IZNIK, Turkey (AP) _ As Christmas festivities drew to a close, Orthodox Christian leaders gathered at an ancient church in Turkey Tuesday to call for an end to the rift that split the Christian faith a millennium ago.

``The Christian world was divided and fragmented, lamentably, to the great scandal of the whole world,'' the leaders said in a written statement on the 1054 Great Schism, which split Christianity into the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches because of cultural and political differences.

``We invite everyone to work in a dialogue of truth and love for the unity of those who believe in Christ,'' the leaders said.

The proclamation was signed by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and representatives of 14 Orthodox churches.

The meeting took place at the Byzantine-era Church of Hagia Sophia in Iznik, Turkey _ a city known as ancient Nicaea and the place where early Christians spelled out the tenets of their faith in the Nicene Creed of 325.

On Tuesday, bitterly cold winds blew through the site, now a collection of walls turned into a museum, as the bearded patriarchs chanted and prayed in vestments of golden brocade.

The service _ meant to coincide with the 2000th commemoration of Jesus' birth _ was also aimed at healing differences between the different Orthodox denominations.

In the past, both unification efforts have stumbled badly. Divisions were still evident Tuesday, with Patriarch Alexy II of Russia _ leader of the largest Orthodox Church _ failing to appear at the meeting.

Alexy, who also boycotted a similar 1995 meeting, is still irked by Bartholomew's 1996 recognition of the autonomy of the Estonian church after it broke off from Moscow. He fears the Ukrainian Orthodox could ask the same from Bartholomew's ecumenical seat.

In addition to Istanbul-based Bartholomew I, the statement calling for unity was signed by representatives of the churches in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland and Estonia.

On Monday, the patriarchs celebrated a Christmas service at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul.