Leaders of 15 of the world's 16 Eastern Orthodox churches have vowed to work more closely together in ways that are likely to raise their international profile on moral and ethic concerns. At a meeting on December 24 at the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomeos I, in Phanar, Istanbul, leaders of 15 autocephalous (self-governing) and autonomous Orthodox churches vowed to increase co-operation, including: the establishment of regular summit meetings to deal with current Orthodox issues; the setting up of an inter-Orthodox federation of theological schools around the world; and the foundation of an inter-Orthodox committee on bioethics.

Patriarch Bartholomeos, who is regarded as the primus interpares—first among equals—of the world's Orthodox leaders, has built a strong reputation internationally for his support for ecumenism and environmental concerns. The new moves will reinforce his primacy within the Orthodox world. However, the head of the numerically biggest Orthodox church in the world, Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow, was not present at the meeting, nor did he attend an historic liturgy the same week in Iznik, Turkey, at which heads and representatives of the 15 other Eastern Orthodox churches were present. The liturgy in Iznik marked the end of celebrations for the Christian millennium.

Patriarch Alexei's absence is linked to simmering conflict between the patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople, particularly over the jurisdiction of Orthodox Christians in former Soviet nations such as Estonia and Ukraine. However, observers suggested that the Russian church's failure to attend the meeting would isolate it further.

The liturgy at Iznik on December 26 was hailed as one of ...

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