The date, January 27, also coincides with the 77th anniversary of the end of the siege of Leningrad (Kirill’s hometown) by the Nazis. He is often associated with “Putin’s luxuries”. But under his leadership the Orthodox Church has grown enormously. Risk of isolation after the break with Constantinople.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – At the end of the Octave of the Theophany of the Lord yesterday, the patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev), who will turn 75 in November, celebrated a Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving for his 12 years of patriarchy. He was elected on this date in 2009. The ceremony took place in the chapel of the holy prince Aleksandr Nevskij, in the dacha of Peredelkino (Moscow suburb) where the patriarch is in precautionary isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, therefore, there was no “synodal” celebration in honor of the patriarch, in which almost all the bishops of Russia participated in recent years.
The date also coincides with the 77th anniversary of the end of the siege of Leningrad (Kirill’s hometown) by the Nazis. For this the patriarch raised prayers in memory of the fallen in the years of the Great Patriotic War, for the health of the war veterans still alive and for all the survivors of the blokada, the terrible 900-day siege of Leningrad, the current St. Petersburg.
In these days of widespread protests and violent repression, Kirill is often associated with “Putin’s luxuries”: he has a seaside villa right next to the Pharaonic palace denounced by Alexei Naval’nyj. In these 12 years, the patriarch has been accused several times of connivance with the power of the oligarchs, indeed, since the 1990s he has often been referred to as “the ecclesiastical oligarch”.
Nonetheless, under his leadership the Orthodox Church has grown enormously: in its structures, in the churches restored and built from scratch, in the number of dioceses and monasteries, study institutes and seminaries, often thanks to the generous state subsidies or major entrepreneurs. After all, Kirill is the greatest advocate of the “State Church”, not so much in compromise with political power, but in the inspiration that the Church offers for the development of society and its structures.
However, the pandemic has revealed many internal conflicts within the Russian Church, which until now the patriarch had somehow managed to keep under control. These now risk creating divisions and factions in many parts of the country. The most critical phase of his patriarchal ministry coincided with the breakdown of relations with the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople due to Ukrainian autocephaly. It is leading to a situation of increasing isolation of Moscow from the other Orthodox Churches of the world.
The challenge that awaits the patriarch of Moscow, after this period full of contradictions, is that of truly fulfilling the vocation he himself proclaimed so much of sobornost, of spiritual unity in the Church and in society. He will have to bring the hierarchy closer to the lower clergy, the priests to the people, the young to the not so young, the Russians to non-Russians. Above all, he will have to give back to the Church its true role in society, that of proclaiming the Gospel and educating in the faith, without getting carried away by the dreams of grandeur of Putin’s politics, or by the apocalyptic utopias of the starets and the most radical monks.
If the Russian president sees a consensus that seemed rock-solid and long-term falter, the patriarch – who is called to lead the Church for life – does not need to protect his throne. He can truly be a point of reference for the people of God and for men of good will, in the face of the possible changes that await Russia and the whole world.