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ATHENS, Greece – The spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians says a historic meeting of church leaders — the first in more than a millennium — is to take place despite a pullout by Russia, the fourth Orthodox church to say it won't attend the June gathering in Crete.
Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who ranks as "the first among equals," said on Wednesday that he hopes the Russian church and three others who have chosen not to come will change their minds.
The week-long Holy and Great Council, which is to begin on Sunday, was meant to bring together leaders of 14 independent Orthodox churches to promote unity among the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.
The gathering on the island of Crete has been 55 years in preparation and planning.