A balance of powers
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While in the lands of the late Western Roman Empire Christianity begins to slowly form the conscience of the peoples and to unite a disparate world under the spiritual authority and guidance of the Catholic Church, the Christian East suffers successive blows by the continual attempts of conquest of its territories and its capital Constantinople.
From 711 A.D. to 718 A.D. the Arabs besiege Constantinople. The Bulgarian hasten to help the Roman Emperor Leo III the Isaurian and succeed in neutralizing, once and for all, the Arab army and its ambitions from the East against Europe.
A few years later, in 732 A.D., the Franks manage to prevent, also definitively, the Arab penetration into Europe from the West, in the famous battle of Tours near Poitiers (modern-day France). Thus, a relative balance of powers was established between Western Europe, Islam and the Byzantine Empire.
This fragile equilibrium was perturbed in 726 A.D. when Emperor Leo III the Isaurian caused the Iconoclasm, by forbidding the use of icons in the worship of the Church. The conflict of Iconoclasm bathed in blood the Eastern Empire for almost one-hundred-and-twenty years!
Taking advantage of the internal troubles of Byzantium, the Caliphs of Baghdad take over parts of Asia Minor as well as the islands of Crete and Sicily. Their pirates become the fear and terror of the Mediterranean.
Empress Irene (752-803 A.D.) realizes the great danger they pose and, in order to pacify the interior of the Empire, convokes the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 787 A.D. which decrees, according to the teaching of Rome, that it is permitted to venerate the icons, but not to worship them.
Nevertheless, the conflict of the Icons will not end before 843 A.D., when the icons will be officially reinstated in Aghia Sophia, on the First Sunday of Lent. This Sunday remained on the calendar of the Eastern Church as the “Sunday of Orthodoxy”, i.e. the “Sunday of the correct belief” as regards the position of the icons in the life of the Church (from the Greek words orthós = correct and doxa=belief).
By the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th century A.D. on the throne of Peter is Pope Sergius I (687-701 A.D.), a Saint of the Church, of Syrian origin, born in Palermo (Sicily).
He fought against the attempts of the Exarchus of Ravenna to manipulate the administration of the Bishop of Rome to the advantage of the Emperor and the court at Constantinople.
He refused to sign the volume of the Synod “en Troulo” (691-692 A.D.) and he introduced the hymn “Agnus Dei” into the Eucharistic liturgy, immediately before the Holy Communion rite. With the passing of time, this hymn, simple but deep in theology, has been put to melody by innumerable known and unknown musicians to this date.
He also instituted the Roman litanies for the four main feasts, namely Christmas, the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple, the Annunciation and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. He repaired and embellished many churches.
His memory is celebrated on September 9th.
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