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The Russian Orthodox Church, the world's biggest Orthodox church, has distanced itself from an ecumenical charter for Europe, warning that the charter could prove "harmful and counter-productive" to dialogue between churches and might lead to "new divisions" between Christians.

The Charta Oecumenica, which has been almost two years in the making, sets down guidelines for ecumenical work in Europe. The Charta was signed on April 22 in Strasbourg by Orthodox Metropolitan Jeremie of France, Spain and Portugal, president of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague, president of the Council of European (Catholic) Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) during an Ecumenical Encounter here in Strasbourg.

Between them CCEE and CEC, which has more than 120 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches—including the Russian church—as members, represent almost all mainstream churches in Europe.

Deacon Andrei Elisseev, a staff member of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, told ENI that he had informed a meeting of CEC's central committee earlier this week that his church disagreed "both with the form and the content of this document."

Deacon Elisseev said his church was particularly concerned about commitments in the Charta to work towards the "visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in the one faith." He said this contradicted a statement on inter-church relations adopted by his church's council of bishops last August which rejected the idea that churches should "make visible" an existing but hidden unity of the world-wide church and also the "theory of branches," according to which the church is separated into equal parts which have to be reunified to become whole again.

According to a statement ...

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