Orthodox church leaders from around the world on Sunday called for the protection of religious minorities in the war-torn Middle East at a rare global meeting that also warned against the “moral dilemmas” of rapid scientific progress.
“The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East,” the church leaders said in a circular concluding the first such gathering in a millennium.
“In particular, it addresses an appeal to governments in that region to protect the Christian populations – Orthodox, Ancient Eastern and other Christians – who have survived in the cradle of Christianity,” they added at the close of the week-long Holy and Great Council on the Greek island of Crete.
The gathering, attended by nearly a dozen churches from around the world, also saw discussions on issues including wedlock, fasting, and united representation in dioceses in countries such as the United States and Australia.
However, Orthodox unity was undermined by the absence of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kyrill, who represents some 130 million faithful – half the world's Orthodox population.
Aside from Russia, the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria and Georgia were also absent. Both are considered close to Moscow.
The Patriarchate of Antioch also stayed away because of a spat with Jerusalem over the appointment of clerics in Qatar.
A key topic at the council was the “negative consequences of scientific progress,” with council leaders on Sunday expressing concern about “moral dilemmas” stemming from rapid advances in genetics and biotechnology.
“Man is experimenting ever more intensively with his own very nature in an extreme and dangerous way. He is in danger of being turned into a biological machine, into an impersonal social unit or into a mechanical device of controlled thought,” the council leaders said.
Churches were also encouraged to work more closely and “promote a new constructive synergy” with their respective secular states.
The last such meeting was in 1054 when Christianity split between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in the so-called “great schism” – and working out the details of the new council required over 50 years.
The Orthodox communion has about 250 million followers worldwide and consists of 14 autonomous churches.
Shaken by the upheaval in the former Soviet bloc and the Middle East it is frequently plagued by national and political strife.
The Orthodox communion is divided up into what are basically national churches, such as Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Syria, Egypt and others.
The Patriarch of Constantinople, Vartholomaios I, based in Istanbul, is considered their spiritual head and “first among equals.” But on the strength of its own numbers, the Russian church has been contesting that position for some time.