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Russian Orthodox Church Enthrones New Patriarch

The new head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, at the enthroning ceremony in Moscow
MOSCOW (RFE/RL) -- The Russian Orthodox Church has enthroned its new head, Patriarch Kirill, in a ceremony in Moscow.

The 16th leader of the Orthodox Church succeeds Patriarch Aleksy II, who died in December.

Kirill arrived at the Christ the Savior cathedral in a limousine after the bells had chimed for 15 minutes.

He was welcomed by two senior priests and a layman with the Russian traditional bread and salt at the entrance.

Senior bishops chanted "axios," the Greek word for "he is worthy" three times, thus formally enthroning Kirill as the new patriarch.

The colorful ceremony, which was broadcast live on national television, was attended by President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and scores of other government officials from Russia and former Soviet republics.

In a speech, Kirill said his priority is to bring God to young people, and to maintain Church unity. He also said he would increase dialogue with other former Soviet republics and the churches in them, as well as with "sister churches" around the world.

Svetlana, an Orthodox believer attending prayers at a Moscow church, welcomed Kirill's enthroning: "I think he is a worthy person for this position, he will be able to carry this burden, this cross, to care for his followers, and we will support him with our prayers."

Church's Growing Popularity

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who served as acting head of the church after Aleksy's death, was selected by a council of Orthodox bishops, monks, and lay people in Moscow on January 27.

The first election of a patriarch since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 came at a time of growing popularity in Russia for the church, which has enjoyed close ties with the Kremlin under former President Putin.

Kirill, 62, is seen as more inclined to seek some degree of independence from the Kremlin.

Known to millions of people across Russia and beyond, he is also seen as an advocate of better ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Patriarch Kirill has been the head of the church's external relations department for the past 20 years.

The Russian Orthodox is one of the world's largest churches,
with more than 160 million estimated adherents.

with agency reports