Eye on Eurasia: The rise of Kirill
By Paul Goble
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Published January 25, 2005
News World Communications Inc.
TARTU, Estonia -- Metropolitan Kirill, the odds-on favorite to succeed
Aleksii II as Russian patriarch, said this week that Orthodoxy Christianity
represented a "spiritual" shield against outside influence and an important
defense of Orthodox Christians beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.
Kirill made these remarks on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his
appointment to head the eparchy in Smolensk
(kaliningrad.rfn.ru/rnews.html?id=6287&cid=7). Three months from now, he
will mark a similar anniversary for the inclusion of Kaliningrad within that
eparchy, an event that means he is styled as the metropolitan of the two
However, Kirill's most important role both in the past and especially
now as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine is challenging the position of the
Moscow church there is as head of the patriarchate's powerful Office of
External Relations, a position he has occupied since November 1989. In that
capacity, he has been responsible not only for overseeing the patriarchate's
interests abroad and participating in ecumenical activities but also for
defending Russia's spiritual space against outside influences.
With regard to the former, he has played a key role in resolving the
conflict over the subordination of Orthodox churches in Estonia, promoting
the rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and
providing a frequent public face for Moscow in international religious
With respect to the latter, he has adopted an even higher public profile
than the patriarch himself with his own television program and frequent
visits around the country and has taken the lead in resuscitating and
applying to the Russian Federation in the first instance the ancient
Christian doctrine of "territoriality."
That teaching, ascribed to St. Cyprian of Carthage, holds, in the words
of Michael Bourdeaux, a leading specialist on religious affairs in Russia,
that "only one Church has the right to be active in any one territory"
(thetablet.co.uk/egi-bin/register.cgi/tablet-00092). Kirill has used that
argument not only against Protestant missionaries to post-Soviet Russia but
also against Roman Catholics and the Vatican more generally.
Born in Leningrad in November 1946, Kirill rose rapidly through the
ranks of the church leadership following his graduation from the Leningrad
Spiritual Academy in 1970. From 1971 to 1974, he served the patriarchate's
representative at the World Council of Churches. Later, he headed a
religious training school, helped organize both the church's response to the
1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and its commemoration of the 1,000th
anniversary of the Christianization of Rus, and served as bishop of Vyborg
before assuming his current post. A fuller biography is to be found at the
russian-orthodox.church.org.ru/biokirru.htm Web site.
Throughout his career, Kirill, like other senior Russian churchmen, has
been dogged by charges that he was an officer of the Soviet secret police,
the KGB, and invariably put Moscow's political interests above his own. That
past continues to raise suspicions about their affiliations and motives and
sometimes makes it more difficult for them to deal with churchmen in other
In Soviet times, the metropolitan and his fellow hierarchs probably had
no choice. If churchmen were not prepared to cooperate with the KGB, the
Soviet authorities could and regularly did block their promotion within the
church. The Soviet organs exercised especially tight control over religious
who wanted to travel or serve abroad.
The archives on these questions -- open only briefly in the early
1990s -- confirm that Aleksii II was recruited by the KGB in Estonia in
February 1958 and was regularly praised by his secret police superiors for
his "willing attitude" in carrying out assignments and for providing the
organs with "materials deserving attention." (On this point, see both
Bourdeaux's article at religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2099 and
the report of church dissident Gleb Yakunin in the May 17, 1996 "Ekspress
It has been alleged that Metropolitan Kirill worked closely for the KGB
as well. In 1992, a former KGB operative, A. Shushpanov, described in detail
the KGB's work in Kirill's External Relations Department in an interview
published in "Argumenty i fakty" (no. 8(1992)). According to Shushpanov, the
chief task of that church department was to help the KGB in its work.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the situation has changed.
Russia's security services have done everything they can to prevent the
public identification of its agents within the church, sometimes accusing
those who have done so of treason. (See John B. Dunlop's "KGB Subversion of
the Russian Orthodox Church," RFE/RL Research Report 1:12 (March 20, 1992),
Not surprisingly, church hierarchs like Aleksii and Kirill have not
acknowledged such ties. Instead, they have spoken about the past in only the
most general terms, talking about the problems they faced then and the
wonderful prospects they have now. Indeed, in his message to Kirill on this
week's anniversary, Patriarch Aleksii spoke in precisely those terms.
Now, Kirill faces new challenges both abroad and at home. He almost
certainly will take the lead in trying to prevent Orthodox congregations in
Ukraine from shifting their allegiance from the Moscow Patriarchate to one
of the Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchies or to the Universal Patriarchate of
At the same time, the metropolitan will continue to push for an expanded
public role for Orthodoxy among Russians even as he seeks to block
missionary activities of non-traditional faiths there and particularly any
expansion in the presence of Roman Catholicism in the Russian Federation.
These policies at the very least track with those of the Kremlin. And
that pattern, of course, inevitably increases suspicions among many that his
alleged past ties to the secret police somehow continue, suspicions that
will make it harder for him to achieve his goals either at home or abroad.
But unless he is able to achieve some successes in both, Kirill could
see his chance to succeed Aleksii slip away. Consequently, in the immediate
future, he is a man to watch as he seeks to be in both the Russian
Federation and in the Ukraine Moscow's spiritual sword and shield.
(Paul Goble teaches at the Euro-college of the University of Tartu in