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Home arrow World arrow Russians queue to view patriarch as interim head tightens grip
Russians queue to view patriarch as interim head tightens grip PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 08 December 2008

by Nick Coleman*

Russians yesterday paid respects to late patriarch Alexy II as his likely successor stamped his authority on commemorations and experts said reconciliation with Rome remained far off.
Thousands of people stood in a queue that snaked around Christ the Saviour cathedral, waiting to file past the robed body of the patriarch as he lay in state, a veil obscuring his bearded features.
Amid round-the-clock commemorations in the vast cathedral built under Alexy and former president Boris Yeltsin, the man named interim leader of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Kirill, called for Russians to unite.
"We should all respond to the Saviour's call to maintain unity, fraternity and jointly defend the beauty and strength of our Church, so that God's strength is given to all our people," he said.
President Dmitry Medvedev paid tribute to the 79-year-old patriarch who died on Friday, describing him as a "leading humanitarian" and ordering the cancellation of entertainment events and broadcasts on the day of the funeral tomorrow, the Kremlin said.
Among those queuing to view the body, many with flowers and bouquets, some were sceptical about Saturday's vote by a closed council of archbishops which selected Kirill as "guardian of the throne" of the patriarch.
The selection of the powerful head of the Church's foreign relations department was seen as likely to lead to his confirmation as patriarch by a general synod of the Church within six months.
"Alexy for me was like a relation. I deeply respected him. Kirill I view with caution," said Nina Kaufman.
"He has a different sphere of activity. His role is a political one and he has his place. But for this position one needs other attributes," she said.
Scorn was poured on the selection process by contributors to an independent religious affairs website, (, which hosted an array of criticism, including one likening the process to the appointment of Soviet leaders who presided at their predecessors' funerals.
"In the 'Metropolitbureau,' everything is proceeding according to a design that was worked out and tested by the also highly vertical Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," ran the comment.
Religious affairs experts struggled to weigh up the choice of interim leader to replace Alexy, who led the Russian Orthodox Church's post-Communist revival.
Kirill's long contacts with other Churches will mean maintaining such links, which are viewed with hostility by some conservatives. But this does not augur a healing of poisonous ties with the Roman Catholic Church, said religions expert Sergei Filatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
While some reports suggest Medvedev could seek a reconciliation, the two Churches have long been deeply split, their differences symbolised in the figure of the late Polish pope John Paul II and played out in territorial squabbles.
Experts say Kirill's public statements in recent years have increasingly been tinged with nationalism.
"All his principle political statements have been to the effect that we must construct a fundamentally Orthodox civilization and state, that the Church must do everything to help construct such a state," said Filatov.
"It's difficult to imagine he'll be sympathetic to Catholicism," he said.
Meanwhile a biographical profile of Kirill on Credo.Ru said both his father and grandfather had been imprisoned for their religious belief in the Soviet-era.
But despite this family history of persecution, the website said Kirill, like much of the Church leadership, had been hand-in-glove with the KGB secret police during his wide-ranging foreign travels on behalf of the Church.
The site also took issue with the Church's substantial commercial activity, stemming from tax privileges granted by the state.


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