International Herald Tribune
MOSCOW: The Russian Orthodox Church enthroned the 16th patriarch, the first to be elected since the fall of the Soviet Union, in an elaborate ceremony on Sunday attended by hundreds of hierarchs and Russia's top political leaders.
The patriarch, Kirill I, was elected Tuesday by a council of bishops, other members of the clergy, monks and lay people of the Russian Orthodox Church to succeed Aleksy II, who had led the church out of the Soviet era and died in Moscow on Dec. 5.
In evidence of the changing relationship between church and state, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the service, standing prominently near the front of Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, a church that was blown up on Stalin's orders in 1931 and lavishly rebuilt after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In a short address at the end of the service, Medvedev said that the enthronement of a new patriarch offered "new conditions for a full-fledged dialogue" between the church and the state.
He also said that Russia's diversity placed extra responsibility on the patriarch. "Russia is a complicated state, inhabited by many different peoples, by followers of different faiths, and in this sense also the mission of the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is extremely notable," he said, without elaborating.
Likewise, Patriarch Kirill, 62, who has been taken to task in some quarters for the political tone of his sermons, addressed social and political themes on Sunday.
"It is our Christian duty to take care of those who are suffering, of orphans and the poor, of invalids and the aged, imprisoned and homeless, of everyone whom we can help to find hope," he said in softer tones than he had previously employed. "The voice of the church must become also the voice of the weak and those deprived of power, of those seeking justice."
Kirill, who as chairman of the church's external relations department oversaw the drafting of a document on social issues in 2000, is expected to weigh in on social and political issues more frequently than his predecessor did. The document addressed issues like abortion, globalization and poverty. At a Christmas service attended by Medvedev, Kirill spoke pointedly about the financial crisis.
"He is without a doubt more politicized than Aleksy," said Nikolai Mitrokhin, a church historian at the Center for East European Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany. "This is connected with his personal convictions. Primarily, he is more interested in politics, in pure politics."
He is also known for his strong nationalism, ecumenical activities and defense of traditional values, and for his use of television and the Internet to spread those messages.
He has been criticized by some and lauded by others for promoting ties with other churches, notably the Roman Catholic Church.
On Sunday, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, attended the service and several joined the procession at the end to kiss the cross held by Kirill, drawing sharp gasps from at least a few worshipers.
In another sign of outreach, Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev, the leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, handed Kirill a staff that once belonged to a 14th-century Russian metropolitan, a gesture meant to demonstrate unity. The church in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, has been divided over calls for independence from the Russian church.
Putin did not speak at the ceremony but joined Medvedev at the cathedral's altar to witness Kirill's ascension to the patriarchal throne.
The Russian Orthodox Church, estimated to have more than 140 million members, is the largest Orthodox church in the world.