Orthodox Christians appeal for funds after four churches hit by fire on Easter Day

New York City firefighters walk at the historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava that was gutted by fire at Orthodox Easter.Reuters

Orthodox Christians worldwide are in mourning today after an Orthodox Easter that saw church buildings in the United States, Australia and Russia go up in flames.

The gutted buildings included the beautiful and historic Cathedral of St Sava in Manhattan, New York, where an immediate appeal for funds has been launched.

In a statement online, the cathedral said: "Our church has burned down last night. As of 10:00 a.m. Monday morning (May 2, 2016), firefighters are still spraying the building with water. Police has sealed the area around the cathedral, and we don't have access to it at the moment. Investigation is in progress. We believe no one has been injured in the fire."

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America expressed "deep sorrow, concern and sympathy" to their Serbian Orthodox brethren. 

Archbishop Demetrios of America said: "We stand together with our Serbian Orthodox brothers and sisters, who are saddened by this loss of their beloved cathedral, on the day of our Lord's Resurrection. We pray to the Risen Christ that the hope of His resurrection sustains them and strengthens them in the face of such adversity."

The New York cathedral, a former Episcopal Church buiulding, was one of four Orthodox churches that burned over the Orthodox Easter weekend.

Orthodox Christians now fear that their churches are being targeted because of objections that were made to the canonisation of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, according to the New York Post. 

The cardinal, Croatian Archbishop of Zagreb, who died in 1960, was tried by Yugoslavia after the war and served 16 years in prison and then under house arrest after being convicted of treason and collaboration with the Ustaše. Controversially, in 1998 he was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope John Paul II.

However, his proposed canonisation has been postponed by Pope Francis and has created a rift between Serbia and Croatia. Both sides have lobbied the Pope.

Dr Dušan Bataković, a former Serbian ambassador, told the New York Post: "Too many churches have burned to call it an accident. It is very strange that it happened, that the fires all took place on Easter, the greatest Christian Orthodox holiday. Some kind of terrorist action can not be excluded."

The Greek Orthodox Holy Church of Annunciation of Our Lady in Melbourne, Australia, was badly damaged by a blaze.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church of the Resurrection in Sydney was gutted by fire.

In northern Russia, a hotel in an Orthodox monastery caught fire.