Moscow (AsiaNews) - Metropolitan Onufry, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, has appealed to Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, to make every effort to avoid bloodshed in Ukraine. This comes after the Russian Senate gave the Kremlin the green light to send Russian troops into the Ukraine.
Sources close to the Moscow Patriarchate told AsiaNews that Onufry's initiative was something "new" and "very significant" because it illustrates a different position between Russian and Ukrainian Churches and that the Ukrainian "episcopate is not pro-Russian," as one might have thought in the past.
Speaking on 2 March about the possible deployment of Russia troops in the former Soviet republic, Metropolitan Onufry of Chernovtsy and Bukovina warned against "catastrophic consequences for both countries".
He also described the current situation in Ukraine as "the most difficult in its recent history."
The Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Church just elected Onufry as locum tenens of the Metropolitanate of Kiev in lieu of Metropolitan Vladimir, who has been very ill for some time.
Onufry's plea was followed by a telephone conversation between Kirill and Ukrainian interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, to whom the Orthodox patriarch expressed «deep concern about the latest developments in Ukraine".
Patriarch Kirill said "everything possible should be done to put an end to the suffering of the people, and to stop the violence and all manifestations of ethnic and religious discrimination".
This is the same argument Moscow has used to justify its intervention to defend ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
So far though, no cases of actual attacks or intimidation have been reported against the country's Russian-speaking population.
Whilst the patriarchs prayed for peace in the Ukraine and the country's integrity, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate, described the deployment of troops in the Crimea as a "peace mission" whose aim is to "defend the freedom and identity" of the Russian population.
Chaplin said he hoped that soldiers are not faced "a ruthless resistance that could lead to large-scale fighting."
"No one wants bloodshed," said Chaplin, "nor to widen the gap between the Orthodox faithful in the space of historic Rus," a term that refers to the territories of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.