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Kirill Named Interim Head Of Russian Orthodox Church

Metropolitan Kirill at a European Ecumenical Assembly in September 2007
Metropolitan Kirill at a European Ecumenical Assembly in September 2007
(RFE/RL) -- A handful of clergymen who make up the Russian Orthodox Church's governing body have selected a man regarded as a steady advocate of greater independence from the state to serve as interim leader until a wider synod picks a successor to Patriarch Aleksy II, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports.

The 12 bishops who make up the Holy Synod made the choice of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad at the patriarch's residence in Peredelkino, outside Moscow.

"By a secret ballot, His Holiness Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill was elected patriarchal guardian," the church said on its website.

The interim leader should serve until a broader synod that includes clergy and lay people makes its choice within six months.

But the Holy Synod carries considerable weight in the process, and some observers suggest the interim pick, known as the "guardian of the throne," stands a good chance of becoming patriarch.

Divisive Pick?

Since Aleksy's death, many observers saw Kirill and Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk among the three or four most likely picks as a permanent successor. Metropolitan Yuvenaly, who heads the Moscow diocese, was also named among the favorites.

The Kremlin will almost certainly seek to exert influence over the selection process, particularly as advocates of close ties to the government vie against those who think the church should operate with greater independence.

Kirill, who has amassed considerable contacts in his role directing the Russian Orthodox Church's external affairs, could seek reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, a position that stokes fierce debate within the church but could please the Kremlin.

He has spoken warmly of ties between his church and the Russian Church Abroad since their historic reunion in May 2007.

Kirill is seen by most as a staunch advocate of increased authority for the church but by some critics as a renegade who is incautious in his public statements.

In August 2007, he drew the ire of civic leaders in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan by suggesting that a word that traditionally describes only ethnic Russians ("russky") should be used for all Russian citizens. He described the term "rossiyanin," which refers to Russian citizens but not necessarily to ethnic Russians, as "artificial."

End Of Aleksy Era

The gathering of bishops also confirmed funeral arrangements for the late patriarch, who led the church for 18 years before his death of heart failure on December 5.

Nuns pray for Patriarch Aleksy II at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
Aleksy was to lie in state at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, which was rebuilt under his patriarchate, before being buried at the Epiphany (Bogoyavlensky) Cathedral on December 9.

Aleksy was being mourned in solemn tributes by the resurgent ranks of Orthodox believers in Russia, as well as abroad, and hundreds of red and white roses were left at the patriarch's Moscow office one day after his death.

He is widely hailed as a moderate among Russians and a uniter who ensured the church did not run afoul of the Kremlin and resisted the temptation to tack toward fundamentalism in the 1990s.

Polls show Orthodox believers to be a strong majority in Russia, a far cry from the situation that Aleksy inherited in 1990, when there were thought to be hardly more than a dozen fully functioning parishes.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have led tributes to Aleksy, who became patriarch in 1990, for his role in Russian life after the collapse of the Soviet Union and communist rule.

Aleksy entered seminary during Stalin's reign of terror and ascended through church ranks in the 1970s, a time when the KGB mostly controlled the church and rebel clerics were imprisoned.

with additional agency reporting
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by: Sergey from: USA
December 07, 2008 06:27
&quot;In August 2007, he drew the ire of civic leaders in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan by suggesting that a word that traditionally describes only ethnic Russians (&quot;russky&quot;) should be used for all Russian citizens.&quot;<br /><br />Here I fully agree with Cyrill. I am an American citizen living in America, and I consider myself American first of both ethnic Russian and Jewish origin. If I were a Russian citizen, I would consider myself Russian first. So his comment might be controversial to national-separatists movements, but I think it is proper to prevent break-down of Russia along ethnic and regional lines. <br /><br />Also I would like to see whether his alleged effort to make Orthodox Church less dependent on the state will succeed. If Orthodox Church becomes cleaned up from its associations with the Soviet State and Post-Soviet corrupt and brutal regimes of Yeltsin-Putin-Medvedev, it will benefit all Russian Citizens.

by: Deda Cvetko from: Nueva York
December 07, 2008 18:18
Traditionally, ever since early Byzantine period (the Justinian age), the Orthodox Church was seen as an appendage, surrogate, substitute and/or guardian of the state (or Emperor, as the case may be). In fact, the Orthodox church was always a &quot;fallback&quot; option for the state, a second line of defense should the state or nation fail. At no point during its long history - except very briefly, during the 'smutnoe vremya' period) did the Russian Orthodox Church purport to be the civil authority itself, or to establish some sort of theocratic rule a la Islamic Repubic or Iran or Savonarola's mini-state in the XV century Florence (in fact, Orthodox church is a much more democratic institution - despite its seemingly rigid doctrinal norms - than it usually receives credit for). <br /><br />This subordinate and/or subservient position of the church did in fact, have some historical and doctrinal justification and significance and is, to a certain extent, legitimate, because throughout much of recorded history nations of the East (such as Russia) were continuously conquered and vanquished by alien armies and foreign invaders, virtually ALL of whom (Teutonic knights, Mongols, Seljucs, Ottomans, Swedes, Napoleon, Nazis, Bolsheviks) shared a single common idea of hostility to the Orthodox Christianity. In essence, the Orthodox Church acted as a pro tempore custodian of the nationhood, statehood and national and religious identity (the two identities were largely interchangeable) while the head of state or the national government were incapacitated, in peril, under duress, occupied, suspended or killed. This role continues unabated, and should not be ridiculed or seen as relic of the past or some savage atavism irreconcilable with the basic norms of democracy. The need of the peoples from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to maintain their cultural and national identity and to defend their &quot;weltanschauung&quot; in view of the modern forms of conquest and proselytizing (TV, media, internet, foreign agit-prop, etc.) is now greater than ever. Therefore, surely Kirill will have his work cut out for him.<br /><br />Yes, it would be nice to register some measurable progress in negotiations with the Roman Catholic Church (the negotiations, taking place in Belgrade, have been at standstill from the very beginning), but - as Billie Holiday once sang - unrequited love's a bore: these negotiations are not conceived as a capitulation or surrender ceremony of the Eastern Orthodox Church; instead, they should be seen a series of small, negotiated steps by BOTH parties ( Orthodoxes AND Catholics), not a series of one sided concessions and handouts of one party to another -- something that, for some odd reason, Roman Curia clearly expects to see. Flexibility, reason and common sense - thus far not received from Rome - should be encouraged in no uncleared terms, by all parties who have any influence on Vatican. On the closing note, I should add that the Pope Benedict XVI clearly is a massive improvement over his predecessor, who was a cataclysm for Russia, Orthodoxy and - frankly - for the World and for the Roman Catholic Church itself.<br /><br />Finally, I should add that Russian Orthodox Church is not the only Eastern Orthodox denomination that sees itself as subordinate to the State. Practically ALL of the Eastern churches (Greek, Serbian, Ethiopian) see themselves in the same light, and for exact, same reason. These peoples, numbering many tens of millions, are definitely NOT intrinsically hostile to democracy or a bunch of savages -- this is the only way they can assure their national survival in what has always been a tempestuous part of the world. <br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

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