Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is urging Christians to pray for rain as wildfires continue to spread in parts of Russia.
Kirill mourned the loss of life and the destruction during a visit to one of the worst affected areas, Nizhny Novgorod, on Monday.
At least 40 people have been killed by the fires and more than 5,000 evacuated, according to the Emergencies Ministry. The Russian Government said the most serious fires were raging in the Ural, Volga and Central district.
“Grief has come to our nation, human lives have been lost, hundreds have lost shelter and thousands have been left without sustenance, including children,” said Kirill, whose church body is the said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and second only to the Roman Catholic Church among Christian denominations.
“I call upon everyone to unite in prayer for rain to descend on our earth,” added the patriarch, whose call coincided with the Day of the Prophet Elijah.
On the Day of the Prophet Elijah, Orthodox Christians traditionally pray for rain as the biblical prophet had, according to the recordings of the Bible.
Presently, some 10,000 firefighters are battling blazes in more than a dozen western Russian provinces, seven of which were under a state of emergency.
The government has blamed the fires on the drought and sweltering heat as well as “the careless handling of fire” by forest walkers.
Tens of thousands of troops and volunteers are also helping to put out the flames, with aircrafts dropping 3,000 tons of water on fires in Nizhniy Novgorod, Moscow, Voronezh, Vladimir and Mordovia.
June and July saw the affected regions hit by the hottest temperatures since records began. The Emergencies Ministry said the “unfavorable weather” made more fires likely, as temperatures were set to soar to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Farenheit).
The weather this week is not expected to help the effort to put out the fires, as temperatures in Moscow and to the south and east were forecast to reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit).
Victims have expressed outrage that more wasn't done ahead of time to repel the advancing fires.
Christian Today Reporter Brian Hutt in London contributed to this article.