Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, will go to turbulent Syria this weekend to call for peace and meet with President Bashar al-Assad, a church spokesman said on Friday.
The visit will take place amid violent protests against Assad’s rule that have been shaking the country for eight months.
“Patriarch Kirill is arriving in the Middle East on a peace mission,” said archpriest Nikolai Balashov, deputy head of the foreign church relations of the Moscow patriarchate.
Kirill’s visit to Syria and then to Lebanon on November 12-15 will be the third leg on the so-called peace visits that every recently elected patriarch has to make to see “brothers” in other Orthodox churches across the globe. Kirill, 64, was enthroned on February 1, 2009.
“We hope that religious leaders will contribute to civil consent and help end bloodshed and tribal conflicts in the Middle East,” Balashov said.
Orthodox churches in Muslim-dominated Syria, where Christians make up 10% of the population, belong to the Antiochian patriarchate, one of 15 independent Orthodox churches across the world.
In Damascus, Kirill will also meet with Syria’s chief mufti Sheikh Ahmed Badreddin Hassun.
UN statistics said clashes between Assad’s supporters and the opposition in Syria have left 3,500 people dead, while official statistics put the figure at 1,500.
President Assad said on Tuesday that he was ready to resign after he oversees reforms in the country and brings in a multiparty system in preparation for fair elections.