January 28, 2009
Russia’s New Patriarch
Metropolitan Kirill overwhelmingly elected; non-Orthodox Russians wonder what’s next in ecumenical relations.
The Russian Orthodox Church has chosen a new patriarch: Metropolitan Kirill, who has been the interim leader of the Church since Alexy II's death in December. "The election comes at a time of unprecedented popularity in Russia for the church" reports Radio Free Europe.
Kirill is the first patriarch to be elected since the fall of the USSR in 1991.
However, he has emphasized his own conservatism and the conservatism of the Russian Orthodox church in the run-up to the election, asserting in speeches that "I speak out categorically against any reforms," and "The defense of the spiritual borders of our Motherland and the preservation of unity, this in the task of the Russian Church."
His relationship with the Catholic church will be closely watched; when Alexy II refused to see the Pope in 2007, it was Kirill who met with him. Many hope relations will continue to warm under his leadership.
While some consider Kirill the most independent of the candidates for patriarch, most assume he will have a close relationship with Russia's politics - even if he helps the church regain some autonomy. "Ties between the Kremlin and the church will get tighter and tighter," Alexander Nezhny, a Russian writer who specializes in religion, told The Los Angeles Times. "Today the Russian Orthodox Church is the de facto state church, enjoying perks and advantages from the state. In the new era, this mutual penetration will be deeper."