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Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Liberty University

THE GREAT SCHISM BETWEEN EAST AND WEST IN 1054

Submitted to

Dr. David C. Alexander

in partial completion of course requirements for

CHHI 520 – History of Christianity I

Elke Speliopoulos

Downingtown, PA

December 13, 2009


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CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION...........................................................................................................................1

A CENTURIES LONG BUILD-UP TO THE CRISIS...................................................................1

POINTS OF DISPUTE....................................................................................................................3

ICONOCLASM...........................................................................................................................4

LITURGICAL AND CHURCH LIFE ISSUES..........................................................................5

THEOLOGY AND POLITICS...................................................................................................7

FILIOQUE CLAUSE IN NICENE CREED...............................................................................8

DEBATE OVER PRIMARY BISHOPS.....................................................................................9

THE SPLIT IN 1054......................................................................................................................10

CONCLUSION..............................................................................................................................11

BIBLIOGRAPHY..........................................................................................................................13

BIBLIOGRAPHY
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INTRODUCTION

What started out as one united body of believers in the first century A.D., as described in

the second chapter of the book of Acts, became a highly divided church by the eleventh century

after Christ’s birth. Not just one, but a multitude of factors, beginning as early as the fifth century

as will be seen, contributed to the gradual widening of the gap between East and West, from

political power struggles to theological debates to language differences, questions of liturgy,

marital status and objects of worship. The combination of these factors led to the final split

between the Latin-speaking Roman Catholic Church and the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church

in Constantinople in A.D. 1054. As will be shown, most of the factors that led to the schism

were, while irritating to the other side who did not agree with them, not sufficient to ultimately

have caused such a dividing controversy with ramifications to the present day. Jelinek agrees

when he states that “the schism of 1054 was not an isolated event that only came to fruition in

the eleventh century.”1 Rather, the root causes are to be found in the continuously widening

differences in cultural perspectives, the desire for power, as well as the very basic theological

understandings that sculpted each of the branches of Christianity.

A CENTURIES LONG BUILD-UP TO THE CRISIS

The path to schism spanned several centuries, but the pattern is clear to recognize through

the 20-20 lens of history, as is the speed, which continued to accelerate and hurl both sides

toward division. With the political situations in the East and in the West evolving very

differently, people on each side came to think of their Church in very different ways as well2.

Since secular and religious powers on each side typically found themselves interoperating very

closely, a shaping of the respective bodies occurred simultaneously based on this interaction.
1. John A. Jelinek, “A History Of The Progress Toward Orthodox-Roman Catholic Reconciliation,”
Michigan Theological Seminary, Michigan Theological Journal 1 (1990-2002), 72.

2. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1963, 1964, 1993, 1997),
47.
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The world would change significantly as the West was lost to Germanic tribes by 476. In

the seventh century, between 632 and 650, Islam had gathered forces that would overrun Egypt,

Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. What would remain for the much smaller Byzantine Empire were

the Greek language and Orthodox Christianity. At the same time, this language and religion

would be a core component of the Byzantine culture’s self-understanding. It was their safe-

guarding of orthodoxy, or true belief, which had provided them with divine protection amidst a

flood of pagan influences, Islamic attacks and heretics, “among whom they sometimes put the

Latin Christians.“3 The political power in Constantinople had undergone significant changes

from its Roman origin, and this brought with it changes in the society. Lynch writes:

The Byzantines did not call themselves “Byzantine”….They regarded themselves as


Romans and indeed they were the heirs of the old empire, although such major changes
had occurred that a second-century Roman emperor would have had difficulty
recognizing his seventh-century successors and their empire.4

A very ardent and oftentimes ferocious pursuit of theological debate showed the great

concern that Orthodox Church leaders had for the correct doctrine to be defended. In addition, a

concern for the spread of the gospel drove missionaries to carry the message of the gospel into

other unreached areas, which had been largely ignored by the church in the West. In particular,

two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, took the gospel first to the Slavic peoples, and after Cyril

developed both a written language5 and a liturgy, the gospel, and with it the Orthodox liturgy,

were spread even further and reached Russia in 989, thus inaugurating a rich heritage of

Christian life in that land.6

3. Ibid., 21.

4. Joseph H. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History (Harlow, Essex, UK: Longman Group Limited,
1992), 21.
5 The language devised by Cyril is still in use today, known as Cyrillic, and is the basis of the alphabets for
most Slavonic languages.

6. David S. Dockery, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church et al., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville,
TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 864.
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In the meantime in the West, Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo III on Christmas

Day of A.D. 800. Louth adds an interesting perspective to the relationship between Leo III and

Charlemagne by relating the story of Leo III’s election to the papal office in 795, which was

followed by resentment from the aristocracy as Leo was of humble background. He was arrested

and imprisoned, but managed to escape to Charlemagne to whom he had confirmed his

suzerainty upon election. This put Charlemagne in the uncomfortable position of having to

defend Leo. Charlemagne traveled to Rome, where Leo swore to his innocence, which was

accepted by Roman and Frankish representatives, and Leo was reinstated as rightful pope. The

ones who had arrested Leo were condemned to die, yet Leo intervened to have the sentence

changed to exile. When Leo crowned Charlemagne a few days later on Christmas Day A.D. 800,

both gained from this new symbiosis. Charlemagne became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,

and Pope Leo III had secured the right to have significant say in who would sit on this throne.7

However, Charlemagne apparently understood this to mean that he was now also the

leader of all Christians in the West, rather than just emperor in the sense of the Roman empire.

The term Holy Roman Empire became attached to his role: Roman, as it signified the succession

to the Roman Empire in the West, and holy, as Charlemagne ruled over all of his western

Christian subjects. Those born within Charlemagne’s span of control were automatically

baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.8

POINTS OF DISPUTE

As already mentioned in the introduction, the schism between East and West was not

directly attributable to only one element, rather a number of factors contributed to the deepening

alienation. With the political power maneuverings in the West, easterners became concerned of

7. Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071, The Church in History, Volume
III (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007), 70.

8. Howard Frederic Vos and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Exploring Church History.
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their liberty and were ready to defend it. The ancient Church was standing against “a modern

despotism”, which to them was riding on the unwarranted merits of - later found to be forged -

decretals claiming papal supremacy and jurisdiction over all of Christianity.9 At their core, these

decretals, known today as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals advocated a papal theocracy.10

In the meantime, the West voiced strong concern about the assumption of the title of

Œcumenical Patriarch by the Patriarch of Constantinople. In addition, steps taken by the East,

such as the closing of Roman monasteries in the East, as well as the missionary efforts and

shifting political structures bringing about rebaptism of converts from the Roman Church

demanded answers. However, some accusations were simply false. As Vos writes that the West

added to the legitimate elements behind the complaints “astounding assertion that the Easterns

had cut out the Filioque clause from the Creed.”11

Some of the additional points of dispute follow. As the filioque clause requires broader

insights, the debate around it will be expanded upon in its own section below.

ICONOCLASM

While eleven of the thirteen popes between A.D. 687 and 751 were Greek speakers who

considered themselves loyal to the Byzantine emperor, they ultimately deemed Leo III to be a

heretic when he ordered the destruction of all religious icons. This occurred in A.D. 726 and

resulted in fifty years of iconoclasm. 12 Since the West did not see icons as a problem, they

believed Leo III’s behavior to be heretical. The emperor, on the other hand, threatened arrests

9. Ibid.

10. Philip Schaff, and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos
Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

11. Howard Frederic Vos and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Exploring Church History.

12. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History, 62.


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and seized papal estates. This served to alienate the popes and drove a wedge between the

religious and political worlds.13

Emperor Leo III believed that his actions served to counter Muslim charges of Christian

polytheism. While he was supported by the patriarch in Constantinople, most of the monks and

commoners did not agree with the emperor. Finally, Pope Gregory II spoke out against the

emperor’s edict, as this was secular power dictating ecclesiastical matters, as well as already

mentioned, not an issue in the West. This debate over icons produced a significant discord

between East and West. One consequence was that the popes ceased to seek confirmation from

Constantinople after Gregory III. This issue was finally laid to rest in 843 by an Eastern Church

council with a decision that icons were allowed, but only in the form of flat pictures, not of

statues, however, by then the damage was done.14

LITURGICAL AND CHURCH LIFE ISSUES

One area that led to misunderstandings was the difficulty in communicating between the

Church rulers in Constantinople and Rome. One only spoke Greek; the other only spoke Latin;

making it difficult to find easy ways of exchanging ideas.15

While the churches in the West were using unleavened bread in the Eucharist, the clergy

in the East believed that using unleavened bread was “following the practice of the Jews, and

contrary to the usage of Christ”16. They also strongly believed that a fast on Saturday in Lent was

simply tradition, and that the Church in the West violated the Jerusalem Council’s mandates by

eating blood and strangled animals. At the time of the schism in 1054, the Patriarch of

Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, had invented the new term “Azymites” to apply to those
13. Lynch, The Medieval Church: A Brief History, 62.

14. Howard Frederic Vos and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Exploring Church History.

15. “Michigan Theological Seminary, vol. 1, Michigan Theological Journal Volume 1 (Michigan
Theological Seminary, 1990,” 2002), 69-73.

16. Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church.
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who continued in the heretical practice (in the eyes of the East) of using unleavened bread in

worship settings.17

The dogma of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary was not accepted by the

East, despite their own following of Mariology.18 In the West, lay people no longer participated

in the cup during communion. The church in the East continued to let laity partake in both

elements.19 On the topic of baptism, a triple immersion in baptism was particular to the church in

the East and not practiced in the West. 20

For the priests in the West, celibacy was prescribed, while at least the lower clergy in the

East could marry, but not remarry.21 Another discussion centered around whether or not a clergy

man could be clean shaven or should grow a beard.22 In the eastern Church, beards had been

common since the apostolic times. However, starting with the fifth century, clergy in the West

began to shave, largely arising through monastic influences. During the time of Photius, this

debate over whether or not a clergy man should have a beard was contended between East and

West.23

THEOLOGY AND POLITICS

A departure from common thought could most readily be seen in the extreme divergence

of theological stands between East and West. This began as early as the difference in theological

perspectives and developing structures in the works of contemporaries John Chrysostom (c. 347–

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Howard Frederic Vos and Thomas Nelson Publishers, Exploring Church History.

23. F. L. Cross, and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford ed.
3rd ed. rev (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 175.
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407) and Augustine (354-430), who had both undertaken a study of Paul’s writings. While

Chrysostom tried to glean directions for Christian living out of the writings, Augustine

developed a theology of grace. Although these concepts were not in conflict with each other,

they found themselves on opposite ends of theological considerations and thus pointed toward a

brewing divergence in theological approach to the Christian faith.24

Whether it was the East’s metaphysical approach versus the West’s practicality, or the

great fondness of the East for theological debates while the West had to spend much of its time

trying to control the barbarian nations around them, “neither looks quite in the same way on God,

man, life and destiny”, to quote Cole25. Other divergent views were in the relationship of church

to state. Whereas the Roman Church viewed their ideal form in the light of a theocracy in which

all nations of the Holy Roman Empire would bow before those representing God on earth, the

Eastern mentality called for a church which would define orthodox faith and provide clear

guidance in all things theological. These differences could also be observed in the diverging

liturgies: Rome preferred an almost “business-like” terseness; Constantinople delighted in

“diffuse poetical rhapsodies interspersed with prayer.”26

FILIOQUE CLAUSE IN NICENE CREED

The debate over the filioque clause can be considered the fuse that lit the powder keg,

proverbially speaking. While the insertion of the phrase filioque (Latin, meaning “and from the

24. James Stamoolis, “Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology,” in Evangelical Review of Theology: Volume
9, electronic ed. , Logos Library System; Evangelical Review of Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster
Periodicals, 2000), 139.
Stamoolis here points out in addition, “The different biblical emphases appear with the development of the Pauline
concept of justification in what might be termed Roman legal terminology. Whereas the doctrine of justification
occupied the West, the East found a theological centre in the idea of union with God. The great theme was the
incarnation and the consequences of this event for the believers.” This points also to a starting point for the view of
papal authority vs. secular rulers.

25. F. G. Cole, Mother of All Churches: A Brief and Comprehensive Handbook of the Holy Eastern
Orthodox Church (Skeffington & Son, London, 1908), 27.

26. Ibid.
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Son”) into the Nicene Creed had already occurred as early as the Council of Toledo in 589, its

impact gradually strengthened, all the while against the backdrop of a sharp theological debate

with eastern church leaders and thus weakening the relationship between East and West. It was

finally officially endorsed in 1017.27

As early as the ninth century, Photius of Constantinople spoke out sharply against the

filioque inclusion and argued:

Above all else, there is a saying of the Lord which opposes them like a sharp, inescapable
arrow, striking down and destroying every wild beast and fox as though with a
thunderbolt. What saying? That which the Son Himself delivers; that which states that the
Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.28

A good summary of the theological discussion behind the insertion of the phrase “and

from the Son” was provided by Pugliese:

The question concerning the filioque is not whether the Son plays a role in the generation
of the Holy Spirit, nor whether the Son is second in logical order in the Trinity, since the
eastern Churches admit that the Holy Spirit proceeds through (Gk. διά) the Son. Rather,
the issue is whether the Son is also the ontological source of the Holy Spirit, along with
the Father.

Bromley gives further insights by elaborating on the two key points which were being

made for and against the use of the filioque clause. For the eastern point of view, he cites John

15:26, which reads “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the

Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (ESV) In the

East’s argumentation, the Spirit only proceeds from the Father in this verse. In addition,

according to the East, there was never ecumenical approval for the change to the Nicene Creed.29

For the West, the addition of the filioque was a measure to protect the consubstantiality of the

27. G. W. Bromley, “Filioque,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, Second ed.
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1984, 2001), 452.

28. Saint Photius the Great, “Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit,” Myriobiblos Library, Retrieved from
http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/photios_mystagogy1.html (accessed December 13, 2009).

29. Bromley, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 452.


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Son with the Father. Likewise, the argument was given that Jesus actually sends the Holy Spirit

in John 15:26, and that, as such, this supports the “intratrinitarian relationship”.30

DEBATE OVER PRIMARY BISHOPS

The importance of Byzantium as New Rome, and therefore a new center of Christianity,

was underscored by the addition of a fourth Patriarch who in A.D. 381 at the Council of

Constantinople was given ranking immediately after the Bishop of Rome.31

However, it became quickly apparent that in the eyes of the Catholic Church the view of

the pope shifted to one where he, as the Western Patriarch, held a primacy through the papal

office in Rome. This was attributed to a popular theory that the Pope was the successor of Peter

and had therefore been given the highest power in the government of the Church. In

Constantinople in the meantime, John the Faster in A.D. 588 had taken on the title of

Œcumenical Patriarch, which suggested that his authority would even incorporate Rome, and

that he could thus call a General Council. This raised great resentment in Rome and led to an

official grievance against Constantinople. This rivalry can be seen as a major contributor to the

ultimate schism in 1054.32

While Photius had in the past challenged this strong Roman claim for papal primacy, the

topic had rested as other issues, such as the filioque dispute, had gained more attention, but

Michael Cerularius brought this discussion to the foreground again.33

30. Ibid.

31. Cole, Mother of All Churches, 12.

32. Ibid., 25-26. Cole adds to this understanding an observation still true to the present time. “In order to
understand the position and standpoint of the Eastern Church, it is necessary to consider the Patriarchal theory on
which it is based. Unlike the Church of Rome, which is a monarchy; unlike Anglicanism, which is based upon a
theory as to the equality of bishops, the Eastern believes that the true principle of Church government is that of an
oligarchy.” p.8.

33. Ibid., 318-19.


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THE SPLIT IN 1054

When Michael Cerularius became patriarch in Constantinople, the path was set that

would lead to the final split between East and West. Described as an “ambitious churchman” 34

who was “never really conversant with theological and ecclesiastical matters”35, he closed

western Roman churches in the East in retaliation against Leo IX’s move to replace eastern

bishops, originating from Constantinople, with western bishops from Rome, and thus altering

liturgy in the existing church communities, after Norman armies conquered southern Italy.36

In 1054, the issues came to a final escalation. Pope Leo IX sent a delegate, Cardinal

Humbert of Silva Candida, along with other emissaries to Constantinople to discuss the issues

with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius. As Morgan describes, “there could

hardly have been more arrogant and tactless persons than Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of

Constantinople, and the legates of Pope Leo IX.”37 When Cerularius refused to meet with the

delegation and rejected both the papal claims as well as the filioque clause, the legates from

Rome accused Cerularius of altering the words of the Nicene Creed. On July 16, A.D. 1054, the

Roman cardinal laid a papal bull on the high altar of the Cathedral Church of S. Sophia,

excommunicating Cerularius.38 A few days later, Cerularius countered by anathematizing the

authors of the bull and its content, thereby making the split between East and West a permanent

one.39

34. Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes,
electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000).

35. J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian History
(Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997).

36. Morgan, On This Day.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. Jelinek, “A History Of The Progress Toward Orthodox-Roman Catholic Reconciliation,” 73.
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CONCLUSION

While it appears that barriers of language and customs existed, the bigger issues between

the popes and the patriarchs became both their undoubtedly ferociously fought theological

debates as well as their political understanding and desire for power. Neither side can be exempt

from contributing to the division between East and West. However, the language barrier should

not be underestimated. Even some of the prominent personae in these debates were unable to

speak their counterparts’ language. As Douglas writes, “few theologians in East or West spoke

the other’s language. Photius, with all his gifts, could not read Latin.”40 By the time Cerularius

was forced to deal with the issues the Roman delegation brought to him in 1054, this language

chasm had become even deeper and with it the diverging customs in liturgy and church life.

Regarding the debate around the filioque inclusion, Grudem correctly concludes that the

driver behind this and many other theological arguments was the complication brought about by

“ecclesiastical politics and struggles for power” 41. As such, the doctrinal point of the proceeding

of the Spirit from the Son, deemed by most theologians as a rather insignificant doctrinal point,

became the main theological dispute, which officially caused the split between the Church in the

East and the one in the West in A.D. 1054.

Certainly Fahlbusch and Bromiley find the right words when they state that “over a long

period of increasing alienation, an antithesis between the two resulted, based on the absolutizing

of the two forms, that constricted the faith and shattered all chances of agreement.” 42 This

provided the “atmosphere of mistrust and hatred”43 that maligned the meeting in Constantinople

40. J. D. Douglas, “Photius,” in Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian
History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997).

41. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Leicester, England ed.
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 246.

42. Erwin Fahlbusch, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Grand Rapids,
Mich ed. (Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003), 870.

43. Ibid.
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and led to a split that still exists today. Sadly, what this split also shows is how significantly

unchecked egos impacted the behavior of the Christian church, as they found their expression in

political power struggles and insistence on tradition without the clear backing of prescriptions

based on Scripture. One needs only to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to see

this division still being enacted today, as recently evidenced by video clips of priests of different

Christian denominations fighting inside what should be one of the most sacred sanctuaries to

Christianity on earth. The continued observance of the expression of such disputes should also

raise a clear awareness in believers how much of a danger still exists today of this destructive

behavior continuing, if believers are not submitting to the authority of the Supreme Ruler of his

Church, Jesus Christ.


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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bromley, G. W. “Filioque.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell.


Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1984, 2001.

Cole, F. G. Mother of All Churches: A Brief and Comprehensive Handbook of the Holy Eastern
Orthodox Church. Skeffington & Son, London, 1908.

Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.
Oxford ed. 3rd ed. rev. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dockery, David S, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church et al., Holman Bible Handbook.
Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992.

Douglas, J. D., Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History.
Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997.

Fahlbusch, Erwin, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand
Rapids, Mich ed. Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester,


England ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994.

Jelinek, John A. “A History Of The Progress Toward Orthodox-Roman Catholic Reconciliation.”


Michigan Theological Seminary, Michigan Theological Journal 1 (1990-2002), 4.

Louth, Andrew. Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071. The Church in History,
Volume III. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2007.

Lynch, Joseph H. The Medieval Church: A Brief History. Harlow, Essex, UK: Longman Group
Limited, 1992.

Morgan, Robert J. On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs &
Heroes. Electronic ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.

Saint Photius the Great. “Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.” Myriobiblos Library. Retrieved from
http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/photios_mystagogy1.html (accessed December
13, 2009).

Schaff, Philip, and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Oak Harbor, WA:
Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Stamoolis, James. “Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology.” In Evangelical Review of Theology:


Volume 9. Electronic ed. , Logos Library System; Evangelical Review of Theology.
Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000.

Vos, Howard Frederic, and Thomas Nelson Publishers. Exploring Church History. Nelson's
Christian cornerstone series. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.
4

Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1963, 1964, 1993,
1997.