(Crete, Greece) – Orthodox Christian leaders from all over the world are meeting on Crete to discuss major church issues. The historic meeting, which has been planned for nearly 55 years, is the first meeting of its kind since 787 A.D. with the Second Council of Nicaea. Back then, there were only 7 churches that made up Orthodox Christianity and today there are 14. However, 4 churches, Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Antioch will not be attending. Since all 14 churches initially agreed to have the meeting, their absence is not preventing the historic meeting from taking place.
The council officially began on Sunday, June 19 where the Orthodox leaders celebrated Pentecost in the Cretan city of Heraklion and will take place until June 27, 2106. The meeting was initially to have taken place in Istanbul in Agia Sophia, but the Russian church refused to attend if it were held there. After that, the Churches of Bulgaria, Georgia, and Antioch backed out of the meeting for several reasons, including seating chart disputes, agenda issues, and whether or not the Orthodox Church should reconcile with Rome. Once those three churches backed out, Russia did, as well. Many believe that this move indicates growing tensions between the Russian Orthodox Church and Istanbul, where the Church is currently headquartered.
The meetings include leadership from each of the 10 remaining Churches. There are currently 300 million Orthodox Faithful located throughout the world. The remaining churches in attendance include Greece, United States, Canada, and Australia. The Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholics in 1054. One of the differences between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church is that each Orthodox Parish has its own leadership. The spiritual head of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is considered to be the “First Among Equals.” Despite the fact that the Russian Church considers the meeting to be a preparatory session for the actual Holy Synod, the Orthodox leaders in attendance, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, have said that is simply not true. Since the churches agreed to have the meeting initially, it is proceeding as planned despite the incomplete attendance.