IN THE VERY BEGINNING of the Christian Church the Apostles appointed successors to guide and guard the Church. These leaders were called deacons, priests and bishops. Priests were appointed as pastors of single churches, bishops were appointed as pastors over geographical areas that encompassed many churches, and patriarchal bishops were spiritual advisors over the bishops and priests and all the churches. This form of hierarchy was carried over from the Old Testament times of Moses (Exodus 18:13-21).
Although there were hundreds of bishops throughout Christendom, there were only five patriarchs—one for each of the five important cities in the empire: Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome. All took counsel with one another, having Christ as the head, and there was no one person who ruled the Church. All significant decisions were made only in council, no one patriarch or bishop having absolute superiority over another, but all working together in equality. Through this hierarchy the Church had succeeded for centuries in maintaining unity.
In the ninth century, however, the East and the West began to drift apart. The Patriarch (Pope) of Rome began to introduce new and foreign ideas into the Faith. One of these ideas was the supremacy of the Roman Pope over the rest of the Christian Church. The other four patriarchs of the Church in the East, knowing that having one supreme ruler over the entire Church would divide and corrupt the Church, unsuccessfully pleaded with the Pope of Rome not to introduce this new idea.
Another new idea that the Pope of Rome began to introduce was the changing of the age-old Christian Creed that had been established by the early Church. The Creed is a summary of the beliefs of the Christian Faith, established since the times of the Apostles and based on the Scriptures. The Church in the East warned the Western Church of the dangers of changing any part of the Faith and especially the very Creed itself. But the changes were already in full swing, and the bishops in the West had already begun to adopt these new ideas, even though the believers resisted.
In these difficult times of division much dialogue took place between the Eastern Church and the Western Church in an attempt to work out their differences. Since the Orthodox Church would not compromise and allow any changes to be made in the Faith, in 1054 the Roman Church officially severed itself from the rest of the Church.
The division was based on issues of authority and theology, and underlying both these issues was the following dividing factor: In the East the Church was always looked at as something otherworldly which joins Heaven and earth, while in the West the Church began to become this-worldly, pointing believers towards the earthly organization rather than the one spiritual organism of the Body of Christ. Thus began “Organized Religion”.
Although the rest of Christendom tried to call Rome back to the Orthodox understanding of Christianity, Rome had already made its decision to part ways and would not turn back. This was the first denomination (division) in Western Christendom, which later proved to be the first of thousands.
Throughout the years after this devastating schism, the West experienced tremendous turmoil and corruption. The Crusades began, which evolved into an attack on the Church in the East. Then came the Renaissance, which brought back pagan ideals and mixed them with Christianity, then the Inquisition, and finally the Protestant Reformation. The West experienced the “Middle Ages,” which marked the gradual transition between the ancient Christian world-view and the modern godless one. The East experienced no such Middle Ages, since there the Orthodox Church preserved the Christianity of the Apostles and the early Church.
Orthodoxy continued to endure martyrdom and persecution from the world—this time from the yoke of the Muslims. As with the persecution under the pagan Romans, suffering at the hands of the Muslims kept the Church pure by not allowing for lukewarmness of faith.