Senior religious leaders in Israel on Monday entreated the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church to urge Russia’s president to seek a peaceful end to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze clergymen and women affixed a letter to the outer wall of Jerusalem’s Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral, beseeching Patriarch Kirill to ask Vladimir Putin to “take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict, and seek a peaceful resolution to it.”
“We, religious leaders representing many faith traditions, write to express our concern with [events] taking place in Ukraine,” the letter read. “We are saddened to see the fighting, which primarily pits Orthodox Christians against each other. The current conflict has already resulted in a significant loss of life, of both combatants and civilians.”
The letter also warned of the potential for war between nuclear powers.
The organizers wanted to give the letter to local Russian Orthodox Church officials directly, but were told by the clergy that they were in prayer and could not receive it.
The posting of the letter in Jerusalem was meant to evoke the legend of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, according to one of the organizers.
The letter and Monday’s public event in Jerusalem’s Moscow Square were initiated by Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development.
“I believed it was important that there be a public event of religious leaders in the Holy Land affirming the importance of peace, and publicly calling on Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to speak with President Putin to seek peace,” Neril told The Times of Israel.
“Religious leaders in the Holy Land have moral authority,” he continued. “It’s important that they not be silent. It’s important that they speak out, and today they spoke out.”
Neril said he reached out to the two Russian Orthodox archmandrites in Jerusalem. One of the senior clergymen wrote back, saying that he had forwarded the message to his colleague who is in direct contact with Patriarch Kirill.
Kirill, 75, is a close ally of Putin, sharing his vision of a muscular Russia defending traditional Christian values from an ostensibly immoral West. His public statements on the Ukraine-Russia war have been in line with Moscow’s official rhetoric.
“We are gathered here above all to show solidarity with those who are suffering, in pain, those who have lost dear ones, millions of homeless refugees, who are the victims of the tragic events unfolding and continuing to unfold in Ukraine,” said Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee International Director of Interreligious Affairs.
“We hope that the message from On High will succeed in softening the hard hearts of contemporary pharaohs,” continued Rosen.
“Enough with the killing, enough with the destruction!” said Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Rasson Arousi of the Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Dialogue with the Holy See.
“We are here to express first of all our solidarity to the people of Ukraine, who are suffering in this terrible war that we cannot understand and justify at all,” said Latin Patriarch Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. “We are not here to talk against anyone. As men of religion, our purpose is not to go against anyone, but to call anyone to build relations, not to destroy relations.”
“Nobody can feel the agony of war more than those who are living there,” said Muslim Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion of Rahat, speaking in Arabic. “From this holy point, I call upon all the nations who encountered wars, and all the leaders of the nations, to push for peace to be achieved.
“Any person who saves the life of a person, it’s as if he saved the whole world,” he continued, before quoting the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Swedish Theological Institute’s Karin Ekblom says “a peacemaker does not kill innocent women and children” as religious leaders call for end to #UkraineRussiaWar in front of Jerusalem’s Russian Orthodox cathedral. pic.twitter.com/YetlsVqsZ8
— Lazar Berman (@Lazar_Berman) March 21, 2022
Druze Sheikh Yaakov Salame, representing spiritual leader of Israeli Druze Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, said: “Life that God gave us is a holy thing. It is man’s right to live in dignity and in safety.”
“A peacemaker dares to challenge and protest against all powers of evil,” said Rev. Karin Ekblom of the Swedish Theological Institute.
“A peacemaker does not kill innocent women, children, and men as a way towards peace,” she stressed.
The letter was signed by 150 local and international religious leaders, including emeritus Jerusalem chief rabbi Aryeh Stern, Dharma Master Hsin Dao, yoga guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric.