Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

4. Byzantium (22 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 14

Outward Signs.

Hallowed by its Orthodoxy, the empire was of course no longer an object of indifference to the Church, and its special, sacred purpose was manifest in the position which the emperor, for his part, held in it. This was symbolized in his coronation ceremony, which from the ninth century on can be considered as in its own way a liturgical expression of Byzantine theocracy. A vital moment was the emperor’s profession of faith and his oath to maintain the faith in its entirety. The imperial power had finally ceased to be the one reflection in the world of divine power and was now itself subject to the truth preserved by the Church.

In all probability the ceremony of Anointing became in the ninth century the fundamental, operative moment of the coronation. This conferring of a special charisma upon the emperor by the Church for the governance of the empire did not signify the politicization of the Church, but — even if only symbolically — the clericalization of the empire. The emperor bowed his head, and the patriarch with his own hand placed the crown upon him, saying, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” — to which the people would answer, “Holy, Holy, Holy! Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth!” The Byzantine emperor’s special part in divine service is often mentioned as though he had a particularly sacred or even a sacerdotal position in the Church. Those who discuss this point most are apt to know least about it. As the Russian Byzantine scholar, D.F. Belyaev, has skillfully demonstrated, this participation was actually quite unimportant and devoid of any priestly significance.[26] He kept the right, which had once belonged to all laymen, of entering the apse so as to bring his offering to the altar. The sixty-ninth decree of Trullan Synod, sanctioning this right, speaks of the exception made in this case for the emperor, but stresses that the right belongs to the lay status in general.

It is clear that one cannot simply equate Byzantine theocracy with either the subjection of the Church to the state, or the subjection of the state to the Church (for which the medieval popes struggled), although both tendencies too often appear as its sinful distortions. If the empire had received the faith from the Church and was consecrated by that faith, the Church in turn, without being false to its mystical and sacramental independence, had entered into the empire, had charged it with protecting and safeguarding the Church and even with its earthly organization. In this sense it is true that henceforth Church and empire would comprise a singe whole: “unmixed and inseparable.” This did not occur through a confusion of ideas, since confusion, along with iconoclasm, had been surmounted, but on the contrary, out of the perfectionism of the Church, which felt itself to be an “icon of Christ” for the world, but did not assume earthly power, nor take upon itself the organization of man’s life.


Previous Page / First / Next
Schmemann, A History of the Orthodox Church: Table of Contents

Cf.  Books for getting closer to Orthodox Christianity ||| Orthodox Images of the Christ ||| Byzantium : The Alternative History of Europe ||| Greek Orthodoxy - From Apostolic Times to the Present Day ||| A History of the Byzantine Empire ||| Videos about Byzantium and Orthodoxy ||| Aspects of Byzantium in Modern Popular Music ||| 3 Posts on the Fall of Byzantium  ||| Greek Literature / The New Testament

On Line Resources for Constantinople * On the future of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Greek Forum : Make a question / Start a Discussion 

Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware

Reference address :