Will Kirill and Benedict 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 Robert Moynihan, Editor, Inside the Vatican
TH URSDAY, APRIL 30, 2009 The new Patriarch of
the Russian Orrthodox Church, Kirill, 62, has met
Pope Benedict XVI, who turned 82 a few days ago,
three times already but that was before Kirill becamee Patriarch.
Now, after nearly 100 days in office, Vatican
observers are sensing that Patriarch Kirill and
Pope Benedict may meet again and thatt 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 Alexiâs
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 Medvedevâs 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 Chur ch, 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
âhas become a serious power in society,â
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 q uoted 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. (Russiaâs 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
âRavenna Documentâ (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 âfirm hopeâ of
uniting the two Churches. Despite
âcenturies-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,â 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 Benedictâs 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 drive n 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-operat e 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 thhan 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 out20from 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 th eir 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=2 0later, 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 â 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 Hilario n 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.
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 â larger than the Anglican
Church including millions of Russsian 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 the20enoormous 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 f irst 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 fromm a Patriarch to a simple layman
is 'love' because 'where there iss 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.
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 Lukashenkoâs proposal is accepted, Belarus
will play an important role as a conciliator and
a peacemaker. In this sense, Lukashenko is
improving Belarusâ image on an international
level and doing a favor for Kirill who seems
interested in meeting the Pope yet a fourth time thiss 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 sayi ng
that the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is
"crucial" for the Russian Church âto introduce
problems of Christian values on the agenda of the next European Parliament.â
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.