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RUSSIAN PATRIARCH Jan-27-2009 (780 words) With photos. xxxi

Russian Orthodox Church elects Metropolitan Kirill as new patriarch

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who has been in charge of the church's ecumenical relations for the past 20 years and who has had dozens of high-level contacts with the Catholic Church.

Metropolitan Kirill, 62, was elected patriarch of Moscow Jan. 27 during a meeting of the church's local council, which is made up of more than 700 priests, monks and laypeople representing each diocese and foreign mission of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The delegates, coming from more than 60 countries, elected the patriarch from a list of three candidates chosen Jan. 25 by the Russian Orthodox Bishops' Council.

Patriarch-elect Kirill, who will be enthroned Feb. 1, was seen as the candidate most open to improving ecumenical relations, especially with the Catholic Church, although he often criticized papal actions taken to re-establish the work of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia.


The new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims more than 150 million members, has met three times with Pope Benedict XVI: immediately after the pope's election in 2005; during a visit to Rome to consecrate a Russian Orthodox church in 2006; and for formal talks in December 2007.

He had served as the Moscow Patriarchate's director of external affairs -- its chief ecumenist -- since 1989. In that position, he held dozens of meetings with Cardinal Walter Kasper and his predecessors at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as well as with the cardinals and Catholic bishops from around the world.

The patriarch-elect was chosen by the Russian Orthodox bishops to be the interim head of the church after the death Dec. 5 of Patriarch Alexy II, who led the church for more than 18 years.

Patriarch Alexy's tenure coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union, the establishment of democracy, and the long and difficult process of re-establishing the Russian Orthodox Church and religious practice after decades of communist repression.

But newfound freedom for the Russian Orthodox also brought the possibility for the Catholic Church to re-establish its structures in Russia and for the Ukrainian Catholic Church to worship freely in Ukraine, a process that led to Orthodox claims that the Catholic Church was trying to expand in traditionally Orthodox territory.

As late as December 2007 Metropolitan Kirill publicly called on the Vatican to downgrade the status of the four Catholic dioceses in Russia and reclassify them as "apostolic administrations," which they were prior to 2002.

He told Russia's Interfax news agency, "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 the tradition of church organization that Catholics and Orthodox share.

When the Orthodox or Catholics have communities outside their traditional homelands, he said, a bishop should be in charge of their pastoral care, but that bishop should be an administrator, not the head of a diocese erected in territory already under the care of another bishop.

Visiting Pope Benedict just a few days after he gave the interview, Metropolitan Kirill said that despite differences with the Vatican the two churches have permanent, "always-open channels of communication."

Even while tensions continued over matters of church jurisdiction, Metropolitan Kirill and other Orthodox leaders affirmed the need for Catholics and Orthodox to work together to strengthen and defend traditional religious and moral values in Europe and around the world.

"The Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church must work together to bring to light again the Christian roots of Europe," he told reporters during a May 2006 visit to Rome.

Patriarch-elect Kirill was born Vladimir Gundyaev Nov. 20, 1946, in what was then Leningrad and now is known as St. Petersburg. Ordained in 1969, he began teaching at the Leningrad Theological Academy and served as personal secretary to Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Minsk, a bishop known for his studies of the Second Vatican Council.

The future patriarch began representing the Russian Orthodox Church at meetings of the World Council of Churches in 1971 and participated in official dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Appointed rector of the Leningrad Theological Academy in 1975, he was named bishop of Vyborg and assistant bishop of Leningrad in 1976. He was named an archbishop in 1977 and was transferred to Smolensk in 1984.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church named him chairman of the Department for External Church Relations in November 1989 and two years later he was elevated to the rank of metropolitan.

END


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