Orthodox Churches Commit to Overcoming Internal Division

Leaders of major Orthodox branches have recommitted themselves to overcoming internal conflicts, a unity effort that one leader says will have an impact on the global Christian church.

Patriarchs, primates and representatives of all the Patriarchal and Autochephalous Orthodox Churches gathered at the Phanar, or the see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, on Oct. 10-12 in Istanbul, Turkey, to affirm their desire to transcend divisions due to nationalism, ethnicity, and ideological extremism, according to the World Council of Churches.

In addition to overcoming intra-Orthodox conflicts, they also stated their desire to hold theological dialogues with other Christians, as well as participate in interreligious dialogues, especially with Judaism and Islam.

"This has been an extremely important event in the life of the Orthodox church," said WCC deputy general secretary Georges Lemopoulos.

"The message, calling mainly for inter-orthodox unity and collaboration, and spelling out an 'Orthodox agenda' as a witness to the world, has a significant ecumenical dimension and will certainly impact the work of the ecumenical movement," added Lemopoulos, an Orthodox layman from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

There are 250 million Orthodox Christians in the world.

The 14 Orthodox leaders gathered in Istanbul agreed to the proposal by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to convene Pan-Orthodox Consultations within the coming year to address jurisdictional and other issues that have "arisen from historical circumstances and pastoral requirements."

Orthodox leaders also discussed the financial crisis, blaming it on "manic profiteering" and "corrupt financial activity," and the conflict between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway South Ossetia region.

The religious leaders praised both countries' Orthodox churches for "their fraternal cooperation" and hoped that their "efforts will contribute to overcoming the tragic consequences of military operations and [to] the swift reconcilement of the peoples."

At the end of three-day event, the leaders signed a message of agreement based on the issues discussed during the gathering. It was signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Moscow, the primates of the churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia, as well as representatives of the churches of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia.