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Orthodox Church Leaders Meet Despite Russian Boycott

  • RFE/RL

Leaders of the world's Orthodox Christian churches have gathered for the first time in more than 1,200 years despite a boycott by the Russian church and three others.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew led prayers on June 19 on the first day of a weeklong council on the Greek island of Crete.

"This great and holy council will carry the message of will help to escape the deadlocks of the present," Patriarch Bartholomew told local media.

But despite decades of preparation, Orthodox leaders failed ahead of the meeting in Crete to overcome differences.

The Russian church -- the most populous in a religion of some 300 million people -- as well as the Georgian, Bulgarian, and Syria-based Antioch patriarchates boycotted the so-called Holy and Great Council.

In a statement on June 17, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow said he hoped religious leaders gathered in Crete could prepare for a full meeting at a later date.

Kirill visited Greece last month, joining Russian President Vladimir Putin on a trip to the monastic sanctuary of Mount Athos.

World Orthodoxy is divided into 14 autonomous churches, many tied to the geography of modern nation states.

The seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is based in Istanbul, Turkey, formerly known as Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire.

Bartholomew is viewed as the leader of the Orthodox Church despite the fact that only a few thousand Greek Orthodox remaining in Istanbul.

The Istanbul-based church is often at odds with the Moscow-based church, which has restored much of its power since the collapse of communism.

Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has sought reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Speaking at the Vatican on June 19, he called for reconciliation within the Orthodox Church. The two churches split in 1054 in what is known as the "great schism."

With reporting by AFP and AP