No, Leif Eriksson was not an Eastern Christian

According to Abbot Tryphon, at the blog The Morning Offering, Leif Eriksson, the great Norwegian/Icelandic explorer, was the first Orthodox Christian in America. Now, it is not clear from the blog what the Abbot means by ‘Orthodox.’ If he is referring to the Church entire, saying that the Roman Catholics split from the true (Orthodox) Church, then we might say that he is right. Eriksson lived from approximately 970 to approximately 1020, before the ‘Great Schism’ of 1054, and before the ‘codification’ of this after the Siege of Constantinople in 1204. That is at least possible, if it is indeed true that the Orthodox Church is now the true, universal, Church.

But that is not the arguments given in the blog post. What we are served, is just classical historical revisionisn.

The Abbot starts out like this:

Having become a hirdman (guard) of the royal army of King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway, Leif had himself accepted baptism into the Christian faith, and had received from the King orders to travel to Greenland with a priest in order to convert the Norse settlements there.

As you might know, King Olaf Tryggvason brought Christianity to Norway. Or, he was one of the persons who brought it. Before him, King Haakon the Good had tried, unsuccessfully, to convert Norway to Christianity, but it was more successful under Olaf Tryggvason and later under King Olaf II of Norway, also known as St. Olaf.

I don’t see the evidence here of these being Orthodox – as in ‘Eastern.’ The Abbot notes:

Although King Olaf Tryggvason had accepted baptism at Canterbury in England, the first Christian rulers in Scandinavia were kinsmen of the rulers of Gardarike, or Kiev (The Rus, of course, were not Slavs but Scandinavians, most hailing from Sweden).

So what if the Scandinavians were «kinsmen of the rulers of Gardarike, or Kiev» (a claim not backed up, by the way)? The Britons were Western Christians, not Eastern. And what makes you Christian is baptism, not your kinship.

The problem comes, furthermore, that the Abbot has now completely forgotten who he is writing about. So what if St. Olaf «had himself grown up under the protection of Grand Prince Valdemar (Vladimir), who famously converted the Rus to Christianity in 988»? So what if «the last of Norway’s pre-schism Christian kings, Harald Hardrada, was openly rebuked by Rome for adhering to Eastern traditions»? And so what if he «brought into the Norwegian Church a number of priests and bishops from Novgorod and Gardarike, and also Miklagard (Constantinople), where he had headed the Varangian guard in service of the Byzantine emperor»?

Where did Leif Eriksson disappear to? And why should we ignore the fact that Olaf Tryggvason was baptised, and brought Christianity from, England?

The Christianity of Leif Eriksson and Olaf Tryggvason was Western Christianity, though ‘pre-schism.’ (But that isn’t necessarily true. The schism started in the 9th century and was finally ‘completed’ in 1204.)

I frankly do not understand the need to revise history. But I reckon it is an attempt to claim that Norway is actually Byzantine, so that the Orthodox can claim that the Eastern rites are more ‘universal’ than the Western ones, and that to erect Western rite Orthodox Churches in the West would be unnecessary, as we see here. But last time I checked, the Nidaros Use was NOT an eastern use.

This is just one of the many things that confirm that if you want to become Orthodox, prepare to be asked to become culturally Eastern too.

5 thoughts on “No, Leif Eriksson was not an Eastern Christian

  1. If only. If you read the article you will see that he doesn’t argue that the Norwegian Christians were Orthodox because they lived before the schism(s), which would be a defensible proposition (at least given Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology), but because they had relations to (what we now call) Russia. He does conflate Orthodoxy with being Eastern.

  2. Pretty sure England, although CLAIMED by the pope, did not recognize papal supremacy until the Norman invasion. Regardless, in the time of Norway’s conversion, the pope was allowed to be bishop of the Latin speaking church; who were, at the time, Orthodox. Several popes had claimed to be lead bishops of the whole church, before the split, but they were always told “no you’re not, settle down” by the rest of the church.

    So in summary, they were western, and they were Orthodox, because the west was orthodox. It was all one church.

  3. As an Orthodox Christian, baptized as a baby and raised Orthodox, I was also born and raised in Atlanta, GA. I have never considered myself culturally Eastern. I think this a confusion among Catholics who try to further distance themselves from the Orthodox Church or to try to claim a cultural divide instead of a theologian divide. At the time of the schism there were many different cultures practicing Christianity as there are today – in both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I read the article in question, and I do not feel the author was trying suggest Lief Eriksson was Byzantine. I think this confusion only exists amongst those with a narrow view of the Orthodox Church. While Orthodox Christians who read that article had a better understanding of the author’s intent. Plus claiming that all Byzantine churches are Orthodox would be an eye opener for the Catholic Byzantine churches in the US and even in Italy, such as in Ravenna, Italy…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s