Orthodox leaders pledge unity

Istanbul – The spiritual leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christians pledged yesterday to work for unity and resolve their lingering divisions peacefully. The representatives of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians stressed in a joint statement their «unswerving position and obligation to safeguard the unity of the Orthodox Church… by settling any problems that arise from time to time in relations among us with a spirit of love and peace.» The message was issued at the end of a three-day meeting chaired by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the Istanbul-based head of Orthodox Christianity, to mark the second millennium since the birth of St Paul. Among the participants were Russian Patriarch Alexy II, whose church is locked in a dispute with the Church of Kiev over the creation of an independent Ukrainian church. The joint statement stressed the need for «overcoming the internal conflicts of the Orthodox Church through the surrendering of nationalistic, ethnic and ideological extremes of the past.» Vartholomaios had complained in his opening speech Friday that the Orthodox Church appeared «as a federation of churches,» rather than one unified body. Orthodox believers in Ukraine are split between the main church, which is loyal to Moscow, and two breakaway churches. Ukraine’s pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, angered many in July by asking Vartholomaios to bless the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent of Russia. Sunday’s statement also denounced the global financial crisis as a result of «manic profiteering and corrupt financial activity» and called for an economy combining «efficacy with justice and social solidarity.» It urged Orthodox churches to focus on efforts to protect the environment and highlighted plans to form a committee to study issues of bioethics «on which the world awaits the position of Orthodoxy.» Besides Vartholomaios and Alexy II, the statement was signed by patriarchs and other senior clergymen based in Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Syria and Turkey. (AFP)