The Byzantine Empire

THEN SUDDENLY, in the midst of all the sufferings of the Christians, the persecution ceased. In the year 312, Constantine the Great, the emperor of the Roman empire, which comprised the greater part of the civilized world at that time, was conquered by the sign of the Christian Faith. Just before a decisive battle, he and all of his soldiers saw a Cross of light in the sky with the inscription, “By this sign you will conquer. The following night Christ appeared to him with the Cross in His hand and told him that by this sign he would defeat his enemy, directing that each soldier’s shield bear the sign of the Cross. The emperor fulfilled the command of God and conquered. Seeing the power of the Cross he abandoned paganism and embraced the Christian Faith, placing his entire empire under the protection of Christ and His Cross. Constantine legalized Christianity and then moved the seat of the empire from Rome to Constantinople to make a new beginning, calling this city the second Rome. Thus arose Byzantium—the first Christian empire, governed by Christian principles.

Now that the Church was free to come out of the catacombs, churches began to be built above ground. Some of the first churches constructed were over the holy sites in Israel where Christ had lived. Also, later on in the sixth century a monastery was built on Mount Sinai over the sire of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2). near the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Most of these churches still remain to this day as Orthodox churches and monasteries.

With the Church above ground, Christianity began to flourish. The Christian religious art of iconography began to be refined, church music (chant) began to thrive and the amount of Christian literature began to grow. In short, the Church became the center of every aspect of life. This period of freedom and rest for the Church became the time to articulate the beliefs of the Christian Faith and to choose the books that would comprise the standard of Scripture.

 

Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops to gather from the four corners of the world. This council was the first of seven Ecumenical Councils in the history of the Church and was modeled after the council in the time of the Apostles (Acts 15). This council, held in Nicaea, articulated the Creed of the Christian Faith so that there would be one confession of the Faith and not different interpretations. Before this council there was no universally accepted New Testament canon of Scripture and, thus, no Bible. There were simply the accounts of Christ’s life by the Apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and many epistles (letters) from several of the Apostles such as Paul and Peter. There were also the letters and writings of the disciples of the Apostles such as Sts. Ignatius, Clement, Dionysius and others. One of the persons who was instrumental in this council was St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was the one responsible for the canon of Scriptures that comprise the New Testament that we have today.

With the founding of the first Christian empire—the Byzantine empire—came the Bible, the Creed, and a whole Christian experience that would change the face of the world forever.