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Eye on Eurasia: The rise of Metropolitan Kirill

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  • Fr. John-Brian
    Eye on Eurasia: The rise of Kirill By Paul Goble UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL Published January 25, 2005 News World Communications Inc.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2005
      Eye on Eurasia: The rise of Kirill
      By Paul Goble
      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
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