MOSCOW: The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, urged Russians to adopt orphans in a Christmas message on Monday after Russia banned adoptions by citizens of the United States.
"I would like to talk especially about children in these days," said the Patriarch in a Christmas message posted on the website of the Russian Orthodox Church and broadcast on national television.
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7 according to the Julian calendar.
"We have a lot of children who don't have parents. Even when their parents are still alive. And how important it is that our people should gladly, with a special feeling of gratitude to God, take orphans into their families."
"As it is Christmas time, I would like to ask everyone who could take an important step in life of adopting orphans, of supporting orphans. Take this step: we should not have orphans in our country," said Kirill.
"Those who don't have parents should find parents among good, honest, caring people."
His statement appeared to respond to wide public dismay at a highly controversial new law signed by President Vladimir Putin last month that bans adoptions by US citizens.
Putin has said that Russia is threatened by "ruin" if the outflow of orphans abroad continues.
US families adopted nearly 1,000 Russian children last year and are the number one foreign destination of the country's orphans.
The bill has sparked anger not only among potential adoptive parents but among those who see it as motivated by politics rather than concern for the children.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers put together the draft legislation in a matter of days in response to a new US law sanctioning Russian officials implicated in the 2009 prison death of the anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The legislation caused contention even among top officials, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets both publicly expressing opposition.