Department of History


                               Professor: Dr. Florin Curta

                               Office: 202 Keene-Flint Hall
                               Office hours: T 1:30-2:30, or by appointment
                               Phone: 273-3367
                               Class will meet in MAT 003 on  T 10:40-11:30 and R 10:40-12:35
2014 archaeological summer school in Bulgaria

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

Spring 2014

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.
    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  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.


    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 presentatione. 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; on two-hour reserve in Library West]
  • Readings in World Christian History, vol. 1: Earliest Christianity to 1453. Edited by John W. Coakley and Andrea Sterk. New York: Orbis Books, 2004 [hereafter Coakley; on two-hour reserve in Library West]
  • Byzantium: Church, Society, and Civilization Seen Through Contemporary Eyes. Ed. by Deno John Geanakoplos. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984 [hereafter Geanakoplos; on two-hour reserve in Library West]
  • The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. Edited by Ken Parry. Malden: Blackwell, 2007.
  • The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Edited by Ken Parry. Malden: Blackwell, 1999 [available as e-book in Library West]
  • John Binns. Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • John Meyendorff. The Orthodox Church. Its Past and Its Role in the World Today. 4th edition. Crestwood, N.J.: St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 199


    There is no attendance policy, but you are responsible for attending all lectures and reading the required texts. Class participation  may be taken into account to determine the overall grade. The basis for evaluation of performance will be a reading journal and five in-class assignments. Below is a detailed description of these assignments and the corresponding percentages of your final grade. Extra-credit work will be accepted only for students with active participation in class discussions. If necessary, I will explain the format of the extra-credit option during regular office hours. You are otherwise encouraged to keep in touch with me by e-mail, if you have any questions: I check my mailbox regularly, and promise to answer quickly.

Reading journal. A quick glimpse at the list of weekly topics (see below) will no doubt convince you that this is a course with serious readings. You will be expected to digest a substantial amount of information in a fairly short period of time. The best way to do this is to keep a journal. Before every class meeting, you will post an e-mail message on my address (on top of this syllabus), in which you will discuss briefly the readings for the coming meeting, ask questions and/or make comments, raise issues that need clarification, etc. All e-mails should arrive at least 12 hours before class meetings. Be sure to keep your postings to a reasonable length (175 to 250 words long). I do not want you to spend too much time on them, but I expect you to give an articulate presentation of your thoughts. Needless to say, I also expect you to check on correct grammar and spelling before clicking on "Send." Because the journal is designed to demonstrate your efforts towards an initial understanding of the readings, I must have in time one report for each class meeting, every week. The reading journal represents seventy percent of your final grade, 2.33 percent for each entry. I will send written feed-back (via e-mail) on weekly entries midway through the term. Reading reports cannot be made up; you simply need to have a journal entry for every class meeting. Be aware that missed reports may result in a substantially lower grade.

In-class assignments. The remaining thirty percent of your final grade will be based on five short assignments in class. All five will consist of multiple-choice, map, matching, short-essay questions, or a combination thereof. Besides material covered in class lectures, the in-class assignments will focus primarily on primary source readings from the Coakley and Geanakoplos books.  A careful study of those texts is necessary for a good performance at the test. Because in-class assignments are announced, I do not intend to grant any make-ups, except for emergencies (e.g., illness), in which case I may ask for official justification.

Grades. The following scale will be used in determining your final grade

97-100 A
88-92 B+
75-80 B-
68-74 C+
61-67 C
48-54 D+
41-47 D
under 35 E


Week 1 (January 6-10):               Introduction.  Early Christian Church                                    Read: Genesis 2.16-18; Galatians 4.4; Romans 5:12
                                    see a talk with John P. Meier, the author of A Marginal Jew. Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York, 1991-2009)
                                    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

Week 2 (January 13-17):                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)                                     Week 3 (January 20-24):       Christological debates and ecumenical councils. In-class assignment #1
                                        see a short history of Arianism
                                        see the Chalcedonian definition of faith (Fourth Ecumenical Council, 451) and an account of the Fourth Ecumenical Council
                                        read a sermon of Pope Leo I on the doctrine of papal primacy
                                        see James Allan Evans, Justinian and the on-line map; visit the site of Justinian's hometown, Iustiniana Prima (Caricin Grad)
                                        read Pope Gregory the Great's Book on the Pastoral Rule (ca. 590)          

Week 4 (January 27-31):      Monasticism
                                        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

Week 5 (February 3-7):                   The rise of Islam and the Iconoclastic Controversy. In-class assignment #2
                                        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 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
                                        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 and of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) that restored the cult of                                         the icons
                                        for quick reference, see a contrast of iconodule and iconoclastic views  and a brief survey of the iconoclastic controversy
                                        see a portrait  of St. Theodora, 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

Week 6 (February 10-14):              Orthodoxy in the ninth and tenth centuries
                                 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) of the Freising Lists
                                 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    
Week 7 (February 17-21):
             The papal policies and state and increasing tension between the West and the East. In-class assignment #3
                                 watch portions of the Orthros (in English), the Great Litany (in English), the Small Entrance (in Greek), the epistle reading (in English), the Gospel passage (on Easter, in English),                                      the Great Entrance (in English), the Communion (in Romanian); listen to the Cherubic Hymn (in Greek), the Nicaean Creed (in Georgian), the Thrice Holy Hymn (in                                                       English), "We Praise Thee" (in Greek), the Lord's Prayer (in Ethiopian Ge'ez)
                                 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                                                         
                                 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)     

Week 8 (February 24-28):      The Great Schism: causes, developments, consequences [Angold 3-78 and 373-404]
                                see a brief presentation of the Great Schism (together with a presentation  of the Great Schism in the Catholic church, for which see below)
                                read the decisions of the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1438/9)          

Week 9 (March 3-7) : Spring break. No classes  

Week 10 (March 10-14) :      Western Scholasticism and Orthodoxy [Angold 79-100]. Extra in-class assignment
                                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                  
Week 11 (March 17-21):          Armenian, Nestorian, and Ethiopian Christianity in the Middle Ages [Angold 373-403, 404-429, 457-487]
                                see landscape and political maps of Transcaucasia in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages
                                see the Church in Mren and visit Echmiadzin, and Akhtamar, Lviv and the Armenian cemetery in Julfa
                                see a map of the Kingdom of Cilicia
                                see the All-Savior Church in Julfa (exterior and interior views) and the Cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator in Erevan
                                see a map of the Armenian genocide
                                see a map of the Kingdom of Aksum
                                see the rock-hewn Church of St. George in Lalibela (above-ground and close views) and the ruins of the Dabra Sahay in Qusquam
                                see the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum, the Church of the Savior of the World in Gondar and the Trinity Cathedral in Addis Abeba                 

Week 12 (March 24-28):    
Renaissance and Orthodoxy [Angold 101-186 and 253-301]. In-class assignment #4
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

Week 13 (March 21-April 4):     Reformation and Orthodoxy [Angold 187-209 and 302-372]
                                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
                                see a brief history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under Ottoman rule
                                see a historical comment on the contemporary press coverage of the murder of Patriarch Gregory V (1821) and a picture of the closed Phanar gate of the Patriarchal compound in                                         Istanbul
                                see a portrait of Cyril Loukaris and another of Peter Mohyla
                                see the Ostrih Slavonic Bible (1581) and the Confession of Dositheus (1672)         

Week 14 (April 7-11):                Orthodoxy during the modern period (17th-20th cc.) [Angold 210-252, 488-538, and 558-599]. In-class assignment #5
                                see an article on  Patriarch Nikon of Moscow
                                see portraits of Peter the Great and Catherine II
                                see an aerial view of the Optina monastery and portraits of Paisii Velychkovski and of Makarii (Ivanov) and Amvrosii (Grenkov) of Optina
                                see portraits of Sts. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Seraphim of Sarov, Theophan the Recluse, and John of Kronstadt
                                see portraits of Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, and of Metropolitan Sergius of Moscow and Kolomna
                                see a history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and visit the sites of the Serbian, Romanian, and Greek autocephalous churches
                                see the cover of the Way of the Pilgrim (and read a section dedicated to uncessant prayer)
                                see a short documentary on the physical and psychological torture of Romanian Orthodox in the Pitești prison and an interview with Father Dumitru Stăniloae, the most prominent                                         theologian of Romanian Orthodoxy

Week 15 (April 14-18):       Orthodoxy in America in the 20th and early 21st century [Angold 539-557 and 580-599]
                                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 pictures of Archbishop Alexander of Rodostolou, Patriarch Athenagoras (with President Truman), Archbishop Michael (also with President Truman), Archbishop Iakovos
                                (marcihing with Martin Luther King, Jr.), Archbishop Spyridon, and Archbishop Demetrios at the celebration of Epiphany in Tarpon Springs
                                visit the Holy Cross Greek-Orthodox Seminary in Brookline and the St. Photius Shrine in St. Augustine (with a view of the chapel)
                                see pictures of the bishops in the Karlovci synod of 1935 and of the reconciliation in Moscow (2006)
                                see a picture of Metropolitan Evlogy and Sergei Bulgakov in France (1940s), another of Rue Daru (with the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky), and visit the St. Sergius
                                Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris
                                see pictures of Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky) of New York, the Cleveland synod of 1946, and of the reception of the "Tomos of Autocephaly" for the Orthodox Church
                                of America (1970)
                                see pictures of Metropolitan Tikhon (Mollard), St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, Archbishop Peter (l'Huillier) and Father Thomas Hopko
                                visit the Monastery of St. Tikhon in South Canaan, and the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine   

Week 16 (April 21-25):    Conclusion. Why study the history of Orthodox Christianity?