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The Eastern Church and the Catholic Church

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The call to prayer floats over ancient ruins and down a cobbled street, past a shop where we are looking at an array of local wines.  We are constantly reminded in subtle ways, that we are in a country that is the product of many violent political and religious shifts.

During the Christian revolution, there were many “kinds” of Christians.  Disparate interpretations took root in local Christian communities until more powerful centralized Christian churches exorcised them as pagan cults.  Christians persecuted Christians as bigger churches imposed a common liturgy. In Cappadocia, groups that did not submit to mainstream liturgies were driven into hiding and the caves became refuges again.

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Large Christian communities centered in Rome, Byzantium, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Byzantium at that time was the center of art, science, commerce and culture.  The Byzantine Empire was richer and thrived longer than any in history including those in China.  In 330, the Roman Emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. In 324 he embraced Christianity and it became the popular religion.

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Nevertheless, the leaders of the church in Rome claimed authority over the Christian church. The idea of a universal doctrine from a powerful centralized church was called Catholicism (meaning universal).  As the Bishop of Rome amassed power, he called himself the Catholic Pope (father). The Catholic Popes built alliances with emerging northern and western strongmen. By 800, Pope Leo III aligned his religious power with political power by crowning Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

ImageAs the Byzantine Empire shrank, Syrian Emperor Leon III, came to power and held Cappadocia. He was influenced by the new Islamic convictions edging in from the east, and banned icons.  These beautiful paintings were central to teaching the illiterate in the Christian church. Leon’s rule resulted in torture and murder of dissenters. It was the darkest hour for Cappadocia’s Christian and Jewish communities.  As Islamic tribes moved west, Christianity and Judaism were eventually crushed in Cappadocia.

In another upheaval in 1054, the Roman Pope excommunicated the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Constantinople, at that time head of the eastern church. The Metropolitan returned the favor in a protracted power struggle called the East-West Schism.

The Christian church in northern Africa founded by Saint Peter, supported the Catholic Pope. In a further grab for power, the Roman Pope adopted the doctrine of original sin put forth by Father Augustine of Hippo in Algeria.  In this shrewd move the Pope ensured that the Catholic Church became the only way to salvation.  Further stirring the separation of western and eastern Christianity, Pope Urban II manipulated the European nobility with promises of rewards in heaven and booty on earth and sent them off on Crusades to reclaim the Holy Land.

ImageBy 1182 the Roman Catholic inhabitants of Constantinople were massacred by the Eastern Orthadox population of the city and the Schism escalated. Christians once again set upon Christians.  In eventual retaliation and thirst for power Constantinople was sacked in 1204 in the Fourth Crusade.  This sack left Constantinople vulnerable to later takeover by the Seljuk Turks who brought Islam.

Cappadocia is peaceful today, an island among warring nations. Sandwiched between the East and the West, Turkey borders Syria, Iraq and Iran. Even so, most of the outside fighters coming into Syria, pass through Turkey.

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On our last evening, we have supper with local businessmen…hoteliers, wine shop owners, shop owners.  They worry about their geographic location and the threat of fundamentalist religious shifts in Turkey.  They believe the middle class economies that keep Turkey prosperous depend on tolerance, tourism, trade and they hope for admission into the European Union. While Turkey is nonsectarian, its population is predominantly Muslim. As the clash of beliefs rages in neighboring countries, Turkey finds it necessary to absorb refugees and is pressured to take sides. As we finish our meal, everyone around the table wonders how long Turkey can stay neutral.

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