By Andrei Zolotov

Russia Profile
February 2, 2010

The Patriarch's First Year in Office Has Laid The Ground Work For
Further Reform

When Patriarch Kirill celebrates Divine Liturgy, sound amplifiers
make every word he utters audible in every corner of the church -
including the Eucharistic prayers that priests usually whisper in
the altar during the main part of the service. Prior to Kirill's
enthronement in winter of 2009, the clergy were wary of his pro-Western
sympathies, reformer's zeal and forceful character that, the fear was,
could have led to a schism in the Russian Church. Now that the first
year of his patriarchate has elapsed, these fears can be said to have
been ungrounded.

For a long time, Eucharistic prayers said aloud have been a mark of
liberalism in the Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia, few priests
had the bishops' authorization to do so, and conservatives regarded
the practice as inadmissible. But Patriarch Kirill resorted to high
technologies to resolve the controversy - no one can accuse him of
articulating those prayers loudly. At the same time, everyone can
hear them. Thus the service becomes more intelligible and parishioners
feel more closely involved in it.

Joining hands

As we see now, our thoroughly conservative Church has been spared
upheavals that could have resulted in a schism. The Church is getting
more dynamic and taking steps toward the secular society. The
church hierarchy has sent out a clear message that there is much
more to be done. These first steps are just the beginning of a much
more ambitious course of action, meant to make the Church more open
while retaining the essence of Orthodoxy, even if the reform has no
detailed plans yet. "If we have taken at least a tiny step forward
this year for our contemporaries to see what the Church is about,
it is our common victory, however small it might be," the Patriarch
said in his Monday address to an audience of several thousand who
have gathered to congratulate him.

Church disputes are still seething, but with the establishment of
the Inter-Conciliar Assembly, they are acquiring an institutional
dimension. The Patriarch chaired the first meeting of its presidium on
the eve of the first anniversary of his enthronement. This trailblazing
consultative body was set up by the Local Council that had elected
Kirill to discuss pivotal Church issues. This body, somewhat similar
to Russia's contemporary Public Chamber, brings together bishops,
priests, monks, nuns and laypeople - in a way, the intellectual elite
of the Church, who will draft decisions on sensitive issues for future
Local Councils. The Assembly commissions bring Church liberals and
conservatives together. So, instead of a schism, the Church has been
invigorated by the Patriarch's will to bring its most active members
together and reconcile forces that were recently at war.

A meeting of bishops has been scheduled for the second day of
anniversary celebrations. There, the Patriarch is expected to discuss
further reforms behind closed doors. This is yet another manifestation
of his businesslike approach. The Patriarch has ordered bishops not
to come to Moscow for his saint's day, as tradition has it. Now, if
their gathering for the enthronement anniversary is to take place,
he wants them to do something practical.

Preaching to a stadium

Looking back over the first year of Kirill's patriarchate, two
directions can be deciphered in his activity - tireless preaching and
assembling intellectual forces able to take the Church's relations
with the world to a new level. This, again, boils down to preaching.

The Patriarch preaches during services (of which he has celebrated
230 during the year, according to his staff - more than any other
contemporary Russian priest), during television interviews, and at
stadiums, where he meets regularly with young people - something no
Russian bishop has ever done before. His sermons are explicit and
focus on ethical matters close to every heart, whether the person is
a practicing Christian or not.

One of his greatest achievements in the area of education is the
establishment of the Church Postgraduate and Doctoral School, whose
mission is to educate the Russian Orthodox elite, and the convocation
of a commission to develop the new Orthodox Catechism.

Leading the Russian world

The Patriarch has assumed the unique role of a spiritual leader not
just for Russia but for the entire Russian world - the religious and
cultural environment created by the Russian Orthodox Church. He is
not changing the essence of ecclesiastical life as it was during the
patriarchate of Alexy II, but is rearranging its priorities. Patriarch
Kirill is developing the concept of "Holy Rus'" - the spiritual union
of all inheritors to the Baptism of Rus' by Prince Vladimir of Kiev,
with the utmost respect for their patriotism and national statehood.

He likes to stress the fact that he is the Patriarch not of Russia
alone, but also of all nations "that have accepted the Russian
religious and cultural heritage as their basis or as a major part of
their ethnic identity."

His memorable visit to Ukraine last summer marked a milestone in the
lives of both these Slavic nations. The Patriarch wants to pay such
visits every year. His visits to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan
demonstrated that he sees himself as a shepherd of his "canonical
territory." During the patriarchate of Alexy II, the patriarchal
standard and a Russian national flag of the same size stood in
the patriarch's Throne Hall. These have now been replaced by a tall
patriarchal standard and smaller flags of the 15 countries the Moscow
Patriarchate presides over - all former Soviet states except Armenia
and Georgia, since the Patriarchate recognizes the status of the
Armenian Apostolic Church in Armenia and the Georgian Orthodox Church
in Georgia. There are also Japanese and Chinese flags because Russian
missionaries have established Orthodox Churches in those countries,
which vary in legal status and the size of their congregation.

The relations of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Kremlin have always
drawn close attention in Russia and abroad. In this, Patriarch
Kirill has met all expectations. He is positioning himself as a
respectful and respected independent partner - not subordinate -
of the secular government. The day when Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev pronounced invectives at the Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko, the Patriarch sent the Ukrainian president a message of
heartfelt gratitude for his hospitality. The Moscow Patriarchate
recognizes the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church over
Abkhazia and South Ossetia - the territories the Russian government
has recognized as independent. The two churches decided to exchange
envoys when Russian-Georgian diplomatic relations were severed.

As for domestic policy, sources in the Patriarchate say that the
Patriarch fends off pressure from the highest Kremlin offices without
entering into open conflict with them. At the same time, he has won
concessions from the secular government that his predecessors had
been trying to obtain for years. President Medvedev has approved the
introduction of religious disciplines at state schools in 19 regions -
on an experimental basis for the time being. He has also conceded to
the introduction of chaplains in the army. During his recent meeting
with the Patriarch, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that a law is
being drawn up on the restitution of ecclesiastical property. This
year, the Church will fully regain the renowned Novodevichy Convent
in Moscow, where a branch of the State History Museum coexists with
the nunnery and the diocesan administration of the Moscow Region.

Patriarch Kirill's public standing is also gaining ground. The scarcity
of intelligent, eloquent and outspoken leaders in contemporary Russia
makes him an especially impressive presence. The Patriarch never
wavers in opposing prevailing public opinion, as was the case with
his views of Joseph Stalin and the victory in World War II. He sees
the latter as nothing but "a miracle," considering the situation on
the ground at the time.

The mentor's behest

The Patriarch has reformed the ecclesiastical administration,
establishing new Synodal departments and redistributing the duties
of the old ones. He has made many personal appointments of pivotal
significance, and expanded the authority of bishops and rectors over
the parishes. On the whole, however, he is more circumspect about
canonical life and personnel placement than a daring reformer should
be. Besides, many of his administrative reforms exist only on paper
due to a lack of staff and funding.

The clergy say the Patriarch is following the advice of his mentor,
the late Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad, who said that a
newly appointed hierarch should never attempt to change anything in
his first year. The second year is better suited to launching reforms.

The future will show whether this is the case. Be that as it may,
both the Church and the public expect Patriarch Kirill to take his
reforms much further than the achievements of his first year of rule.