Category Archives: Byzantine History

#246 – The Bride of Christ

Saint Kassia, rejected by Emperor Theophilos, but proclaimed by the Eastern Church was one of the most important hymnographers in medieval Christianity. Her writings and work attracted the attention of the people of God of her time and continue to inspire Christians today.

The Hymn of Kassia/Kassiani sung by the choir of Saint Mary Orthodox Church
Other examples of the writings and hymns of Saint Kassia
VocaMe has produced a CD with the hymns of Saint Kassa in the original Greek and samples of her hymns can be found here

Later image of Theophilos choosing his bride.

Be sure to check out the CUTH blog for more on the history of the Catholic Church

Also check out the other great podcasts at the Starquest Production Network

Send e-mail questions and comments to

To listen, just click on the link below:

podcasticon#246 – The Bride of Christ


Today in Catholic History – The Destruction of the Church of the Life Giving Spring

On 6 September 1955, the Church of the Life Giving Spring in Istanbul/Constantinople was destroyed during a riot by Turkish Muslims.

The original Church of the Life Giving Spring had been built by Byzantine Emperor Leo I.  According to tradition, he had been looking for water to help a blind man when he heard a voice say to him, “Leo, Emperor, go into the grove, take the water which you will find and give it to the thirsty man. Then take the mud [from the stream] and put it on the blind man’s eyes…. And build a temple here … that all who come here will find answers to their petitions.”

After the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the original Church of the Life Giving spring was torn down to build the mosque of Sultan Bayezid but Sultan Mahmud II gave permission in 1833 for the church to be rebuilt according to the original dimensions.

The riots of September 1955 were organized by the Turkish military in response to an earlier bombing of the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.  While the Greeks had been blamed for the bombing, the individual responsible for the bombing was Turkish.  The government trucked Turks into Istanbul to attack the Greeks in the city and for nine hours the Turkish mob attacked Greeks, Jews and Armenians  – between 16 and 32 people were killed, including a priest, and many were severely wounded.  In addition to the Church of the Life Giving Spring, several other churches were desecrated.

After the destruction of the second church of the Life Giving Spring in 1955, a small chapel was rebuilt on the location of the original church and the faithful Orthodox and Eastern Catholics continue to visit the spring, believing that it has miraculous healing powers.

Today in Catholic History – Crowning of Marcian

On 25 August 450, Emperor Marcian was crowned by Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople. This was the first time in history that a secular authority was crowned by a religious figure. It will serve as an example and model for the establishment of the Christian coronation ceremony used both in the East and the West. It would also demonstrate the growing ties between church and state.

Marcian’s reign will include the important Council of Chalcedon, at which he supported the position of Pope St. Leo I. Moreover, Marcian will be considered one of the good Emperors and will later be canonized by the Orthodox Church.

Today in Catholic History – The Transfer of the Holy Image of Edessa

On 16 August 944, the miraculous “Image of Christ not made by human hands” also known as the Holy Image of Edessa and the Holy Mandylion was transferred to the city of Constantinople.

The Holy Image is a square of cloth on which was reportedly an image of the face of Christ. It is often called the first icon.

According to Christian legend, King Agbar of Edessa had written Jesus asking him to come to his land to cure him of an illness. Jesus did not go to Edessa but sent him a letter promising that one of his disciples would come and also sent King Agbar the cloth on which Jesus had imprinted and image of his face.

In 944, the forces of the Byzantine Empire lay siege to the city of Edessa, at that time under the control of the Muslims. They Muslims exchanged the Holy Image for 200 Muslim captives and 12,000 pieces of silver. Emperor Romanus I ordered that the Image be brought to Constantinople and it was placed in the Tharossa Church of the Holy Mother of God on the 16th of August.

The Holy Image was later taken from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and brought to Paris during the reign of Louis IX. It disappeared during the French Revolution.

More on the Holy Image

Today in Catholic History – The Exile of Nestorius

On 3 August 435, the former Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, was exiled by Emperor Theodosius II to a monastery in the Great Oasis of Hibis in Egypt.

Nestorius had been condemned at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 for his belief that the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ were completely separate – Mary was Christotokos or Christ bearer not Theotokos or God bearer. Nestorius believed that if the divinity and humanity were joined in Christ than Christ would not be either like us in our humanity nor like God in his divinity. At Ephesus, his main opponent Cyril of Alexandria argued that if the divinity and humanity of Christ were completely separated than our humanity too remained completely separated from God and we were not saved. Cyril claimed that Nestorius believed that Christ was composed of two persons in one body.

Unfortunately for Nestorius, Cyril did not wait until Nestorius’ supporters arrived at the Council of Ephesus before he demanded a vote condemning Nestorius. Nestorius’ supporters would hold a rival council condemning Cyril but the emperor would side with Cyril against Nestorius. Nestorius’ supporters facing persecution would move into Persia and establish what is today known as the Assyrian Church of the East. While the Assyrian Church of the East recognizes Nestorius as a saint, it does not follow all of his teachings.

Today in Catholic History – The Start of the East-West Schism

On 16 July 1054, the emissaries of Pope Leo IX led by Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers entered the Basilica of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and placed a bull of excommunication against the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael Cerularius atop the altar. The priests of Constantinople chased after the legates, begging them to take back the bull of excommunication in vain. Thus initiating the present split between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches was begun.

The immediate source of the conflict was the practice of the Normans in southern Italy of forcing the Greeks to adopt Latin practices. In response Patriarch Cerularius had forced Latin churches in Constantinople to adopt Greek practices. Cardinal Humbert was sent to Constantinople in order to deal with this conflict.

While Humbert had been sent to to Constantinople to deal with the conflict over ritual differences between East and West – such as use of unleavened bread in the West in the Eucharist; the poor treatment of the legates was what truly led him to issue this bull of excommunication accusing the Patriarch of simony, rebaptizing Latins, allowing priests to marry, baptizing women in labor, abandoning the Mosaic law, refusing communion to men who had shaven their beards and omitting the filioque clause in the Creed.

In many of these accusations Humbert was incorrect and and ignorant of Eastern practice; moreover, Pope Leo had died some time prior to this event, therefore Humbert also did not have the proper authority to issue this excommunication. His status as papal legate came to an end with the death of the pope who appointed him.

After the legates left Constantinople, the bull of excommunication was burnt and the Church in Constantinople excommunicated Humbert and the other papal legates but did not excommunicate the pope.

However, it was Humbert’s version of events which would color the West’s image of the East and keep the schism alive. The West, believing that it held primacy over the entire Church, wanted the East to acknowledge its errors, the East did not believe that any errors had been made and refused to recognize the West’s understanding of papal authority.

While most historians place this date as the beginnings of the split between East and West, it would be the Crusader Sack of Constantinople in 1204 which would make this split permanent.

On 7 December 1965, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras lifted these mutual excommunications.

Today in Catholic History – Dedication of the Nea Ekklesia in Constantinople

On 1 May 880, Basil I dedicated the Nea Ekklesia. The Ottoman Empire would later use the church to store gun powder and the church would be destroyed when it was struck by lightning in 1490.

The Nea Ekklesia, or New Church, was designed to exemplify the construction projects of Basil and his wish to renew the Byzantine Empire. It was dedicated to Jesus, the archangel Michael, the Prophet Elijah, the Virgin Mary and Saint Nicholas. Basil had a special devotion to the Prophet Elijah because it was claimed that he appeared to Basil’s mother in a dream and encouraged her to sent her son to Constantinople where he would have a exceptional future.

The five domed church is believed to have been built in a cross-in-square structure and was the model of other churches throughout the Byzantine Empire. It was Basil’s Hagia Sophia and he designed it so that it could be seen from all over the city. It contained a spectacular mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, an iconostasis of gold and silver and a high altar of “a material more precious than gold”, as Photius described it. There was also a large mosaic of the Virgin Mary, “extending her pure hands towards us and granting to the Emperor long life and victory over his enemies.”

3-D reprodution of the Nea Ekklesia

Today in Catholic History – The Fourth Crusade Captures Constantinople

On 12 April 1204, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and would establish the short lived Latin Empire which lasted until 1261.

The crusaders had sailed from Venice on 24 June 1202 with the intent to attack Cairo. They had been explicitly banned by Pope Innocent III from attacking any Christian states. However, when the crusaders began assembling, they had requested from Venice far more ships to be constructed than they would eventually need. Venice built ships for 33,500 crusaders but when the crusade set sail there were only 12,000 soldiers. Despite not needing the additional boats, Venice required that the crusaders pay for all ships constructed. This reduced many of the crusaders to poverty and placed a severe economic strain on the Venetians. When Byzantine prince Alexius Angelus approached the Crusaders with an offer to provide them with money, men and ships in exchange for helping him to overthrow Emperor Alexius III and restore Isaac II, the father of Prince Alexis, to the throne – the Crusaders saw an opportunity to recoup their losses.

While the initial motive of the crusader attack on Constantinople was to restore Isaac II to the throne, after the Crusaders overthrew Alexius III, prince Alexius – now Alexius IV, was unable to deliver the promised wealth to the Crusaders. Moreover, Alexius IV became extremely unpopular in Constantinople and was eventually strangled to death and replaced by one of his courtiers who would become Alexius V. The Crusaders then demanded that Alexius V honor Alexius IV’s agreement, but Alexius V refused. Therefore, the Crusaders continued their attack on Constantinople to get they money they believed they were owed.

It should be noted that Pope Innocent III had sent explicit letters forbidding an attack on Constantinople but these letters were kept hidden by the clergy participating in the siege of Constantinople.

When the Crusaders finally took Constantinople, the destruction was enormous. Fires in the city would leave 15,000 homeless. The sack of the city lasted three days, during which the Crusaders violated churches and destroyed the Library of Constantinople. One account writes:

the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church’s holy vessels… The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians.

When Pope Innocent III heard about what the Crusaders had done, he was furious and asked:

How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks, no matter how severely she is beset with afflictions and persecutions, return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness, so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ, not their own ends, who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood, they have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to God, to the sordid lusts of boys.

Although the Byzantines would eventually recover Constantinople, the Empire was permanently weakened and the destruction of the Fourth Crusade would contribute to the eventual fall of the Empire in 1453. Furthermore, while the schism between East and West could be said to have begun in 1054, it was the sack of Constantinople that made that rupture permanent.

The memory of the sack of Constantinople is still strong among the Orthodox. Twice, Pope John Paul II issued an apology for what the Catholic West had done. In April 2004, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I formally accepted Pope John Paul II’s apology.

For more on the Fourth Crusade

Today in Catholic History – Emperor Basiliscus issues the Enkyklikon

One of the major theological disputes over the nature of Jesus Christ in the early years of the Byzantine Empire was the Monophysite controversy. The position expressed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was that Jesus Christ fully possessed two natures, divinity and humanity. However, those who will come to be called Monophysites by the supporters of Chalcedon believed that Jesus Christ possessed only one nature, divinity. It should be noted that those who believed that Jesus Christ possessed only one nature will not, however, call themselves Monophysites. They are known as the Coptic Orthodox Church today.

The supporters of the monophysite position were extremely numerous especially throughout the region of northern Africa and would establish their own ecclesiastical hierarchy as a rival to that of the Chalcedonians. So what began as a theological dispute would quickly have political repercussions as large sections of the Byzantine Empire placed themselves in opposition to imperial authority as long as the Emperor supported the theology of Chalcedon.

On 9 April 476, Emperor Basiliscus attempted to pacify the supporters of the Monophysite position by issuing his Enkyklikon, or encyclical letter, ordering that the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon and its supporting Letter of Pope Leo were to be rejected. All the bishops of the Empire were to sign this letter attesting their agreement to its decisions and Evagrius Scholasticus states that 500 bishops signed their names. However, Patriarch Acacius of Constantinople and most of the Constantinople opposed the Enkyklikon. They showed their hostility by covering the icons in the Basilica of Hagia Sophia in black cloth.

In the West, Pope Simplicius asserted that it was he as successor of Peter and not the Emperor who possessed the authority of expounding the faith. He too rejected the Enkyklikon.

In 477, Zeno expelled Basiliscus, rescinded the Enkiklikon and pronounced his support of Chalcedon. However, in 482 he will try his own hand at making peace among the different sides of this argument over the nature of Christ with the issuance of his Henotikon. This will result in the Acacian schism between the Eastern and Western Church.

For more on Basiliscus and Simplicius

Today in Catholic History – The Siege of Constantinople

On this day in 1453, the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II surrounded the city of Constantinople to begin a siege of the city that would end on 29 May 1453 with the fall of that city to the Ottoman forces and the end of the Byzantine Empire.

While the last Roman Emperor Constantine XI appealed for help from the West, Pope Nicholas V was unwilling to send help without an agreement to accept the decrees of the Council of Florence regarding union between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Though it is questionable how much help Nicholas could have provided considering the limited assistance Pope Eugene IV was able to provide in 1438 when the Emperor of Constantinople did agree to acknowledge papal authority.

Still some Western forces did arrive from the Italian city states. But the forces of Constantinople numbered only 7,000 [of which 2,000 were foreign mercenaries] and they faced a besieging army of 100,000.

What was not accomplished by Church council was accomplished by the threat of the Ottoman armies as Catholic and Orthodox fought together against the common foe and Orthodox and Catholic faithful united in liturgy and prayers for God’s assistance.

With the fall of the city, the beginning of the Renaissance is said to have begun.

More on the Fall of Constantinople