Did the Orthodox Church Participate in the Crusades?

Did the Orthodox Church participate in the Crusades?

We live during an age in which Christianity is often under attack.

Secularists and Muslims often like to criticize Christianity because of the Catholic Church and its crusades into Judea.

Sometimes, other Christians factions have the blame for the Crusades placed upon them, and confusion arises because of it.

One of these groups is the Orthodox Church, and this raises the following question:

Did the Orthodox Church participate in the Crusades?

The Orthodox Church participated in the Crusades when the Byzantine Empire requested Catholic aid to help expel the Muslim armies which had invaded its lands. The Orthodox and the Catholics fought to expel the Muslims during the first three crusades. The Fourth Crusade was against the Orthodox.

Take some time to think about that answer.

The Crusades were a series of wars fought to expel Muslim invaders.

And whom did the Muslims invade?

The Orthodox.

You know, people like to pretend that the Crusades were terrible Christian aggression.

But the truth of the matter is that the Crusades were a series of defensive wars fought to liberate Orthodox Christians from Muslim overlords.

So of course they participated in the Crusades.

They participated in the way that the Jews participated in the Holocaust.

Here’s the sad history.

An Overview of The Great Schism

Jesus was real. He called apostles to follow him. Peter was their leader, and they spread Christianity around the Mediterranean after Christ ascended.

The apostles created five main churches (patriarchates). One was in Rome, in what would later become the Western Roman Empire. The others were in cities that would later become part of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Western Roman Empire collapsed, and the East (Byzantium) continued to exist. The five churches continued to exist as well. The church in Rome became the most powerful body in Western Europe with the help of Charlemagne.

Charlemagne and his successors became rivals to the Byzantine Empire. The church in Rome became a rival to the eastern churches as well. They entered a power struggle concerning the proper role of the Roman church.

The struggle ended with the Great Schism in 1054; the Roman bishop and the bishop of Constantinople excommunicated one another.

Christendom split.

Meanwhile, the Muslims left Arabia and invaded Byzantium. They conquered a large chunk of the empire, and the Byzantines tried and failed to reclaim it.

The Calling of the First Crusade

Twenty years later, the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas sent a message to Pope Gregory VII. Then, he mentioned the potential for the two churches to unite against the Muslim Seljuk Turks. His hope was to receive a military alliance to drive the invaders from Byzantine lands

The Byzantines needed help. Three years earlier, the Byzantines had endured a horrendous defeat given by the Seljuk Turks. The consequence of the loss was to allow the Turks to occupy most of what would later become Turkey.

The Failing of the First Crusade

The pope at the time, Pope Gregory, offered to launch a crusade to liberate the Orthodox Christians living under Muslim rule. He asked that in return, the Orthodox acknowledge his Papal supremacy.

This crusade did not occur. Pope Gregory was struggling with internal politics of his own church and the tendency for noblemen to fill it with their own candidates. However, the idea of crusades into the Middle East had been formed, and it would persist for the next few hundred years.

The Calling of the (Second) First Crusade

The First Crusade was ordered by Pope Urban II at the request of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos. He commanded that the Catholic knights of Western Europe should fight against the Seljuk Turks.

By this time, the Turks had captured a patriarchate the Antioch, and they had also taken Nicaea, where the Nicene Creed was formed. Moreover, they were in a position to besiege Constantinople and enter the rest of Europe.

Pope Urban II agreed to raise a military force to help the emperor after he realized what would happen if Constantinople fell.

The Other First Crusade Begins

Pope Urban raised an invasion army, but he had to sell it to the Westerners who did not realize the danger Europe was in from the Turks.

So Pope Urban II marketed the crusade as an expedition to free the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Arabs. This ploy succeeded in mustering thousands of Western knights for the First Crusade.

The First Crusade set out in 1095, from Clermont in southern France, when the pope gave a speech to a crowd of onlookers and noblemen about the need to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims.

By this time, the Westerners were already familiar with the Muslim menace because of the Islamic invasions into Iberia and France. So their response was ecstatic. They were finally taking the fight to the Muslims.

The Muslim Excuse

The Crusaders arrived at Antioch in 1098 and took it from the Turks. A few years later, they retook Jerusalem from the Arabs.

During the course of the fighting, the crusaders slaughtered so many of the Muslim residents of the cities that the Muslims have been using the events as an excuse to hate Christians for nearly a thousand years.

Does this mean that Spaniards, Russians, Persians, Indians, Chinese, and all other groups of people whom the Muslims have invaded are justified in hating Islam?

Muslim: No! That’s not convenient for us! Therefore, it doesn’t count! When we invade people, it’s different! We attacked Spain in self-defense!

The First Crusade Fails

The Western knights proceeded to create four kingdoms in the Middle East. They were: Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem. These kingdoms, which occupied lands once controlled by Byzantium, remained independent from the Empire.

The crusaders then proceeded to install their own patriarchs in Jerusalem and Antioch and undermined the authority of the Orthodox patriarchs living there.

When the Byzantine Emperor realized the Westerners had betrayed him, he tried and failed to retake these cities.

And by 1291, the Muslims had recaptured each of the cities which the Catholics had liberated.

The seconds and third crusades weren’t really noteworthy.

The Fourth Crusade

What Happened

This crusade finally destroyed any hope that the churches of the East and West might have had for reconciling with one another. In 1204, a crusading army was allowed to remain within Constantinople and then betrayed and sacked it once inside during Holy Week. They pillaged numerous churches, desecrated many altars, raped the Orthodox nuns, and stole enough loot to purchase indulgences from the pope.

The Catholics took control of the city. They installed their own emperor and patriarch, and the people of Byzantium came to fully hate the West.

After the Catholics had proven what it means to be a Catholic, the Byzantine leadership regrouped in Northern Asia Minor and renamed their realm ‘The Empire of Nicaea’. They replaced their leadership and tried to retake Constantinople. They succeeded in 1261 and reentered their capital. Yet the Byzantines never recovered from the damage which had been done by the crusading Catholics.

Why It Happened

Trade rivalries.

The Mediterranean Sea hosts a lot of trade. It has done so for thousands of years. During the decades leading up to the Fourth Crusade, two powers came to dominate trade within the eastern Mediterranean. They were Byzantium and Venice. OF the two, Byzantium had the stronger navy.

The Venetians followed a man named Enrico Dandolo, and he wanted to defeat his Byzantine rivals in the Mediterranean.

This was his plan to accomplish it: he would hijack a crusade.

The Venetians filled the army with men who were loyal to Dandolo and not to the pope when the Fourth Crusade approached. After the crusading army had been filled with sympathizers for the Venetians, it set out for Constantinople.

When the army came to the city, it entered under the pretext that it would pass through the city on its way to a target in the Holy Lands. So the Byzantines allowed the Venetians to enter the capital.

After the crusading army had entered the city, it betrayed its host and, taking the Byzantines unaware, proceeded to destroy the capital and naval facilities there.

The act destroyed Byzantine morale, its national pride, and its navy.

So Venice was able to become the most powerful trading force in the eastern Mediterranean sea.

It should be noted that the pope at the time was unaware of Dandolo’s plot and had forbidden the crusaders from attacking Constantinople. But that did not matter after the deed had been done.

Did the Orthodox Church Participate in the Crusades?

The Sack of Constantinople destroyed the morale of the Orthodox.

Muslims had been beating them for centuries.
Invaders from Central Asia had surrounded them.
The Catholics had betrayed them.
And they had lost the greatest city in the world.

At this point, the Byzantines entered a slow decline that continued until the Muslims finally overran Asia Minor and created the Ottoman Empire.

Orthodoxy continued to exist and flourish in Russia, and that country became the new seat of power for the church.

So, did the Orthodox Church participate in the Crusades?

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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