MOSCOW (AFP/AP/MNS/CNS) — The Russian Orthodox Church has selected 62-year-old Metropolitan Kirill as its new patriarch, an outspoken figure who analysts say could prove a headache for the Kremlin.
A bell on Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral tolled 16 times late Tuesday evening, signaling the election of Metropolitan Kirill as the 16th Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Metropolitan Kirill, 62, was born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev in Leningrad to a clerical family. His father and grandfather served time in Soviet prison camps and later became priests.
A seasoned operator after long service as head of the church’s foreign relations section, Kirill was elected on Tuesday by an overwhelming majority in a ballot of church leaders in Moscow’s ornate cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
The more than 700 delegates at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior had to choose from a shortlist of three candidates chosen by the Archbishops’ Council on Sunday. One of the three, Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk, credited with reviving the Orthodox church in Belarus and treading a careful path in relations with the Belarussian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, withdrew his name shortly before the vote on Tuesday.
Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, received 508 votes in a secret ballot of the Church Council in Moscow while his challenger Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk won 169 votes. The Kremlin, most notably Prime Minister Putin had wanted the more politically conservative Metropolitan Kliment for the position.
Outside the cathedral, members of the Orthodox corps of Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth movement, held banners in support of church unity. “The Holy Spirit will point out the worthy one,” read one.
For the first time, the delegates included members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, an émigré group based in Manhattan that split after the Bolshevik Revolution and reunited with Moscow in 2007.
“I accept and thank the Church Council for my election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” Kirill said solemnly after the results were announced, before leading the congregation in an Orthodox liturgy.
Addressing the incense-filled gathering earlier, Kirill had made a strident call for church unity and urged the faithful to resist Protestant and Catholic proselytizing, dampening hopes of a transformation in poisonous ties with Rome.
About 700 bearded and robed bishops and laity from both Russia and diocese abroad had the right to participate in the first such vote of the post-Soviet era, following the death of Alexy II last month.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both congratulated Kirill, news agencies reported.
“Medvedev voiced hope for further strengthening of the dialogue between church and state in developing the country and boosting spiritual values,” Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Putin, who is himself an Orthodox believer, telephoned Kirill to offer his congratulations, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov added.
Kirill’s comments echoed the tough approach of his predecessor, who resisted attempts by late Polish pope John Paul II to reach out to Catholics in ex-Soviet lands and who refused to countenance a papal visit to Russia.
In the post-Soviet era “the most active proselytizing was by missionaries of all manner of Protestant denominations but we also noticed with bitterness representatives of the Catholic hierarchy,” Kirill said.
“We must attentively follow developments and where necessary quickly and decisively react to threats,” added Kirill, who after Alexy’s death was appointed “Guardian of the Throne” temporarily in charge of the church.
Metropolitan Kirill, who has hosted his own weekly television programme “Words of a Pastor” for the past 10 years, is seen as something of a loose cannon in political circles, analysts say.
“Among the bishops, he’s the only real politician. If I were president, I’d be afraid of such a man,” said religious affairs expert Sergei Filatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, referring to Kirill.
Russia’s politicians “can’t tell what he’s going to do. If (the economy) all goes pear shaped they don’t know what Patriarch Kirill would do. They’d prefer someone they had control over,” said religious affairs analyst and journalist for the Forum 18 religious news agency Geraldine Fagan earlier.
Kirill, whose crushing victory had been widely predicted, takes over a church that went from strength to strength under Alexy after being repressed in the Soviet era.
Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev both attend church on feast days, as do other Slavic leaders such as Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko.
The church’s relatively rapid election of Kirill, without resorting to a run-off, and the withdrawal of a third candidate just before voting began were indicative of its desire to make a show of unity at a crucial moment.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a symbol of the church’s resurgence. Dynamited under Stalin, it was then replaced by an open air swimming pool before an exact replica was rebuilt in the 1990s.
In an interview with the Trud newspaper published Monday, Kirill said the church was thriving but could still play a greater role in daily life, including education.
After hearing of the election the Roman Catholic Church announced that the Vatican will send at least two officials to Russia for the ceremonial installation of Metropolitan Kirill as Patriarch of Moscow. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, will attend the February 1 ceremony along with the secretary of the council, Bishop Brian Farrell. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, might also attend. The Vatican nuncio in Russia, Archbishop Antonio Menini, will be on hand, as will Moscow’s Archbishop Paolo Pezzi.
Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI commented that “it was with joy that I learned,” he said, “of the election of metropolitan Kirill as the new patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. For him I invoke,” he continued, “the light of the Holy Spirit, for generous service to the Russian Orthodox Church, entrusting him to the special protection of the Mother of God.”
The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been split for over 1,000 years however there is increasing sentiment in the idea of healing much of that rift.
After Alexiy II’s death Kirill had served as acting head of the Church. Kirill is scheduled to be “enthroned ” on Sunday, February 1 and will be broadcast live on state television and radio.