Rorate Caeli

Kirill of Smolensk elected new Patriarch of Russia

To no one’s surprise, Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, locum tenens of the Patriarchate of Moscow since the death of Alexy II in December and head of the same Patriarchate’s powerful Department for External Relations, has been elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The new Patriarch was born Vladimir Gundyaev in 1946, and has been varyingly described as a liberal and a conservative, as a moderniser and as a traditionalist. The Russian press reports that he was persecuted even as a child for his faith (he reportedly refused to join the Communist Party’s Young Pioneers). He has hosted a weekly TV program since 1994, and is reputed to be a good preacher and a prolific author with a firm grasp of both pastoral needs and international issues. On the other hand, there have been reports of his involvement in improper financial dealings from 1994-1997 related to the importation of cigarettes into Russia (hence the nickname, “Tobacco Metropolitan”). And some Orthodox have accused him of less-than-edifying behavior towards his rivals in the hierarchy.

There are expectations of more cordial relations between Moscow and Rome now that Kirill (who met Pope Benedict XVI in December 2007) has been elevated to the Patriarchate; indeed, he has faced sharp criticism in Russia for allegedly being too close to the Catholics and for continuing to advocate ecumenical dialogue with Rome. At the same time, it should be kept in mind that Kirill spent part of 2008 expanding the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Latin America and striking up alliances with various leftist regimes there (apparently in the interest of getting them to help with the construction of more Russian Orthodox churches). He has also made clear that there will be no doctrinal compromises with Rome.

Although he is known to enjoy cordial relations with the Kremlin, he is expected to establish greater independence from it – a position already foreshadowed when the Moscow Patriarchy refused to support the recent war with Georgia. Shortly before the patriarchal elections, he called for "mutual non-interference" between Church and State.

Of interest to Catholic Traditionalists is Kirill’s public opposition to calls for liturgical reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church – including, among other things, recent proposals within that Church to replace Church Slavonic with the vernacular (modern Russian) in the liturgy. Another point of interest: he is a protégé and spiritual son of the late Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov, who collapsed and died during an audience with Pope John Paul I (who gave Nikodim absolution)


  1. +Kirill (may God grant him many years!) is probably what would pass for a moderate in the Russian Church. Which is to say he is not interested in trying to return Russia to the 19th century and believes in being engaged with the modern world. He also favors ecumenical dialogue and cooperation where such is possible in matters of mutual interest with the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed he enjoys very good personal relations with the pope. But he is unimpeachably Orthodox in doctrine and no compromise on essential points of the Faith should be expected. He also was one of the principal authors of the Russian Orthodox Church's declaration on the Basis of the Social Concept. By Western standards he would certainly be seen as extremely conservative on doctrinal and social issues.

    In ICXC

  2. Anonymous8:25 PM

    This russian guy is a truly model for the modern church, and fits perfectly for his high role of dialogue with Rome. He will be a marvelous companion for guys like him in the Vatican. After all, they know business!
    By the way, de we need to remember they are just schismatics? Thank you, Krilly tobacco master!

  3. Anonymous11:34 PM

    Speaking of schismatics...
    You all should read what "Father" Jonathan has to say about Bp. Williamson and the SSPX on the Fox News home page. What a disgusting excuse of a "priest." He is nothing more that a political hack spewing venom for the liberal media machine. Why doesn't someone silence him? (Not that I really agree with Bp. Williamson...)

  4. Anonymous1:38 AM

    He sounds like a good man to me. Most importantly, he's against replacing Church Slavonic with the vernacular. Alleluia!

    Second, he is conciliatory towards Rome.

    There are some faults in the report but he may be one of the very few bishops in the R.O.C. who was never an informant for the K.G.B. Not polite to say it, but most of their bishops were communist spies, which is why they lack so much credibility with the Russian people.

  5. To the first Anonymous:

    We make no apologies for covering this news. This blog noted the death of Patriarch Alexy in December and the "no reform" statements of then-Metropolitan Kyrill. It would have been absurd not to at least note his election to the patriarchal throne.

    It is fairly obvious that Russian Orthodoxy is in schism from Rome. There is no need to mention it all the time.

  6. Anonymous1:56 PM

    [i] You all should read what "Father" Jonathan has to say about Bp. Williamson and the SSPX on the Fox News home page. What a disgusting excuse of a "priest." He is nothing more that a political hack spewing venom for the liberal media machine. Why doesn't someone silence him? [i]

    Yeah, I lost most respect for Father Jonathan after he was so wrong in the "Sean Hannity vs. Human Life International" controversy from March-April 2007.

    His actions and comments during that episode were truely scandalous and has probably led to the damage of many souls that interpret his words as true Catholic teaching.

  7. To the most recent anonymous,
    He sounds like a good man to me. Most importantly, he's against replacing Church Slavonic with the vernacular. Alleluia!

    I am fairly pleased with his election for a variety of reasons myself. But I am curious as to the concern over Church Slavonic as a liturgical language. As a matter of taste I would hope its preserved but only if the majority of the Russian people can be reeducated in it.

    Prior to the disaster of Communism most Russians knew enough Slavonic to follow the liturgy. Today that's generally not true. The loss of that language is I think one of the more tragic cultural casualties of the Communist era. But be that as it may if it is determined to be either impossible or impractical to reeducate the people (I understand this would take many years) then I think the language should be phased out in favor of modern Russian.

    In Orthodoxy the liturgy is one of the principal tools of catechises for the faithful because it is so laden with expressions of Orthodox doctrine. Also unlike in the Western understanding where it is the priest who offers the Mass and the people assist through their presence in Orthodoxy the priest stands in the place of the bishop but it is all of the people who serve the liturgy. Thus Orthodox priests are forbidden to serve liturgy alone.

    It is true that the Greeks still use Koine Greek. But the arguments in favor of keeping what is sadly now a dead language, other than for aesthetics, are not very compelling. In the Roman tradition I think the argument for Latin could be a bit stronger since cultural diversity was never encouraged as the Roman Rite gradually subsumed and and eventually abolished most of the lesser western liturgical rites and usages. And of course Latin was always seen as a unifying language for the vast Roman Rite of the Church. But Orthodox ecclesiology is different. And in recent centuries (generally the 2nd millennium) the custom has favored the establishment of separate autocephalous churches along national lines. There is no real need or desire to have a single dead language for the liturgy in every country. If such were the case the Russians would have just stuck with Koine Greek (the Western Church too for that matter since Greek was the original language of the liturgy in Rome, though it was dropped in favor of Latin fairly early).

    All in all I hope Slavonic is preserved. But if the only argument for its preservation is that it is what has always been used then the Russians would do just as well to adopt the ancient Greek. From what I have heard the church in Russia is pushing hard to get Slavonic taught in the public schools system. I pray for their success.

    Under the mercy,


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