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This word of Greek origin means a rip, tear, split, or division. In ecclesiastical terms, it is a formal and willful separation from the unity of the church. The term is used in the NT for any kind of quarrel or division. Its meaning was later restricted to divisions of the church having a non-doctrinal basis, such as divisions over disciplinary or organizational matters. Heresy is separation for doctrinal reasons. In the middle ages, the major schisms were that between east and west, which began in 1054, and that within the western (Roman) church from 1378-1417, when there were two Popes and then three. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the major schism has been that of the Old Believers in later seventeenth-century Russia. Today the term is generally used by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches to refer to separations from themselves. In the Episcopal/Anglican and Protestant churches, the term is typically used to designate schisms within the church as a whole. In the Episcopal Church it is often said that the unity of the church was sundered by schisms that have separated the Orthodox, Roman, Anglican, and Protestant churches from one another in various ways. The earliest significant schism from the Episcopal Church was that of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which began in 1873. There were also some smaller schisms from it in the later twentieth century over Prayer Book revision and the ordination of women. 

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.
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