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mini blog: Byzantium – who?

Google “What is meant by the term Byzantium?” and you get 1,700,000 hits in 0.92 seconds. Let me make it simpler for you…because it has come to my attention that lots of people find the term or word Byzantium frankly, well, byzantine. We use it as a derisive adjective to describe labyrinthine procedures of, for example, a bureaucracy. (This is unfair to Byzantium, but that’s another subject.) When I use the term – and it will keep coming up in this blog – I mean simply that part of the Late Roman Empire (most of it, and at the eastern end of the Mediterranean) that was left standing after the fall of Rome in 476 CE. The capital was now Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) and the Roman Empire, as of 380 CE, was now officially Christian. Late Roman Empire + Christianity = Byzantium, in my books. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada traces its origins to the missionaries sent from Constantinople to Kyiv in the 10th century. This is why we are not Roman Catholics and do not speak Latin. (This is me in Istanbul in 2015 with the massive dome of Hagia Sophia  – Holy Wisdom- in the distance. Built in 537 CE, it is now a museum but the minarets are still there from when it was a mosque in the Turkish Ottoman period 1463-1924.)


  1. Posted October 9, 2017 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much, Myrna. A succinct and illuminating definition of this faith many of us share in particular Ukrainians, and yet know little about. I recall in my Ukrainian and Catholic grammar school, we never were told of our Byzantine links. In retrospect, we were ill-instructed by the nuns mostly because there were no proper religious books (in English) for us “Greek Catholics”–a term I still find confusing. But we did have Roman Catholic based books which were interesting, but really had no meaningful relationship to the Liturgy, prayers and other rituals we were practicing as children and at least for me, did nothing to edify or help to appreciate our faith and customs.

  2. admin
    Posted October 18, 2017 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Irene, for this: I am sometimes guilty of assuming only we Orthodox are Byzantines but of course the Greek Catholics also practise the Byzantine Rite. We all used to be One Church, after all. 🙂 As for the confusing moniker, Greek Catholic, you’ve illuminated it yourself in your note when you distinguish yourself from Roman Catholic. So, there are two types of Catholics we’re talking about here: western (Roman, Latin) and Eastern (Greek, Ukrainian). There’s no confusion in Orthodoxy because it has no western “wing” or “arm.” But I also remember childhood confusion around the name of our church, St John’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox. We’ve dropped the “Greek” because it was only there, I think, to gesture at our origins in, ahem, Byzantium.

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