The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church meeting hopes to mend the almost 1,000-year divide with the Roman Catholic Church.

Preparations for The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, also known as the Pan-Orthodox Council, began in the year 1961. The historic meeting set to take place later this month (from June 19-26), at Crete, Greece, will see about 14 independent Orthodox churches coming together for the first time since the 'Great Schism of 1054'. Last Friday, Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, who will be presiding over the meeting, called for unity among the churches. Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of the 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world. He is also regarded as the 'primus inter pares' (first among equals) in the Eastern Orthodox Church. According to him, The Holy and Great Council is a unique and historical occasion.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Reverend John Chryssavgis, the spokesman for the Archbishop, said that the sole purpose of the meeting is the affirmation of unity. Unity, in general, is a painful and slow process. Centuries of isolation, persecution and occupation might have made a lot of churches mistrustful and unsure about each other, so it would not be easy for them to come together. However, in order to aspire to unity, it is important that the council, be convened. They do not have to be united on every point, however, it would pave the way for the ultimate unity that they are hoping for.

The East-West Schism, commonly known as the Great Schism of 1054 was the event that divided the Orthodox and Roman Catholics. It began in the 11th century. The primary cause of the division was the dispute over papal authority. The Roman Pope claimed authority over the four Eastern patriarchs, while the four Eastern patriarchs refused to acknowledge that authority.

A lot of other variances over liturgical practices and conflicting claims of jurisdiction eventually led to the Church being split along political, doctrinal, linguistic, theological, and geographic lines. The Holy and Great Council will see the Orthodox churches discussing efforts in healing this rift.

The whole of the Roman Catholics are headed by the Pope. However, that is not the case with the Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox churches are independent, and they have their own leadership.

The presence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the oldest Slavic Orthodox Church, in the historic meeting is doubtful as of now. Their threat of pulling out of the meeting over the council's refusal to accept some of their procedural changes to the agenda is still looming. The Bulgarian Church is one of the earliest churches to be established in the world and has over 6.5 million members.

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