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Orthodox Holy and Great Council calls for protection of Christians in Mideast

Orthodox church leaders from around the world have expressed their concern about the situation facing Christians in the Middle East. They have held a historic meeting in Greece, the first of its kind in 1,200 years.

The leaders of the Orthodox Christian churches concluded their week-long Holy and Great Council on the Greek island of Crete on Sunday with a circular that stated: "The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East."

The church "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.

In a joint message, the ten church leaders who attended the meeting stated that the proposal was made "for the Holy and Great Council to become a regular institution to be convened every seven or ten years."

However, it is unlikely that churches which did not attend the historic gathering will comply with any decision taken there. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kyrill, who represents about 130 million Orthodox Christians - refused to come to the meeting, arguing that preparations had been inadequate. Aside from Russia, the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria and Georgia were absent. The Syria-based Antioch patriarchate also stayed away.

Unlike the centralized authority of the Vatican over Roman Catholics, the Orthodox churches are independent. There are 14 such autonomous churches worldwide, with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, considered as their spiritual head and "first among equals."

At the historic council, the church leaders also voiced concern over the "negative consequences of scientific progress" and "moral dilemmas" caused by 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 stated.

das/jm (AFP, AP)

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