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Russian Orthodox Church won't attend historic synod on Crete

| Monday, June 13, 2016, 5:45 p.m.

MOSCOW — The Russian Orthodox Church said Monday that it will not go to a historic meeting of all of the world's Orthodox churches because churches have walked out.

The meeting on the Greek island of Crete due to start Sunday would be the first in more than a millennium.

Orthodox Church leaders have not held such a meeting since the year 787, when the last of the seven councils recognized by Orthodox and Catholics, was held. The “great schism” that divided the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox followed in 1054 amid disputes over the Vatican's power.

The Holy and Great Council has been 55 years in the preparation. Since the “great schism,” there have been about a dozen smaller Orthodox councils over the centuries to discuss theological or doctrinal issues, but there has never been a meeting on this scale.

The council aimed to take up the mission and role of the Orthodox Church and its global flock, issues relating to the function of the churches and relations with Christian faiths. Unity of the Orthodox churches is considered a key prerequisite to any reconciliation with the Vatican.

Hilarion, a bishop who heads the Moscow Patriarchate's department of external church relations, said Russia would not take part if others are walking out, and suggested the meeting be postponed.

The announcement of the Russian Orthodox Church, with an estimated 100 million flock, is a heavy blow to the plans by Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who had hoped the gathering of leaders from 14 independent Orthodox churches could promote unity among the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Hilarion said the Russian church will reach out to Bartholomew I to suggest postponing the meeting until the differences are resolved and all the churches agree to come.

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