CHICAGO (AP) - Leaders of America's Orthodox Christian churches, meeting jointly for only the third time, agreed to form a pastoral practices commission on "bringing coherence and unity to our expression of Orthodoxy."
But the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas also asserted that Orthodox churches, which began splintering along ethnic lines a century ago, "must respect and honor the legitimate differences that exist within our one Church."
The announcement was made after a four-day meeting in Chicago that ended Oct. 6. About 30 Orthodox leaders attended to discuss their joint mission and humanitarian programs.
The American Orthodox are split among more than a dozen separate jurisdictions, or church groups, many with membership reaching no higher than the tens of thousands. Some Orthodox lay people and clergy have been pushing for a merger, arguing that pooling resources would make Orthodoxy stronger and more attractive to newcomers.
Still, the Standing Conference, which met previously in 1994 and 2001, was not expected to make any significant move toward such a major decision at last week's meeting.
In a statement wrapping up the meeting, the conference reaffirmed its 2001 statement on the need to "bear public witness together on matters of spiritual and moral concern."
They said that the new Commission on Canonical and Pastoral Issues "will allow thoughtful and prayerful examination of the issues and challenges of our different traditions, looking toward bringing coherence and unity to our expression of Orthodoxy."
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