Breaking News — Kirill Elected New Russian Orthodox Patriarch
The bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church this evening in Moscow elected Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, 62, to succeed the late Patriarch Alexi II as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The new Patriarch’s challenge: to deepen the Church’s influence inside Russia, and to widen its presence outside Russia.
Kirill will “certainly” invite Pope Benedict XVI to visit Russia, and increase collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, Orthodox sources say. His election thus opens new perspectives for closer relations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the “two lungs,” East and West, of a Christianity divided since the Great Schism of 1054. His election also opens a new era in the post-Soviet period of the Russian nation, its internal life and its relations to the West and the entire world.
A special report By Robert Moynihan MOSCOW, JANUARY 27, 2009 —
On the very first day of voting, the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church this evening elected a new patriarch to succeed the late Patriarch Alexi II, who died in December: Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, age 62, according to a reliable source in Moscow.
(Photo: The Russian Orthodox Church’s new Patriarch, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, speaking to members of the Council of Bishops at a meeting which starts the process of selecting a new leader following the death last month of Patriarch Alexi II, in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, Sunday, January 25, 2009. He will be enthroned this weekend — AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
The vote was more than 600 in favor of Kirill out of some 700 votes, more than 80%, our source said. (Photo: Preparation for voting during the election of the new Patriarch.) This choice, nearly 20 years after the collapse of Soviet communism, marks an epoch in the life of the Russian Church, and of Russia herself. Kirill, whom I have had the occasion to meet and come to know, is a dynamic person, energetic, decisive. He has deeply-held convictions about his faith, about the role of that faith in the future of his country, and about the role of that faith in the future of Europe and the world. He is persuaded that only a return to “real values” can enable Russia and Europe to confront the current economic and cultural crisis. He believes Russia’s greatness, eclipsed in recent years, can only be restored by the renewal of her ancient Orthodox faith. Therefore, Kirill will attempt a double agenda: (1) to build on what Patriarch Alexi accomplished during the 18 years of his patriarchate, continuing to rebuild the Church’s ruined infrastructure (thousands of Orthodox churches have been rebuilt around Russia since 1991); and (2) to launch a series of new initiatives to strengthen the Church’s voice and influence in Russian society. Kirill can be expected, then, to continue rebuilding Russian churches, reopening schools, expanding seminaries, renewing monasteries, and in general restoring the outward signs of Russian Orthodox religious life. But Kirill, who was the key figure behind the unprecedented promulgation of the Church’s social teaching in a document in the year 2000, can also be expected to take bold new steps to go beyond renewing the institutional structure of the Church. Kirill wants to affect society. The new Patriarch, who has for several years had his own Sunday morning television show, wants the voice of the Church, the voice of Christian teaching and Christian values, to be heard in contemporary Russia on the great questions facing the country and the world — in economics, in law, in family life, in education, in social reform projects, in culture. Kirill, a powerful public speaker, has been extremely active in recent years, traveling the world from Indonesia to Brazil, from Rome to Havana to Geneva, to preach and build friendships in dozens of countries. (He did this in his role as the “Foreign Minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, heading up the Church’s External Relations Department.) It is not clear whether this type of travel will also mark his patriarchate, but it is certain that it will be a patriarchate with a global scope. It could not be otherwise, considering his life experience in recent years. One great question concerns his relations with the Pope of Rome and with the Roman Catholic Church in general. It seems certain that Kirill, who has traveled several times to Rome and has met with Pope Benendict XVI more than once, will invite Benedict to visit Russia — something Pope John Paul II wished to do but was not able to due to the unwillingness of Patriarch Alexi to receive him.
(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI greets Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill before a meeting at the Vatican Dec. 7. The pope and Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s office for external relations, held a rare meeting in a bid to improve often-strain ed relations — CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
“Kirill has a keen sense of the important role of religious institutions in public life,” said Daniel Schmidt, an American philanthropist who has met and spoken at length with Kirill. “He recognizes the essential role of religious faith, not just in his own country, but in human society in general, in building social trust,” Schmidt, director of programs for the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said. The foundation has supported many Russian youth centers, orphanages, clinics and schools over the past 10 years. Kirill’s election, then, may usher in a time when the Russian Church will be more open to collaboration and common efforts, in Russia and worldwide, with the Catholic Church, and with others as well. Kirill, who has already been serving for eight weeks as “interim Patriarch” (he was chosen by his fellow bishops to carry out the duties of patriarch after the death of Alexi II on December 5), made his mind clear in a homily he delivered on January 6 at a Christmas Eve Mass held at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (following the Julian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7). More than 3,000 attended the Mass, including Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, accompanied by his wife, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and hundreds of other dignitaries, as well as the Pope’s nuncio, or ambassador, to Russia, Italian Archbishop Antonio Mennini. Kirill invited those present to be valiant during the current economic crisis, and asked for spiritual help for the nation’s president. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek meaning “decision,” Kirill said. He said that today decisions have been affected by certain attitudes, such as “greed, loss of control over consumption, a bid to enrich oneself by all means and have as much as possible.” He said the crisis began when people forgot true values, and that further crises could be avoided if values provided the foundation for the economy. “Today we recall how the Son of God came down to people so that each one of us could rejoin Him. But to allow this to happen, there must be a response on our part, response worthy of divine love — our own love, active and sacrificial,” Kirill said. The life of the deceased Patriarch Alexi II was an example of such love, he said, praising the late Patriarch’s relentless efforts aimed at preserving the unity of Church. “The demise of the Holy Patriarch Alexi ends an important period in the history of our Church, which coincided with deep social changes,” Kirill said. “We are now living in an entirely different society that bears no resemblance to the times of imposed atheism.” At the same time, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens acknowledged that Orthodox Christians in Russia are now facing new problems, mostly of social and economic nature. Many are losing their jobs and sustaining “material losses”, Kirill said. “The Church embraces with compassion all who are finding it hard to carry on,” he said. “May God give strength and wisdom to all — rulers, entrepreneurs and ordinary workers — so that our common and coordinated efforts, mutual support and the search for correct decisions could help us surmount the current difficulties, preserve ourselves and our loved ones and maintain peace and harmony in our society.” Kirill told believers that “only love creates real unity”. “Only if there is no room left for enmity, envy or rivalry in our souls and our hearts are open to love and unity will God’s blessings descend upon us, healing our ailments and filling us with strength,” he said. The Christmas address prepared by Patriarch Alexi II before his death was also read at the Christmas Mass. Alexi recalled in his message the celebrations that took place last June 2008 to mark 1020 years of Christianity in Russia (the country’s baptism occurred in 988), and he invited the faithful to continue living according to the will of God, and not their own. “Let us remember,” Alexy II wrote, “that only God gives true peace.”
Traditional Values Kirill, and others who believe as he does, is controversial in the West, especially because has made strong statements condemning societal acceptance of homosexuality. In an interview published in mid-2008 by the German magazine Der Spiegel, Kirill said that if society stops considering homosexuality a sin, the next step will be general excuse of various sexual perversions. Reminding the interviewer that the Bible calls homosexuality a sin, Metropolitan Kirill stressed that the Church does not condemn homosexuals and is against “persecuting or insulting these people.” But, he continued, “why promote sin? A gay parade is an intrusive display of depravity. The Church is to say that sin is sin. Otherwise, the Church is not needed.” In March, 2007, Kirill denounced the idea of conducting a gay pride parade in Moscow. He said it “is directed against the majority of Russian society. We believe that the law should not interfere in citizens’ private lives. You can sin if you want to, but you will answer to God. However, if you are trying to propagate your sin by seducing and degrading people, society must oppose it.” In an address to the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu in September, 2007, Kirill said that in order for Europe to survive the tribulations that have befallen previous civilizations, it must retain its Christian identity. He said an increasing number of Europeans Christians and non-Christians alike have come to recognize “Christianity [as] a powerful source of support for European civilization.” He was careful to explain that this does not imply that “there is no room” in Europe “for people of other religions and with other outlooks on the world.” Rather, it points to the “recognition of the high role of the Christian faith in the past, present and future of our continent.” Kirill seems poised to strive to lessen the rift between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Kirill has said that “in the Vatican and not only in the Vatican but all over the world, Catholics understand that Orthodox (people) are their allies. And Orthodox (people) are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies in the face of hostile and non-religious secularism.” But some Russian Orthodox think he is going too far, and this will provide a brake against Kirill’s ecumenical efforts. On 31 December Pravaya.ru published an open letter taking Kirill to task for ties with the Roman Catholic Church. The letter asked him to renounce statements it says he had made in the past. First among them, states the letter: “We ask you to disavow the assertion that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are divided parts of One Church, and affirm that in the true sense the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is only the Orthodox Church.” The letter cites an interview Kirill gave in 1991, in which he stated that no ecumenical council, similar to those that established Church doctrine in the early centuries of Christianity, has been convened since the division of the churches to formally condemn the resulting religions as heretical. In a defence of Kirill published on 13 January in response to the open letter, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria cited interviews, sermons and documents in which Kirill disavowed the “branch theory” of Christianity. “The goal of branding someone with whom one does not agree as a heretic is not, of course, to find the truth, but to blacken one’s opponent,” Hilarion wrote. “When this is done on the threshold of a local council that will be electing the Patriarch, and in regards to one of the possible candidates, then it is clear this is not a search for truth but a sinful means of fighting an undesirable person.” The delegates named by each diocese to attend the local council, and the process of selecting them have also stirred heated debated. It has been noted that bureaucrats and others with close ties to power, are among the delegates, including the governor of the Omsk region, the wife of the governor of Primorsky Krai, on Russia’s Pacific coast, and a number of businessmen. Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk, the Moscow Patriarchate’s property manager, who was seen as less enthusiastic on church unity than Kirill, was the remaining candidate. Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk had been seen as one of the favorites, but there were concerns about his health, and Filaret himself removed himself from consideration prior to the vote, asking those present to vote for Kirill. “Under this holy man, the Russian Orthodox Church became the only force preserving the traditions and values of holy Russia,” Kirill said in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral. “Like a sick man, allowed to stand after a long period in bed, our Church was weak at the beginning of his service and unable to use its spiritual potential fully. Today, it is no longer weak, and it lives with the people,” he told participants in the December 9 service. Among those in attendance were Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as well as Orthodox patriarchs and archbishops and leaders of other faiths and denominations. Among the Catholics attending were German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, retired head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Here is a brief biography: Metropolitan Kirill (born as Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev on November 20, 1946, Leningrad, Soviet Union, is a Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) bishop, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad since 1991, the Chairman of the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate since November 1989, and a permanent member of the Holy Synod. In 1970 Kirill completed a degree from the Leningrad Theological Academy, where he was retained as a professor of dogmatic theology and aid to the Academy’s Inspector. After August 30, 1970, he was a personal secretary to Nikodim (Rotov), Metroplitan of Leningrad. On September 12, 1971, he became archimandrite and was posted as a representative of the ROC to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva. On December 26, 1974, he was appointed Rector of the Leningrad Academy and Seminary. Since December 1975, he was a member of the WCC Central Committee and Executive Committee. In 1976, Kirill was consecrated Bishop of Vyborg. In 1977, he became Archbishop. Since 1978, he has been the manager of the “Patriarch’s parishes in Finland” (the name of the structures of the Russian Orthodox Church in Finland). In 1984, he became Archbishop of Smolensk andVyazma. The title was changed to Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad in 1989. In 1991, he became Metropolitan. In 1974-1984 he was the Rector of the Leningrad Spiritual Academy and Seminary. In 1971 he was appointed representative of the Moscow Patriarchate at the World Council of Churches and has been actively involved in theecumenical activity of the Russian Orthodox Church since then. In 1978, Kirill was appointed Deputy Chairman, and in November 1989, Chairman of the External Church Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate and permanent member of the Holy Synod. He is known as active and efficient diplomat. The main success of foreign relations of the Russian Orthodox Church during Kirill’s service ar the External Relations Department has been the reunification of the ROC with the “Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia”. On 6th December, 2008, the day after the death of Patriarch Alexy II (1990-2008), the Holy Synod elected him Locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne. On 9th December, 2008, during the funeral service for Patriarch Alexy II in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which was broadcast live by Russia’s state TV channels, he was seen and reported to have fainted at one point. On December 29, 2008, when talking to journalists, he said he was “categorically opposed to any reforms” of a liturgical or doctrinal nature in the Church. Since 1994 Kirill has hosted a weekly Orthodox TV program on ORT/Channel One. The conservative wing in the ROC criticized Kirill of practising ecumenism throughout the 1990s. In 2008 breakaway Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka criticized him for associating himself with the Catholic Church. However, in a recent statement Metropolitan Kyrill stated that there could be no doctrinal compromise with the Roman Catholic Church, and that discussions with them did not have the goal of seeking unification. On October 20, 2008, while on a tour of Latin America, he had a meeting with First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Fidel Castro; the latter commended Metroplitan Kirill as his ally in combatting “American imperialism”. Kirill awarded Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro on behalf of Patriarch Alexi II, in recognition of their decision to build the first Russian Orthodox Church in Havana, to serve the Russian expatriates living there.
(Photo: Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro walks with Kirill in Havana October 20, 2008. Kirrill blessed the newly rebuilt Orthodox cathedral in Havana during its dedication October 18 — CNS photo/Reuters)