Department of History


                               Professor: Dr. Florin Curta


St. Constantine and St. Helena (fresco in the Sicevo monastery church, Macedonia, 1644)

Olomouc, Czech Republic, May-June 2011

Course description

   When Orthodox Christians recite the Creed during the Divine Liturgy, they cross themselves at the words "Believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." The gesture is more than just a matter of ritual, for the significance of these words has to do with identity and with membership in the Kingdom of God. The Church is not just an institution, but a mode of life and a way of being in the world. As such, it has a history, which is often understood as the history of Christianity as a whole. Indeed, the foundation of the Church was laid by Jesus Christ Himself. Following His death and Resurrection, the Church evolved and grew into what we now call Orthodoxy. However, although Jesus founded only One Church, we now see a multitude of churches, all of which define themselves as Christian and successors of the Church established by Christ. Understanding the history of Christianity is therefore a critical element in understanding the role of Orthodoxy and the historical significance of the Holy Orthodox Church in both past and present times. In an era of constantly blurring distinctions between false and true teachings, an examination of the historical background of our Orthodox heritage may also strengthen our belief in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
    This course is designed as a chronological and topical introduction to the history of the Orthodox Church, from the beginning to the present. Since this is a three-week survey, it is impossible to cover everything. Instead, the course will offer a selection of representative topics from a much larger possible list. We will examine some of the key concepts of theology that had historical significance, the political circumstances leading to the separation of various churches, and the main aspects of Orthodox Christian life throughout history. Our focus will be on Orthodoxy, but we will also take quick glimpses at some other churches, especially at the Roman-Catholic church. Anyone with enough curiosity and desire to learn is welcome. There are no pre-requisites and no special recommendations for this course.
    This course is offered for three (3) semester hours of coursework. The credit for these hours is to be applied entirely to History (EUH-3931). The course is offered in cooperation with the Institute for Byzantine and Eastern Christian Studies and will take place in Olomouc (Czech Republic). Classes will be taught , using lectures and class discussions, supplemented by three field trips. For more details, see the course handout.


    There are numerous books about the history of Christianity, and even more literature on the history of the Church. Not all of them are available and even fewer can be used successfully in a survey course like this. There is a tendency in the literature published in English to shift the focus to the Roman-Catholic church after ca. 800 A.D., thus leaving out some of the most important developments in the history of Orthodoxy, which we will discuss in this course. Such books are therefore of little use to us, no matter how detailed or accurate their coverage of Western developments may be. During the last few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the history of Byzantine Christianity and of the Eastern churches, in general. The choice of volume 5 of the Cambridge History of Christianity for this course is based on the concision of the presentation, most appropriate for the brevity of this study-abroad course. However, should you desire to broaden your knowledge of Christian Orthodoxy, you may find the list of recommended books useful. Irrespective of your choice, the teaching approach in this course will be  broad enough to accommodate all learning skills and strategies. The format will be a combination of lectures and discussion and much of what we will read as "primary sources" will be available online, from the links indicated below.

  • The Cambridge History of Christianity, vol. 5: Eastern Christianity. Edited by Michael Angold. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 [hereafter Angold]
  • John Binns. Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Victoria Clark. Why Angels Fall: A Portrait of Orthodox Europe. London: Macmillan, 2000.
  • John Meyendorff. The Orthodox Church. Its Past and Its Role in the World Today. 4th edition. Crestwood, N.J.: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 1996.
  • Brian Moynahan. The Faith. A History of Christianity. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
  • George Nicozisin. The Orthodox Church. A Well Kept Secret, 2nd edition. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing, 1997.
  • Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Church . Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972.
  • The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Edited by Ken Parry. Malden: Blackwell, 2007.


May 24:               Introduction.  The Chosen People of God and the "fullness of time"
                                   Read: Genesis 2.16-18; Galatians 4.4

May 25:               Christianity spreads to the Jews. Early Christian Church.
                                    for an example of Judaic religious practices of the first century A.D., see a description of the rituals prescribed for the sacrifices on the
                                                Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in the Mishnah
                                    see a reconstruction of the Temple of Solomon on the basis of its description in the Bible
                                    for the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, see the account of Flavius Josephus
                                    for the Essenes, see the Dead Sea scrolls
                                    for the early Christian rites of baptism and Eucharist, see the Didache

May 26:               Persecutions, martyrdom, and saints. St. Constantine, Nicaea, and the foundation of the imperial church.
                                       see a map showing the spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire, ca. 300 A.D.
                                        for the account of Perpetua's martyrdom, see the passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicity
                                        see Eusebius' account of Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity and a modern account of the emperor's reign
                                        see the Edict of Milan (313)
                                        see the Nicaean Creed (325)

May 27:              Christological debates and ecumenical councils.
                                        see a short history of Arianism
                                        see the Chalcedonian definition of faith (Fourth Ecumenical Council, 451) and an account of the Fourth Ecumenical Council

May 28:                Visit to the sites of Jewish traditions in Moravia (Lostice and Usov)

May 30:               Monasticism. Literature, iconography, and liturgy
                            Lecture: Manuela E. Gheorghe, "Christianity as a Word-centered culture: the Word as Text and Image"

                                        see the Life of St. Antony   and a presentation of his life and activity                                    
                                        see a brief presentation and excerpts from the Bohairic Life of Pachomius                                                                                                           
                                        see a brief presentation of the life and work of John Cassian and an excerpt from the Benedictine Rule
                                        read the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and compare with that of St. John Chrysostom and with the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified (a Lenten liturgy)
                                        see a selection of the most important works of St. Basil the Great

May 31:
               The rise of Islam and the iconoclastic controversy.
                                        see a brief presentation of Emperor Heraclius' reign and an account of his religious policies, with a particular emphasis on the Monoenergetic issue
                                        see a couple of surahs from the Quran and the Pact of Umar, following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem
                                        see al-Baladhuri's account of the battle at the Yarmuk River (636)
                                        see a map of the Byzantine Empire during the seventh and early eighth century
                                        see a map of the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate during the tenth century
                                        see St. John of Damascus' defense of the icons and the canons of the iconoclastic Church council of 754; for quick reference, see a contrast of iconodule and iconoclastic views 
                                        see a brief survey of the iconoclastic controversy

June 1:                 The victory of the iconodules. Christianity spreads to the Slavs. Mission, disputation, Photian Schism
                                    LecturePetr Balcárek,  "Eastern Christian art and architecture"

                                 see an aniconic Muslim coin (dirhem) and several views of the Dome of the Rock (exterior, interior, and cross section)
                                 see two coins of Emperor Justinian II before and after the introduction of Christ's portrait
                                 read the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) that restored the cult of the icons
                                 see a portrait  and a brief biography of St. Thedora, the empress who finally restored the cult of the icons (843)
                                 see a brief presentation of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Lent
                                 see the Rule of the Monastery of St. John Stoudios in Constantinople, the most important monastic rule following the Iconoclastic Controversy                                 
                                 see a brief presentation and facsimile (sample copy)
                                 see an introduction to the Glagolitic script
                                 see a biography of Patriarch Photius
                                 see a brief biography of Prince Boris of Bulgaria                                 
                                 see an icon of St. Clement of Ohrid (now in the St. Mary Most Glorious Church in Ohrid)
                                 visit St. Clement's monastery "St. Panteleimon" and the monastery of St. Naum in Ohrid

June 2 :                The doctrine of papal primacy and the rise of the papal state.
                                 visit the basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna
                                 visit Hagia Sophia in Constantinople
                                 see a picture of the Church of Saint Elias (now Atik Mustafa Camii in Istanbul)
                                 visit the Church of Christ Pantocrator (now  Zeyrek Camii in Istanbul)
                                 see a picture of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Athens
                                 visit the Monastery of St. Luke in Phokis
                                 visit the Daphni Monastery near Athens
                                 see pictures of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and of Santa Maria dell'Amiraglio ("La Martorana") in Palermo
                                 read a sermon of Pope Leo I on the doctrine of papal primacy
                                 read Pope Gregory the Great's Book on the Pastoral Rule (ca. 590)                               
                                 see the Creed of the Council of Toledo (675)
                                 read the Donation of Constantine
                                 see a brief description of the "cadaver synod" that condemned Pope Formosus posthumously (897)
June 3:                The Great Schism: causes, developments, consequences [Angold 3-78 and 373-429]
                                Lecture: Petr Balcárek,  "Art and architecture in the Carpathian region"
see a brief presentation of the Great Schism (together with a presentation  of the Great Schism in the Catholic church, for which see below)
see a short biography of Photius
read the decisions of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438/9)

June 4:                 Visit to the first Christian centers in Moravia (Mikulčice and Staré Město near Uherské Hradiště)

June 6:                Western Scholasticism and Orthodoxy [Angold 79-100 and 457-487]                               
see a brief presentation of the seven liberal arts
see a brief presentation of the life and theology of Anselm of Canterbury
see a presentation of Roscelinus' tritheist dogma
see excerpts from Peter Abelard's Sic et non
see Guibert of Nogent's autobiography
see Roger Bacon on experimental science
see  Heloise's letter to Abelard

June 7:                Renaissance and Orthodoxy. Council of Florence (1439), national Orthodox Churches, and Reformation [Angold 101-186 and 253-301]
                            Lecture: Manuela E. Gheorghe: Hesychasm in Romanian literature

see a letter of Petrarch criticizing the Avignon papacy
see a general presentation of the Great Schism (1378-1415)
see a decree of the Council of Pisa (1409)
see a brief presentation of the first humanist pope, Nicholas V
see a brief biography of Pope Sixtus IV
see a brief biography of Catherine of Siena
see selections from Marsiglio of Padua's Defender of Peace (1324)
see excerpts from Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ (1425)
see John Wycliffe's views on the sacrament of communion
see Jan Hus's final declaration (1415)
see a biography of St. Gregory Palamas, complete with excerpts from his writings
see selected writings on Hesychasm

June 8:                Reformation and Orthodoxy [Angold 187-209]
see a brief biography of Gerolamo Savonarola
browse Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools (1494; with illustrations) and read an excerpt from Ulrich von Hutten's Letters of Obscure Men (1515)
see an excerpt from Thomas More's Utopia
read Luther's 95 Theses (1517) and about his famous "tower experience"
browse through two of Luther's major works of 1520: An Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation; and the Liberty of the Christian Man
see ashort presentation of Ulrich Zwingli's life and activity
read an excerpt from John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) (with another excerpt on predestination)
browse through the canons of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and read an excerpt from Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises

June 9:                Orthodoxy during the modern period (15th-18th cc.) [Angold 210-252 and 302-372, 488-538, and 558-599]
see a brief history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under Ottoman rule
see an article on  Patriarch Nikon of Moscow
browse through Eve Tibbs' book on the dialogue between the Lutheran theologians and Patriarch Jeremias II (1573/4)
see the Life of St. Herman of Alaska and a biography of Father John Veniaminov (St. Innocent of Irkutsk)
visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Orleans, on the site of the first Greek Orthdox church built in the United States
see a history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and visit the sites of the Serbian, Romanian, and Greek autocephalous churches

June 10:               Final exam

 June 11:              Visit to Eastern Slovakia