As the crisis in Ukraine deepens with the annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, leaders of all Ukraine's major faiths signed a joint letter appealing for Russia to respect the territorial integrity of their nation.
The letter was signed by the leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical Christian, Lutheran and Seventh Day Adventist churches, as well as Kyiv's Chief Rabbi. The significance of this joint letter comes, in part, from the high level of religious belief and practice in Ukraine, and the fact that the religious leaders are from the east and west of the country.
In their letter, the church leaders said, "There is no oppression in our country based on language, nationality or religious belief. Therefore we give witness that all attempts by Russian [government] propaganda to represent the events in Ukraine as a 'fascist coup d'etat' and 'extremists' victory' do not correspond to reality."
Separately, the section of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church appealed to Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church "to do everything possible not to permit bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine". The church is strongest in eastern Ukraine which has close linguistic, religious and cultural ties to Moscow.
Metropolitan Onufry wrote to Patriarch Kirill, "I ask you to lift your voice for the preservation of the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.
"In this difficult hour, we are raising fervent prayers to Our Lord Jesus Christ that he, by the prayers of his Most Holy Mother, will save us from warfare between the fraternal Russian and Ukrainian nations."
The Metropolitan also wrote to President Putin, asking him "to halt the people's grief, prevent the division of our Ukrainian state and the Holy Church".
Metropolitan Kirill spoke by telephone with the Acting President of Ukraine, Alexander Turchinov, expressing deep concern at events in the country. He wrote to the Orthodox faithful warning against further polarisation of society and the growth of violence against peaceful citizens. "The Ukrainian people must determine their own future without external interference," he said
If peace can be restored in Ukraine, as we must hope and pray, it will be due in no small measure to the religious leadership of Ukraine and Russia.
Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.