Kirill shows growing might as Russia church
By Nicolas Miletitch (AFP) – 2 hours
MOSCOW — Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is a close ally of President
Vladimir Putin who survived Communist repression and made the church into one of
the more powerful institutions of the post-Soviet state.
The 65-year-old native of Putin's Saint Petersburg has also faced his share
of controversy since being selected for the high post in 2009 and embarking on a
campaign to spread the Russian faith both inside the country and abroad.
His name spent months in the papers this year in connection with scandals
focusing on his alleged great wealth.
And the patriarch was also a silent but reportedly powerful player in the
Pussy Riot trial that eventually saw two young feminist punk rockers jailed for
two years for performing a protest song in Russia's main church.
Post-Soviet Russia's second-ever church leader will meet Israeli President
Shimon Peres in the Holy City and Palestinian chief Mahmud Abbas in the West
Bank while also touring Bethlehem and Nazareth on his first personal visit to
the region starting Friday.
Kirill is in fact closely retracing the steps of Alexy II -- a domineering
presence whose reign as patriarch stretched over two decades from the late
Soviet era until his death.
Both men engaged in campaigns to win back vast properties stripped from the
church by the Bolsheviks and to introduce Orthodox culture in secular parts of
society such as the armed forces and schools.
Analysts believe both Kirill and Alexy II have succeeded by staying on good
terms with the Kremlin after developing reputations as people who won promotions
at a time when the Church operated under Communist Party rule.
Kirill for one was asked to represent the Soviet-era church at the World
Council of Churches in Geneva -- a sensitive post through which Moscow fought
off Western charges of the clergy cooperating with the KGB -- at the tender age
That was at a time when all such assignments were vetted both by the party
and the secret police.
He returned to the Soviet Union to head the Orthodox Spiritual Academy in
Putin's native Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and eventually the department
for external relations of the Patriarchate under Alexy II.
That assignment should only make Kirill more aware of how prickly the
church's relations can get with other Christian denominations and particularly
the Catholic Church.
Kirill has most recently found himself in the heat of domestic political
battle linked to the unexpected winter protests that rose against Putin's return
to a third term in March 4 polls.
His overt support for Putin and condemnation of the demonstrations made him a
target of a furious Internet campaign by bloggers who soon discovered that the
patriarch was the owner of a luxury Moscow flat.
Another Internet user soon noticed a photograph published on the church's
website appearing to show a polished table's reflection of a huge gold watch
strapped on the patriarch's left hand.
The watch itself appeared to have been airbrushed out of the picture -- a
fact eventually acknowledged by the church and blamed on an "unfortunate
The biggest controversy of all came when the Pussy Riot punks burst into
Moscow's vast Christ the Saviour Cathedral to belt out scathing lyrics
mentioning how the Patriarch "believes in Putin".
Kirill denounced their "punk prayer" as "blasphemous". Two of the women have
now begun two-year prison camp terms in remote regions after being found guilty
of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]