Russian Church has been granted the Primate required by our troubled time
Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk believes future church historians would face a difficult task of writing history of the Russian Church under Patriarch Kirill because of the extensive and versatile activities of the 16th Moscow Patriarch.
– What changes in the Russian Orthodox Church since 1 February 2010 have been most obvious and impressive?
– The election and enthronement of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill have, undoubtedly, been the most important events in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church last year. By the will of the Holy Spirit and through the election by the Local Council, the Church has been granted the Primate required by our troubled time, a time of impetuous changes and everyday challenges.
Today our Church is facing an unprecedented task to teach an active faith in Christ to people who have heard of Him but failed to listen to Him, to bring nominal Christians to the wholesome life in Christ. This task demands that the whole Church should exert maximum efforts, interpret creatively and sometimes even critically of what has been done or undone, and reflect fruitfully on what is to be done in future. A particular responsibility in this context is placed on those people who are entrusted with governing the Church. Therefore, a cost of a mistake, of an erroneous assessment of the situation, a wrong or irrational straining of efforts could be catastrophically high.
That is why one of the first actions of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill were changes in church governance in keeping with the demands of the time. New Synodal institutions were established, the frame of reference of the old ones was made more precise; an Intercouncil commission was set up, and the post-graduate and doctoral programme of the Church was launched; while reorganization of the diocesan and parish life is going on.
As to the tendencies, I believe that the church life would be developed in the light of the task that I mentioned. All of us should bring witness about Christ to the near and to the far, to those who do not know Him yet, and to those who might have forgotten Him.
– What is the most important event of the first your of His Holiness Kirill’s patriarchal ministry?
– Among very important events of the last year I would cite a visit of His Holiness to Ukraine where he officiated at the conciliar prayer of hundreds of thousand people. This prayer has testified to the adherence of our people to the great cause of preserving the unity of the Church commanded by God, the unity that transcends all earthly boundaries and divisions and unites people of different nationalities and political preferences in a single community of faith – the Orthodox nation.
Also very important was a visit of His Holiness the Patriarch to the ancient Constantinople. According to tradition, Patriarch visits all Local Orthodox Churches after his enthronement in accordance with the diptych. A serious of these visits was opened by his visit to Constantinople. One can say that this visit has turned a new page in the relations between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow and also in the inter-Orthodox cooperation as a whole.
As a matter of fact, I can say a lot answering your question, for instance, about the voice of the Church resounding even more clearly in society, or traditional meetings of His Holiness with the youth in different cities, or further improvement of mutual understanding with state authorities in the countries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, a singled shift in the matter of teaching religion in Russian secular schools, and solution of the problems of pastoral care for servicemen. I believe that future church historians would face a difficult task of writing history of our time because of the extensive and versatile activities of the Primate of our Church.
– Please share with us your personal impressions of direct contacts with Patriarch Kirill during last year, or your impression of his public addresses and sermons. What words of the Patriarch you remember better?
– I recall the words of His Holiness said exactly a year ago, on the day of his enthronement: “There can be nothing private or personal in the life of the Patriarch: he and his entire life belong to God and the Church indivisibly; he takes the people of God to heart.” I believe that all who are close to the Patriarch, myself including, can say that these were prophetic words implemented in his life today. It may be my most vivid impression of the everyday work with him.
Newsflash Archives > Will Kirill and Benedcit Meet?
Will Kirill and Benedict Meet?Just about 100 days ago, on January 27, Russian Orthodox Church leaders chose a new Patriarch to succeed the later Patriarch Alexi II, who had died on December 5, 2008. His name: Kirill (photo). What has Kirill done since his election, and what are the prospects for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI?
By Dr. Robert Moynihan
THURSDAY, APRIL 30, 2009 — The new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, 62, has met Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 82 a few days ago, three times already — but that was before Kirill became Patriarch.Now, after nearly 100 days in office, Vatican observers are sensing that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict may meet again — and that such a meeting will be a major step on the way to the long-hoped-for reunion of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have been divided for nearly 1,000 years, since 1054. But where and when could such a meeting be held?
Kirill is an imposing figure, with a grey-flecked beard and sonorous voice. And he has important friends. When he was enthroned Alexi’s successor in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, the church was filled with celebrities and political leaders, and the first person to receive communion from him was... President Dmitry Medvedev’s wife, Svetlana.
(Photo: The new Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, puts on his vestments during the enthronement service in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Russia, Sunday, February 1, 2009. Patriarch Kirill took charge of the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming the first leader of the world's largest Orthodox church to take office after the fall of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
In the Soviet era, the officially atheist Communist government treated the devout like moral lepers, imprisoning tens of thousands of clerics of all creeds. Now the Orthodox Church “has become a serious power in society,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told The Associated Press in March.
Kirill met most recently with Pope Benedict XVI a year and a half ago, on December 7, 2007, privately at the Vatican (Photo: Kirill with Pope Benedict in Rome). The Vatican did not release any details about the meeting, but an interview with Metropolitan Kirill was published late in the afternoon by L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. The meeting with the Pope was "very positive and very beautiful," Kirill said at the time. "On our agenda there are many important themes such as the promotion of basic values."
But great obstacles still remain to a closer collaboration between the two Churches, not to speak of full reunion.
Indeed, Metropolitan Kirill's December 2007 meeting with the Pope came just four days after Russia's Interfax news agency quoted him as saying that the four Roman Catholic dioceses John Paul II established in Russia in 2002 should be downgraded again to their prior status of "apostolic administrations."
"We shall never recognize them and will always dispute the presence of ordinary Catholic dioceses in the territory of Russia and consider it a challenge to our common idea" of Church organization, Interfax quoted Kirill as saying.
Kirill said then that when the Orthodox or the Catholics have communities outside their traditional homelands, a bishop should be in charge of their pastoral care, but that bishop should be an administrator, not the head of a normal diocese erected on a territory already assigned to another bishop. (Russia’s Catholic community numbers an estimated 600,000 people in a country of 144 million where about 80% of the people identify themselves as Orthodox.)
Still, Kirill added that regular contact between Vatican and Russian Orthodox officials was "essential" for promoting the growing understanding of the other needed to resolve the tensions and the theological differences that keep Catholics and Orthodox apart.
And there has been regular contact since Benedict's election as Pope in April, 2005, and especially since Kirill's election as Patriarch in January, as representatives of the Holy See and representatives of the Russian and other Orthodox Churches have met many times in many different venues.
One milestone occurred in the fall of 2007, when Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, after a week of meetings in Ravenna, Italy, drafted a joint document that acknowledges in a certain sense the primacy of the Pope. The 46-paragraph “Ravenna Document” (text below), envisages a reunified Church in which the Pope could be the most senior patriarch among the various Orthodox churches.
Another milestone also occurred in 2007, on June 16, when Pope Benedict XVI told a visiting Greek Orthodox leader, Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus, that he hoped the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be united, despite centuries of painful division, and discussed how Catholics and Orthodox could work together on social, moral and bioethical issues, including opposition to same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.
Chrysostomos had offered to play the role of mediator to try to arrange a groundbreaking meeting between the Pope and the then-Patriarch of Moscow, Alexi II.
In a speech to the archbishop after their private session, Benedict said he held “firm hope” of uniting the two Churches. Despite “centuries-old divisions, diverging roads and despite the hard work of closing painful wounds, the Lord has never ceased to guide our steps on the path toward unity and reconciliation,” Benedict told Chrysostomos.
Chrysostomos then told reporters that the chief problem was a "lack of communication" between the Pope and the Patriarch. He said he would pursue his offer to help organize a possible meeting when he met with Alexi in Moscow in mid-2007.
Chrysostomos believed Benedict’s background as a theologian with a good grasp of Orthodox theology would help the process of reuniting the two churches, but he failed to broker a meeting between Benedict and Alexi II.
Now, four years into Benedicts's pontificate and nearly 100 days into Kirill's patriarchate, nearly all Vatican observers agree that, as Pope John Paul II was driven by the desire to end the scourge of atheist Communism, so Pope Benedict XVI still hopes passionately to see the restoration of a unified Church.
And the path toward achieving that vision passes by way of Kirill.
Benedict's hopes for reunion stem from his religious conviction that Christians should present a united witness to the world, but also from his pragmatic judgment that the increasingly relativistic and "anti-life" West needs the spiritual and moral support of the Orthodox world to overcome a secular mindset which has begun to penetrate into the western Church herself.
This explains why Benedict has, since the moment Kirill was elected, made numerous gestures toward him of welcome and appreciation.
Benedict XVI publicly expressed his joy at Kirill's January 27 election at a general audience the next day in Rome, saying, "I invoke upon him the light of the Holy Spirit for a generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church, entrusting him to the special protection of the Mother of God."
In a telegram sent to the newly-elected Patriarch, the Pope wrote: "May the Almighty bless your efforts to maintain communion among the Orthodox Churches and to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue. I assure Your Holiness of my spiritual closeness and of the Catholic Church's commitment to co-operate with the Russian Orthodox Church for an ever clearer witness of the truth of the Christian message and to the values which alone can sustain today's world along the way of peace, justice and loving care of the marginalised."
The Catholic Archbishop in Moscow, Paolo Pezzi, called the election "very positive news" and said that it promised "continuity and recognition of the work of the former patriarch, Alexi II."
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity noted that Kirill was "a Patriarch with whom we have maintained fraternal relations for many years, and who met the Holy Father immediately following his election in April 2005, and again in the months of May 2006 and December 2007."
The Council statement continued: "We trust we will be able to continue together down the path of mutual understanding we have already begun. We do not, of course, wish to lose sight of the difficulties that still remain, but we are ready and willing to co-operate in the social and cultural fields in order to bear witness to Christian values while, nonetheless, not forgetting that the ultimate aim of dialogue is the realisation of the testament of Jesus Christ our Lord: the full communion of all His disciples."
Kirill the "John Paul II" of the Russian Church?
Who is Patriarch Kirill?
He is relatively young — at age 62, he is 20 years younger than Pope Benedict is, and nearly the same age, 58, as Pope John Paul II was when he was elected Pope in 1978.
And Kirill is energetic. For years he has hosted his own weekly television program "Words of a Pastor." He has traveled widely around the world. and he is willing to take risks to preach the Gospel (he recently agreed to speak to Russian young people in a sports stadium, something previous Patriarchs would have found unthinkable).
He is also open to new ways of doing things. This winter, while he was acting Patriarch, he went to a rock concert in Kiev and delivered a homily to tens of thousands of young people.
"Today Church and society are in fact one and the same thing," a spokesman for Kirill later explained. "Our Church believers go to discos and rock-concerts, and if there's a chance to give some Church tinge to such youth meetings, if young people are glad to hear a few words from a priest, why doesn't he go there and say these few words? The example of the Patriarch will surely inspire bishops, priests and laymen. When we speak about mission, we mean that we will go and preach, not that people will come to us. We mean that priests should come out from their churches, officials of Church departments should step out of their organizations. We should go and meet people, even at the so-called youth hangouts, even if it's not usual to see a man in cassock there," the Russian Church official said.
And Kirill is evidently a capable administrator. He has gathered around himself a "team" of well-trained and capable younger clerics and laymen to help him implement his vision for the Russian Church and nation, including the man he has chosen to take the post he himself held as head of the External Relations Department of the Patriarchate, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (now promoted to archbishop).
(Photo: Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, right, with the late Patriarch Alexi II, center, and the present Patriarch Kirill, left)
On March 31, the news agency Interfax reported that the Holy Synod, the group of seven leading Russian Orthodox archbishops who form the highest ruling council of the Russian Orthodox Church, had named Bishop Hilarion as External Church Relations chief "unanimously."
The agency reported that several other young clerics who are close to Kirill were promoted:
(1) Archpriest Nikolay Balashov was named Patriarchate Secretary for relations with other Orthodox Churches;
(2) Priest Georgy Ryabyh was named acting secretary for liaison between the Church and public, and both were appointed deputy chairmen of the Department for External Church Relations;
(3) Bishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, a former deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, was appointed Patriarchate Secretary for the Church's institutions abroad;
(4) Priest Antony Ilyin was put in charge of the Church's relations with European international organizations; and
(5) Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a 41-year-old, gravel-voiced cleric close to Kirill, was appointed to be the first head of a new Department for Relations between the Church and Society set up within the Church's administrative structure.
On April 22, a further promotion was announced:
(6) Fr. Igor Vyzhanov, 38, secretary for Inter-Christian relations in the Department for External Church Relations, the Patriarchate official responsible for relations with non-Orthodox confessions, was ordained an Archpriest by Patriarch Kirill personally during a Divine Liturgy in Moscow.
The promotions of Hilarion, Mark and Chaplin, all relatively young men in their early 40s, are perhaps the most significant of these first appointments during Kirill's first 100 days.
What has happened to these three "rising stars" is not without precedent. At the beginning of his own clerical career, Patriarch Kirill was the personal secretary to Metropolitan Nikodim (1929-1978) of Leningrad and Novgorod. Metropolitan Nikodim had encouraged Kirill to become a priest and was a very important figure in Kirill's early life. Nikodim was himself a very rapidly rising star. He had become the head of the Church's Department of External Relations at the very young age of 30.
Nikodim, who many consider a saint, persuaded the Soviet government to allow the Russian Orthodox Church at have contacts with the world churches.
From this, the Soviet government was able to create an appearance of freedom of religion in the USSR, while the Church in turn received a little breathing room in which to exist.
Nikodim was also allowed to mentor and advance within the Church certain very bright and talented young men. These young men, such as Kirill, Juvelany, and Alexi, later became the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Tragically, on September 5, 1978, Metropolitan Nikodim died of a heart attack at the age of 48 in the presence of Pope John Paul I.
A decade later, on November 13, 1989, Kirill was appointed to be head of the External Relations Department and a permanent member of the Holy Synod. Kirill was 42 at the time — the same age as Hilarion today.
Like his mentor Nikodim, Kirill created in his department a small group of very talented and bright young men — the best of the best. These men advanced to key positions within the External Relations Department. They are now Bishop Hilarion, Bishop Mark, and Father Vsevolod. They are all extremely talented, hard-working, and articulate.
Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that in the first session of the Holy Synod since the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill, these three have been given key positions in the Moscow Patriarchate.
In this regard, it appears that the former functions of the External Relations Department may have been divided in three parts. The part relating to the interface with the Russian government and civil society has been given to Father Vsevolod, the supervision of foreign parishes to Bishop Mark, and the general functions of the department and the key permanent seat in the Holy Synod to Bishop Hilarion.
Among Catholic observers of the Russian Orthodox Church, all of these appointments are regarded as "good news" because of the deep faith, learning and openness of these men.
Bishop Hilarion was the first person to propose an alliance between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches — an idea that has been subsequently echoed by many in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
He is also active in the culture field, as an accomplished pianist and composer of sacred music. Bishop Hilarion's monumental Passion According to St. Matthew, first performed in Moscow and Rome in March 2007, was recently performed (on April 8) by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in St. Stephen's Basilica, the most famous Catholic church in Budapest. A capacity crowd of more than 2,000 attended and the basilica was not able to accommodate all that came. The concert was broadcast live by "Radio Maria." Among the guests of honor were Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, the apostolic nuncio to Hungary (Archbishop Juliusz Janusz), Archabbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma (Asztrik Varszegi), and the prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Tihany (Dr. Korzensky Richard).
Before the concert, Cardinal Erdo welcomed the crowd. He stated, "Today's event is not just another musical event but a sign of genuine and long-awaited collaboration between our Churches. I wholeheartedly congratulate Bishop Hilarion on his appointment to the high and responsible post of Chairman of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. I sincerely hope that our cooperation, rooted in his tenure as head of the Hungarian diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, will continue in his new capacity." (Photo: Bishop Hilarion with Cardinal Erdo.)
Father Vsevolod, though the living embodiment of "toughness," has been a very positive influence in the dialogue between the Russian Orthdoox and the Catholic Church in the Russian Federation. Father Vsevolod was also one of the very few non-Catholic Church officials to come to the defense of the Pope in the recent worldwide "condom controversy" which erupted during the Pope's March trip to Africa.
Bishop Mark, a deeply spiritual man, who has lived and worked in Jerusalem, has traveled several times to Italy and to the Vatican, and is also a very positive influence.
That a Catholic can appreciate these men does not mean that the three will not be zealous defenders of Orthodoxy, but it does mean that they are reasonable men open to dialogue. And for this reason, they can count on our prayers in the great responsibilities that they are assuming.
(Photo: Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev with Roman Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn in Vienna, where Alfeyev was in charge of the Church of St. Nicholas for the Russian Orthodox community on the Austrian capital.)
Arguably, today Kirill is one of the 10 or 20 most influential men in Russia, one of the key countries in the world, and his relative youth means that he will likely be an important factor in national decisions for years to come.
Kirill now heads of a Church with more than 100 million adherents — larger than the Anglican Church — including millions of Russian Orthodox living abroad, which gives the Russian Orthodox Church a "global" aspect.
Statistically, the Russian Orthodox Church is the second most numerous Christian Church after the Roman Catholic Church itself.
But statistics are less important here than suffering and faith. The Russian Orthodox Church is a Church that suffered greatly under Soviet rule. Now it has "re-emerged from the catacombs" following the dissolution 18 years ago of the USSR (1991) to take on an ever-greater role in post-Soviet Russia.
Russia's powerful Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and its President, Dmitry Medvedev, both attend church on feast days. Other Slavic leaders, like Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, do so as well.
So it a time of hope for Russian Orthodoxy — despite the enormous challenges the faith confronts in Russia, which has become highly secularized. Kirill evidently hopes it will be a "Orthodox Moment" for his country, and his Church.
Collaboration with Catholics
Following the new Patriarch's enthronement on February 1, Benedict sent a second message, reiterating the importance of collaboration in seeking Christian unity.
The Pope recalled his meetings with the new Patriarch in Kirill's previous role as the president of the Department of External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Pope characterized these encounters as full of "good will" and recalled Kirill's role in "forging a new relationship between our Churches, a relationship based on friendship, mutual acceptance and sincere dialogue in facing the difficulties of our common journey."
On March 8 in Moscow, Kirill showed the type of spirit he is bringing to his pastoral task.
He warned his hearers during a Sunday sermon not to trust some radical Orthodox fighters for the "purity" of faith, whose motto is "Orthodoxy or Death!"
"When we meet a man who claims to be fighting for the purity of Orthodoxy, but in his eyes is lit the fire of anger, someone ready to shake the foundations of Church life to defend orthodoxy, if we do not find love and find anger, this is the first sign of that we have a wolf in sheep's clothing," the Patriarch said in his Sunday sermon at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. "In the eyes of these people you will not find love; they shine with the fire of pride. The most important criterion for evaluating any Church leader — from a Patriarch to a simple layman — is 'love' because 'where there is love, there is Christ.'"
On April 8, Kirill wrote to Benedict, expressing his condolences over the loss of life in an earthquake in Italy's Abruzzo region and said he was praying for the peace of the victims' souls.
"I am conveying my most profound condolences over the loss of hundreds of lives in the earthquake in Abruzzo,"Kirill wrote to Benedict. "Sharing the grief of the families and relatives of those who have fallen victim to the natural disaster, we remember the Gospel saying: 'God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.'" The message was published on the official website of the Moscow Patriarchate. (According to reports, 207 people were killed in the earthquake, 15 remain unaccounted for, and 178 people were injured, of whom 100 seriously.)
Then the authoritarian leader of Belarussia came onto the stage. Just a few days ago, on April 26, Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, joining the "club" of Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair and other heads of state who have recently paid a visit to Pope Benedict XVI, came to the Vatican.
(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI is handed a children’s book by Nikolai, son of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (left), during their meeting at the Vatican April 27, 2009; from Reuters)
Before the meeting, the Belarusian president said he was going to present the Pope with a number of questions from the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Kirill.
Talking to the Pope, he also expressed hope that Benedict XVI would come to Belarus. The Belarusian leader seems to want to play a role in organizing the meeting of the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow (the "third Rome").
If Lukashenko’s proposal is accepted, Belarus will play an important role as a conciliator and a peacemaker. In this sense, Lukashenko is improving Belarus’ image on an international level and doing a favor for Kirill who seems interested in meeting the Pope yet a fourth time — this time, as Patriarch.
Kirill's vision seems to have "Europe-wide" scope. Just yesterday, on April 29, an Interfax report cited the acting representative of the Moscow Patriarchate at the European International Organizations Archpriest Antony Ilyin, as saying that the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is "crucial" for the Russian Church “to introduce problems of Christian values on the agenda of the next European Parliament.”
And today comes the news from Moscow that the consecration of a Russian Orthodox church of Great Martyr Saint Catherine being built in Rome on the hillside above St. Peter's Basilica, under the direction of a committee headed by Kirill, has been set for three weeks from now: May 24.
It is not clear whether Kirill himself will come to Rome for the consecration.
A medieval Catholic prophecy states that the Eastern and Western Churches will indeed one day unite again.
And, in this prophecy — which admittedly has no authority from any religious or scientific perspective — the Cistercian Abbot Joachim of Fiore, writing sometime before his death in 1202, "foresaw" that the reunion would come about through the efforts of an extraordinary Pope. (The prophecy is cited in Edward Connor, Prophecy for Today, Tan Books, Rockford, Illinois, 1984, pp. 31-32).
Here is the text from more than 800 years ago (about 150 years after the East-West schism began).
(Photo, Archbishop Hilarion with Pope John Paul II)
"A remarkable Pope will be seated on the pontifical throne, under special protection of the angels. Holy and full of gentleness, he shall undo all wrong, he shall recover the states of the Church, and reunite the exiled temporal powers. As the sole Pastor, he shall reunite the Eastern to the Western Church… This holy Pope shall be both pastor and reformer. Through him the East and West shall be in everlasting concord. The city of Babylon shall then be the head and guide of the world. Rome, weakened in temporal power, shall forever preserve her spiritual dominion, and shall enjoy great peace…"