Patriarchs of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians ended a rare summit in Istanbul today (March 9, 2013), calling for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine and denouncing violence driving Christians out of the Middle East, according to the Reuters website.
The heads of the autonomous Orthodox churches -- the world's second-largest family of Christian churches -- also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first to be held in over 1,200 years.
The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox hierarchs have been preparing for since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
In the communique, the patriarchs called for "peaceful negotiations and prayerful reconciliation in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine" and denounced what they said were "threats of violent occupation of sacred monasteries and churches" there.
On the Middle East, the patriarchs denounced "the lack of peace and stability, which is prompting Christians to abandon the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born." Unrest in the Middle East during the past decade has killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, many of them Orthodox. Christians make up about five percent of the Middle East's population.