The End of the Crusades

Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!

It was a long and hard Lent, and I was glad to have time off for Holy Week and Pascha. We were privileged to have not one, not two, but three priests celebrating the Resurrection with us in our little mission. It was a joy to watch a grandfatherly priest playing with our children and blessing them. As a convert to Orthodoxy I sometimes find myself overly serious and so concerned with doing things “correctly” that I miss the joyfulness and beauty. Perhaps someday we will be able to be as comfortable and at home in the prayers as our children and those who have grown up in the church.

Christians have an added reason to rejoice this Pascha—healing has begun between the East and the West. In a visit to Greece in 2001, Pope John Paul II formally apologized for the involvement the Roman Catholic church had in the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. On April 13, 2004 — the 800th anniversary of that terrible event — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I accepted the apology. “The spirit of reconciliation of the resurrection … incites us toward reconciliation of our churches,” he said. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is recognized as “first among equals” among Orthodox patriarchs.

Perhaps surprisingly for many in the West, for which the Crusades are a faint memory, for the Eastern Orthodox they have been painfully recalled. And no wonder—when you read the account of the sack of Constantinople you cannot help but wonder how Christians could do this to other Christians. After the attack, the city and Great Church were subject to days of looting, during which many of its precious treasures were removed or destroyed.

In his apology, the Pope said:

There is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.… Some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret… To God alone belongs judgment, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to his endless mercy, imploring him to heal the wounds that still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people.

During a liturgy attended by Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, France, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said “The spirit of reconciliation is stronger than hatred. We receive with gratitude and respect your cordial gesture for the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.”