Bethlehem is to become the site of an unusual summit January 7, 2000, the Orthodox Church's Christmas day.

The heads of all the world's Eastern Orthodox churches and presidents of predominantly Orthodox countries are expected to convene for millennium celebrations at the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodorus of Jerusalem. However, there is already speculation as to whether the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, will be able to attend, given his frequent illnesses. His deputy chief of staff, Sergei Prikhodko, confirmed this month that President Yeltsin planned to be in Bethlehem January 6 and 7. The statement followed the Russian president's return from a week in hospital due to pneumonia.

Hieromonk Mark Golovkov, an official with the Moscow Patriarchate's representation in Jerusalem, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) in a telephone interview that as of this month, Presidents Costis Stephanopoulos of Greece, Glafcos Clerides of Cyprus, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Emil Constantinecu of Romania, Petru Lucinschi of Moldova and Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia were expected to attend the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Bethlehem.

Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has also been invited but it is thought that it will be unlikely that he will attend because he risks arrest as an indicted war criminal.

Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomeos I, considered "the first among equals" of Eastern Orthodox patriarchs, will lead the service in Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity, built on the site where Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus 2,000 years ago. More than a dozen patriarchs and metropolitans who lead the world's Eastern Orthodox Churches will also take part in the service. ...

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