100 Days of Patriarch Kirill

"Today, the church and society are in fact one and the same thing," a spokesman for Kirill said. "Our believers go to discotheques and rock concerts, and if there's a chance to give some church tinge to such youth gatherings, if young people are glad to hear a few words from a priest, why shouldn't he go there and say a few words?"
On March 8 in Moscow, Kirill showed the type of spirit that he is bringing to his pastoral task. He warned during a Sunday sermon not to trust radical Orthodox believers who are battling for the "purity of faith" and whose motto is "Orthodoxy or death!"

"When we meet a man who claims to be fighting for the purity of Orthodoxy, but his eyes are lit with the fire of anger ... if we find someone who is ready to shake the foundation of church life to defend Orthodoxy ... this is the first sign of that we have a wolf in sheep's clothing," he said.

On March 17, during a ceremony at the Danilovsky Monastery marking the return of the church bells that had spent the past 80 years at Harvard University in safekeeping, Kirill told John Beyrle, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, that the bells were a symbol of the improving relationship between the two countries.

On April 1, Kirill met with Putin and said his goal was to make the churches that were opened during the reign of Alexy II flourish. In this way, Kirill hopes to bring benefit to Russian society by promoting Christian values.

On April 9, Kirill met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Moscow. He stressed the need to deepen relations between Russians and Ukrainians, calling them people from "the same nation."

Kirill has proven to be a capable administrator. He has gathered around himself a team of well-trained and capable younger clerics and laymen to help him implement his vision for the church and the nation. Kirill's team includes Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, 42, who has filled Kirill's former post as head of the external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Today, Kirill is arguably one of the most influential men in Russia. When he was enthroned as Patriarch Alexy II's successor in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, the church was filled with the country's beau monde and top political leaders. The first person to receive communion from him was the first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva.

Moreover, Kirill's vision has a fully European scope, going far beyond the borders of the country. Kirill now heads a church with about 140 million adherents, far larger than the Anglican Church and second only to the Roman Catholic Church. With a significant percent of Orthodox believers living outside Russia, this gives the church a truly global reach.

But statistics are less important than suffering and faith. The Russian Orthodox Church suffered greatly under Soviet rule. Now it has re-emerged from the catacombs following the collapse of the Soviet Union 17 years ago to take on a greater role in post-Soviet Russia.

Despite the enormous challenges that the Orthodox Church faces, now is the time of promise and hope for a country that has become highly secularized. Kirill evidently hopes that it will be a "Orthodox moment" for the church as well as the country.

One of Pope John Paul II's most important goals was to put an end to the scourge of atheist communism, and Pope Benedict XVI still passionately hopes to see the restoration of a unified church. While Kirill has not spoken in terms of unification, he has helped improved ties with Rome. This explains why Benedict has made numerous gestures toward Kirill of welcome and appreciation since the moment that he was elected patriarch on Jan. 27.

After observing Kirill's first 100 days, it is clear that he and the Orthodox Church aim to play an increasing role in Russian life and perhaps extend this reach to Europe and the rest of the world.

Leonid Sevastyanov is a general manager at StratinvestRu and a consultant to the Moscow Patriarchate. Robert Moynihan is a president of the Urbi et Orbi foundation.

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