As Russia's economic and political crisis deepens, with no immediate solution in sight, Patriarch Alexei, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has warned Russians not to start a civil war.

"Civil war is the most terrible thing that the current political crisis could bring to Russia, because

sheddingT blood always divides," Patriarch Alexei said after prayers on Sept. 8 before the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, who is regarded as a protector of Moscow."At this time above all we must increase our prayers to the most pure Mother of God, who has protected and rescued our land over the past centuries," the patriarch said. He added that he and other clergy had prayed before the same icon during the crisis in October 1993 when another stand-off between President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian parliament culminated in an armed clash.