(CP) More than 280 priests and deacons of the Russian Orthodox Church are calling for reconciliation and an immediate end to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, stressing that "the Last Judgement awaits all."
"We mourn the ordeal to which our brothers and sisters in Ukraine were undeservedly subjected," the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in an open letter, which was launched Tuesday and had garnered signatures of 284 priests, archpriests and deacons by Sunday morning.
At least 351 civilians have been killed and another 707 wounded in Ukraine since Russia's military invasion began on Feb. 24, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Saturday, adding that the actual numbers are likely to be "considerably higher," Reuters reported.
In addition, more than 1.25 million people have fled Ukraine since Feb. 24, the International Organization for Migration said Saturday, calling it the "largest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen since World War II," Fox News reported.
Furthermore, the Russian invasion has internally displaced about 4.3 million people in Ukraine, IOM said.
"The Last Judgment awaits every person," the Russian Orthodox clerics wrote in the letter.
"No earthly authority, no doctors, no guards will protect from this judgment. Concerned about the salvation of every person who considers himself a child of the Russian Orthodox Church, we do not want him to appear at this judgment, bearing the heavy burden of mother's curses," they continued.
"We remind you that the Blood of Christ, shed by the Savior for the life of the world, will be received in the sacrament of Communion by those people who give murderous orders, not into life, but into eternal torment."
They expressed hope that fighting soldiers "both Russians and Ukrainians, to return unharmed to their homes and families."
"It saddens us to think of the gulf that our children and grandchildren in Russia and Ukraine will have to bridge in order to begin to be friends again, to respect and love each other."
More than 400 ministers of Evangelical churches in Russia have also signed an open letter against "the invasion of sovereign Ukraine."
"Our army is conducting full-scale military operations in another country, dropping bombs and rockets on the cities of our neighboring Ukraine. As believers, we assess what is happening as a grave sin of fratricide — the sin of Cain, who raised his hand against his brother Abel," they wrote.
"No political interests or goals can justify the death of innocent people," the ministers continued. "In addition to bloodshed, the invasion of sovereign Ukraine encroaches on the freedom of self-determination of its citizens. Hatred is being sown between our peoples, which will create an abyss of alienation and enmity for generations to come. The war is destroying not only Ukraine, but also Russia — its people, its economy, its morality, its future."
The World Council of Churches has also written to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of more than 100 million Russian Orthodox Christians, to "raise up your voice" and "mediate" so that President Vladimir Putin's invasion "can be stopped and the great suffering ended."
In his letter, the Rev. Ioan Sauca, acting general secretary of the ecumenical World Council of Churches, who is also an Orthodox priest, wrote: "In these times of hopelessness, many look at you as the one who could bring a sign of hope for a peaceful solution. Please, raise up your voice and speak on behalf of the suffering brothers and sisters, most of whom are also faithful members of our Orthodox Church."
Patriarch Kirill is believed to be close to Putin.
In 2012, the patriarch called Putin's rule a "miracle of God" and criticized his opponents, according to Reuters.
As tensions were simmering between Russia and Ukraine before the invasion, a Christian radio broadcaster in Ukraine had called on Christians in the two neighboring countries to unite.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Daniel Johnson, who runs an Evangelical broadcasting organization providing Christian radio throughout Russia at a time when the government has stifled broadcasts operated by Evangelical Christians, elaborated on the situation on the ground and its implications for people of faith living in Ukraine.
"Christians are ... hoping that the Russians don't come too far because churches will definitely be shut down in the areas that they take over because ... that's their practice and that's their history," Johnson, the founder of the New Life Radio satellite network who is based in Odessa, Ukraine, said.
Johnson attributed some of the division in the region to the schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
"Tanks are rolling down from Russia, Russian Orthodox priests are blessing the tanks," he said. "The Ukrainian Orthodox priests are blessing the Ukrainian soldiers to fight against Russia, so it's a tragic scene where two brother faiths, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox, have completely sided on the national goals of their one country."
"They are not acting like they are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, first and foremost, but rather, they represent nationalism. And that's not who we are as Christians," he lamented. "Our ultimate loyalty is to Christ and His Kingdom rather than the nationality of the land we happen to find ourselves in. And that's not something that the Orthodox Church is not able to accommodate. ... It's a tragedy that that does not happen."