Next week, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill will convene in Cuba for the first time in over 1,000 years as leaders of two of Christianity’s main denominations. It also marks a momentous step towards reconciling the East-West schism that once divided Christianity.
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Patriarch Kirill or Cyril is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an avid supporter of President Putin. He has played a pivotal role in pushing Russia towards conservatism through social values advocacy.
Some see him as the leader who will restore true Orthodox faith in Russia, while others fear he will turn the Church into a bastion of superstition and lies. At this early stage, it’s impossible to tell which path this leader will take; however, many hope for an eventual restoration.
Graduate of Leningrad University, he originally intended to join the Physics Department but was persuaded by his confessor to attend the Seminary instead. Ordained as a priest in 1969 and appointed Patriarch in 2009, his career took an unexpected turn.
Few years ago, most of the Republic of Chechnya’s constituent entities were faced with the difficult choice between opposing Patriarch Kirill’s support of war or remaining loyal to him. Those who spoke out risked becoming Kremlin agents in their home countries with all its legal and reputational repercussions.
The Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) is an autocephalous Local Orthodox Church that extends its jurisdiction over all Orthodox Christians living in former member republics of the Soviet Union and their diasporas abroad.
Throughout the Soviet era, the Orthodox Church faced opposition from both Communist regime and secular state. However, after Patriarch Pimen’s passing in 1990, it regained much of its influence and enjoyed greater trust from people than other social or political institutions.
Kirill was also successful in rebuilding the institutional Church by expanding central ecclesiastical administration and opening new dioceses. Additionally, he enhanced priest training programs and increased the number of parishes.
Church growth has been restricted due to a large unchurched population of religious but distrusting believers and cultural threats posed by globalization. Furthermore, due to censure from Orthodox right, patriarchs have very limited power over their faithful following.
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate
The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate (ROC) is one of the autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches and ranks fifth among all Orthodox churches worldwide. Its jurisdiction extends to Eastern Orthodox believers living in former member republics of the Soviet Union as well as diaspora communities around the world.
The ROC has jurisdiction over the autonomous Church of Japan and Chinese Orthodox Church. It also holds eparchies and self-governing Churches in several countries such as Estonia, Belarus, China, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has a complex relationship with the Russian government. They have sought both formal and informal demands such as recovering their property, restricting other religious organizations from competing on Russian territory, and introducing Orthodox chaplains into the military.
The Moscow Patriarchate
The Russian Orthodox Church was established in 1700 by Patriarch Adrian and is one of the four autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches, ranking fifth after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Its jurisdiction extends to former member republics of the Soviet Union as well as their diasporas worldwide and Orthodox Christians living in People’s Republic of China.
The highest administrative bodies of the Russian Orthodox Church are Pomestny Sobor, bishops’ council and holy synod chaired by patriarch Vladimir of Moscow and All Russia. These institutions interpret and preserve church teaching, maintain unity between local Orthodox churches, canonize saints and elect a patriarch.
Recently, however, Patriarch Kirill has established a top-down power structure within the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), using it to push aside other smaller Orthodox churches around the world and take control of their local communities of faith. This is particularly troubling given Patriarch Kirill’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.