredibly tacky settings, and are heavily paganized paintings, inspired by Western Roman Pagan ideals. Very gouche and kitsch at times, too! And Michelangelo does not really float my boat. His portrayal of women in art is far too masculine, with the exception of the Pieta, of course, which is beautiful. The sheer amount of very erotoicized nudes in the Sistine Chapel is appalling, too! I heard that, during the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, it was targeted as scandalous and un-christian. I wonder if the Pope at the time agreed to all this. I personally do not want to see naked pictures of people in frescoes all over the walls when I go to Church. But the treasures they had in their museum was interesting, though!

        I would say better examples of amazing Catholic Churches come more from the time of the Gothc period, around maybe 1100-1450, let’s say, like Rheims Cathedral, Burgos Cathedral in Spain, Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, Cologne Cathedral in Germany, and some of the older churches in places like Venice, and the churches in Florence are beautiful, too! I love stained glass windows, by the way, and flying buttresses, old lady chapels and floral Gothic tracery and altars. The Duomo is amazing!

        And a great example of Byzantine art in Italy is the San Vitale Cathedral in Ravenna, North of Italy, which has mosaics of both Justinian and Theodora, and was built in the sixth century A.D.

        By the way, are you Roman Catholic? I am just guessing so, because your blog has some Latinate Catholic elements, and you have a very Roman Catholic picture of Saint Augustine as your icon. Just wondering. Because one of your comments on here was from someone who does not like the veneration of the Theotokos, Virgin Mary, very much. I personally adore Mary, of course, and ask for her intercessions and prayers for me and mankind to God, but do not consider her above God. Orthodox Christianity makes a very clear distinction in this: she is to be given proskynopsis, a type of worship or veneration reserved for saints, the Angels, and of course, the Virgin Mary, and Latria or Divine worship is to be given to God alone, since only He is truly Eternal and unchangeable, as well as the Creator and ruler of all (pantocrator.)

        The 3rd and 7th ecumenical councils made these beliefs very clear. What came after this was blown out of proportion, though. Mary is still a human, like the other saints, and her prayers are similar to those of other saints. Turning her into a Demi-Goddess is not good, either.

        What are your favorite churches you have seen? Do you plan to go anywhere new in your next vacation? I am going to Tbilisi, Georgia, by the way, which is a Eurasian country just south of Russia, and is one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox Christian countries in the world, or even just Christian full stop. I go there this April, during Pascha or April. My tickets and hotel have already been booked. I will stay there for 10 days, with friends.

        God bless, and I will try to think of something to write that you might enjoy. I just wrote about all the seven sacraments, having written about holy orders just now, and am trying to think about what to write next. Any suggestions?

      • Yes, I love the Duomo and Florence is my favorite city in the world. I love almost all the churches there, Santa Croce, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito, are some of my favorites. I hope to retire there one day and spend time drawing or painting there.

        I’m not Roman Catholic even though I attended Catholic Jr. High school and high school. In the past I attended a Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) Church and most recently, I attended a Presbyterian Church for a while and became heavily Reformed for a while, until maybe a few years ago when i started seeing some major flaws in their theology. You could describe me to be in the evangelical camp, albeit barely, but i guess you could also classify me as a non-denominational Christian. The reason why the site seems so Roman Catholic is because of the book we are going through on Church history, and the beginning of the book deals heavily on the development of the Catholic Church. The person who wrote about Theotokos (I’m thinking Michael) used to be Catholic, grew up Catholic, but is now more or less on the same stance as I am.

        Now I’m familiar with John of Damascus’ separation b/w Latreia and proskynsis (as you mentioned), but my question is why can’t persons just go to God for forgiveness and prayer directly without the use of mediation? I’m thinking that since Jesus broke down that separation between man and God due to sin based upon his sacrifice on the cross, don’t we have access to God directly without the need for intercessors such as saints and Mary? Isn’t Jesus our Great High priest as the book of Hebrews clearly points out? In my “tradition” (if you could call it that) many churchgoers feel this psychological need to find comfort in getting guidance or prayer from their local pastor/preacher – so instead of saints, we replace that with the pastor. I’ve made an argument that many American church-goers worship their pastor without knowing it. Then again, many Americans aren’t that knowledgeable about their faith which is sad, it’s mostly a folk religion, and get most of their understanding of the Bible through preachers instead of reading and studying the Bible critically or diligently. (Some have argued that American Christianity is mainly gnostic – like fundamentalism for instance – and i don’t disagree with that assessment.) I also see very little to no mention about Mary’s elevated status in Scripture and Paul doesn’t mention, ok maybe in some very, very remote references, her at all. I have a general understanding of where the Catholic veneration of Mary comes from, which sounds familiar with Orthodox theology, or are there any differences?

        Also, if you could write about the Orthodox theology of theosis it would be most helpful b/c my group had a long discussion about it and we had some reservations about it. Does it relate to the Reformed view of sanctification?

        God bless.

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