Pope Francis' enormous popularity — his Twitter accounts in different languages have a total of about 30 million followers, about as many as Bill Gates and more than British pop singer Adele — is a consequence of his openness to diversity and a softer approach to dogma. He represents a modernized Roman Catholic Church. By contrast, the world's second-biggest Christian denomination is proving so resistant to modernization that its plans to adopt some timid changes for the first time since 787 have fallen through.

The Pan-Orthodox Council that opened last weekend in Crete was more than 50 years in the making. It was intended to establish a common modern agenda for the 14 Eastern Orthodox churches, with a total of 225 million to 300 million faithful. In recent years, thanks to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, traditionally considered first among equals by Orthodox Church leaders, the preparations were moving along nicely: draft documents were approved, meetings among the heads of the 14 churches were held and plans were made for a bigger gathering of dignitaries. Yet the Russian Orthodox Church, the biggest of all potential participants, pulled out at the last moment, following the defection of three smaller churches, and the council has been rendered meaningless or even damaging to future attempts to bring Orthodox Christianity into the 21st century.

Pope Francis has made surprisingly liberal statements on matters such as remarriage, abortion and homosexuality; the Orthodox leaders never meant to go as far as that. Their draft document on the church's mission in the modern world skirts contentious issues. Its section on discrimination, for example, fails to mention sexual orientation. The document affirms love and peace as the church's ideals, criticizes racism, inequality, moral degradation and "liberal globalism" — it's an agenda as conservative as it is bland.