One summer afternoon in the year 1054, as a service was about to begin in the great Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, Cardinal Humbert and two other legates of the Roman pope entered. They made their way to the sanctuary. They placed a sealed papal document called a "bull" on the altar and marched out. The bull proclaimed the patriarch of Constantinople and his associates excommunicated, no longer in communion with the church, no longer allowed to receive the grace of God through the sacraments.

When the cardinal passed through the western door, he shook the dust from his feet and said, "Let God look and judge." A deacon, guessing the contents of the bull, ran after Humbert in great distress and begged him to take it back. Humbert refused, and the deacon dropped the document in the street.

This incident is usually portrayed as the key moment in the Great Schism between the Orthodox East and the Latin West. But this incident is but one of many on the path to permanent schism though surely the bloody events of 1204 put a seal on a break that lasts to this day.

The schism's causes are manifold and complex, and they reveal much of the uniqueness of what we now call the Eastern Orthodox Church and how the Orthodox understand this chapter of Christian History.

Geo-political realities

During the time of the apostles, the Roman Empire was a close-knit political and cultural unity. The empire embraced a variety of ethnic groups who spoke a variety of languages and dialects. Yet all were governed by the same emperor; all shared in a broad Greco-Roman civilization. Either Greek or Latin was understood almost everywhere, and Latin was commonly used as the political language of the empire.

Beginning in the late 200s, the empire ...

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