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The fourth century was the turning point for the still undivided Church. In 313, Emperor Constantine the Great extended toleration to the empire’s Christians. And in recognition of the faith’s preeminence in the Roman world, the Emperor commissioned the construction of churches and shrines throughout the empire. In an even more significant move, Constantine moved the seat of the imperial government from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium, which he christened New Rome (later called Constantinople). There, next to the imperial palace, Constantine constructed the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. No longer were Christians obliged to hide from persecutors in the catacombs. Instead, Christians were able to profess their faith publicly and to establish centers of worship and administration.

Another emperor, Theodosius, formally divided the Roman Empire in 395, creating two separate entities with Rome as the capital of the western portion and Constantinople as the center of the eastern half of the empire. This division made an indelible mark on the Church; when disputes surfaced, they occurred along geographic, linguistic and political lines. The term “Eastern Church” designates all those churches that originated in the Eastern Roman (called “Byzantine” after the fifth century) Empire.

Centers of Evangelization. Jerusalem is a city revered as holy by the followers of three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Despite the fact that Jerusalem was the site of numerous key events in religious history, the city was isolated and landlocked, making it insignificant in the cultural, commercial and governmental spheres. Tragic events resulted in an even further decline. The Romans sacked and destroyed much of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In 135, they razed the entire city and rebuilt it according to their standard urban plan. By the fourth century, Jerusalem had ceased to be a major Christian center. Subjected to the Church of Antioch, Jerusalem was only a place of monuments and memories.

It is fortunate that the fate of Christianity was not bound to the fate of Jerusalem. After Pentecost, the followers of Jesus soon dispersed and established Christian communities throughout the Roman Empire. Some even traveled beyond its eastern boundaries, traveling into Armenia, India and the lands of the Persian Empire.

When the followers of Jesus took the Gospel to the non-Jewish world, the new religion was naturally perceived as a novelty. Since its followers were usually found in the urban centers, it was regarded as a religion of the city. Association with urban society brought with it great cultural and economic benefits. After Christianity was recognized by the state, it soon received the largess of the imperial court. Adapting the court’s rituals, Christians created elaborate forms of worship and constructed magnificent churches and monasteries. Imperial money and wealthy benefactors also enabled church leaders to establish libraries, schools and charitable institutions.

There was, however, a negative side to this urban identity. The rural population mistrusted this urban development and its sophistication. They were so reluctant to accept the new religion that the Latin word for countryside, pagus, eventually came to mean nonbelievers, hence the term “pagan.”

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