The Russian Orthodox church has announced that it will not attend a meeting of all of the world’s Orthodox churches which is to hold on Greek Island of Crete, citing the fact that other churches have pulled out of attendance.

The meeting is to be the first in more than a millennium.

According to The Guardian, Orthodox church leaders have not held such a meeting since the year 787, when the last of the seven councils recognised by both 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 of the Orthodox Church was scheduled to open June 19, which is Pentecost on the Julian calendar, and run through June 26.

However, Hilarion, a Bishop who heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s department of external church relations, suggested the meeting be postponed.

He said: “We have made a decision that we will not be able to take part in the all-Orthodox Synod if other churches do not go”.

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 later this month could promote unity among the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Bartholomew I ranks as ‘the first among equals’ in the Orthodox world.

On June 1, leadership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced the council should be postponed until numerous unspecified issues are addressed, from guest seating and procedures for editing texts to costs.

The Church said it would boycott the meeting if held this month. Since then, other churches have announced they would not participate.

Last week, the Moscow Patriarchate proposed a preliminary meeting where the controversial issues raised by the Bulgaria church would be discussed.

Reverend Alexander Karloutsos, a member of the organising committee of the Great and Holy Council, told the Associated Press on Monday that they are inviting Moscow and other churches to meet and discuss the differences on 17 June.

“There is no mandate to change or postpone and we are going to proceed. They asked for a pre-conciliar meeting on the 17th and we expect them to be here,” he said. “We are the church of love and embrace everyone.”

The Holy and Great Council has been 55 years in the preparation.

Author: Ope Adedeji