Voices from Russia

Friday, 30 January 2009

The New Patriarch Made His First Decision: He Does Not Need the Glory of a “Reformer”


Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (1946- ), the Patriarch-elect of Moscow and all the Russias, at the St Sergius-Holy Trinity Lavra in Sergeyev Posad


Yesterday, the Local Council of the MP, which had elected Metropolitan Kirill Gundyaev of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias the day before, completed its work. The new First Hierarch of the MP has already made his first official statement, making it clear that “no reforms shall descend from above; I shall not traumatise the people”. Meanwhile, a debate has unfolded about possible staff changes in the leadership ranks of the MP. Despite the fact that Metropolitan Kirill is considered to be a “modernist” in Church terms, one of the first statements that he made after his election was couched in conservative terms. “God forbid! We’ve already had one patriarch go down in history with the name of a reformer”, he said, as quoted yesterday by Interfax. “But, there are changes that grow organically from within the lived experience of the people. Did the life of the Church remain static and unchanging during the life of my predecessor? So, shall you who call my predecessor, His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei, a reformer?!”

One could say that a radical transformation of church life began yesterday. Thus, according to Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, a debate unfolded at the Local Council of the debate unfolded on the status of this body. Individual delegates proposed to limit the powers of the Local Council to purely deliberative functions, and to transfer all decisions of substance, particularly in the area of faith and dogma, to the Archpastoral Council (the members of this body are the 140 ruling bishops, whilst the Local Council adds clerical, monastic, and lay representatives). Metropolitan Kirill noted that, throughout the history of the Church, the ecumenical councils established dogma and doctrine, and these bodies were composed entirely of bishops. Nonetheless, the newly-elected patriarch reassured the faithful, “No reforms shall descend from above; I shall not traumatise the people”. He called the laity and clergy to actively seek out answers at further conferences, and, perhaps, he would create a new forum for such debate.

However, in the lobbies, the Council delegates discussed possible staffing changes in the leadership ranks of the MP. Will the patriarch reward his supporters and punish his opponents who came forward during the election campaign? Recall the key role played in the election of Kirill to the patriarchal office by the senior members of the Holy Synod, Metropolitans Vladimir Sabodan of Kiev, Philaret Vakhromeyev of Minsk, and Yuvenaly Poyarkov of Krutitsky and Kolomna. They declined to campaign for the patriarchal throne at the very beginning of the election process, and Metropolitan Philaret gave a boost to Vladyki Kirill at the end, as he was one of the three candidates named for consideration by the Local Council, but, he took himself out of the running, calling on his supporters to vote for Kirill. Observers in the MP told Kommersant that they found this attitude of the senor hierarchs remarkable, “They have everything except for the post of patriarch, but, they refused the honour”.

“But, the main thing is that Metropolitan Kirill always proceeded from the position of not making any [pre-election] promises. He did this to preserve his freedom of action in decision-making”, said Deacon Andrei Kuraev, who seemed to be Metropolitan Kirill’s PR man before the election. Vladimir Legoida, the editor of the Orthodox journal Foma (Thomas), also believed that if there are personnel changes in the MP, if such occur, they will not depend on the personal feelings of Vladyki Kirill. “We should not forget that holding office in the MP is not that sort of thing”.

Most in the Church doubt that Vladyki Kirill has designs of humiliating his opponents. A source close to the MP leadership told Kommersant, “Here, for example, take Metropolitan Feofan of Stavropol, who is considered to be a supporter of Metropolitan Kliment. Now, the elections are over, so, let’s look at the facts. Feofan is a successful manager of a diocese in a convoluted situation. Why should the patriarch remove him?” However, it is necessary for the new patriarch to attend to at least two questions. Firstly, he has to find his replacement as the head of the MP Department for External Church Relations (DECR). Secondly, he must name a new archpastor to the Diocese of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Kommersant learned from informed sources in the MP that the new head of the DECR will likely be the current Deputy Chairman of the DECR, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, or Bishop Mark Golovkov of Yegorevsk. However, there are some in the Church that do not exclude that this post could be offered to Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev. Most believe that the post of archpastor of the Diocese of Smolensk and Kaliningrad shall be taken by one of the vicar-bishops. According to information received by Kommersant, Bishop Seraphim, the vicar-bishop of the Diocese of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, is being considered for the post, but, some think him quite young for the job, as he is only 48-years-old.

However, nevertheless, some experts associate with the election of a new patriarch the beginning of changes in church policies. Aleksandr Dugin, a member of the Presidium of the World Russian People’s Congress, said, “The church will begin a new phase, but, its fundamental basis shall not change, I am sure. If, in the time of Patriarch Aleksei, the ‘foreign policy’ of the church was moderate and rather defensive, now, it shall go on the offensive. Vladyki Kirill shall lead the Church into society and assert the core values of Orthodoxy. The MP shall come out against postmodernism, liberal culture, and libertine individuality”. In support of his words, he recalled that the Declaration on Human Rights and Dignity, in which the liberal system of values of the contemporary bourgeois world was subjected to severe criticism (which, in turn, caused indignation on the part of many “human-rights activists”), was formulated by Metropolitan Kirill.

The enthronement of the new patriarch is set for 1 February. After entering his new post, he will move to the working residence of the First Hierarch of the MP in Chisty Pereulok in Moscow. Also at his disposal will be the official residence in the Danilovsky Monastery, the dacha in Peredelkino near Moscow, where he lives, and special apartments in many stavropegial monasteries.

29 January 2009

Yuliya Tarututa

Pavel Korobov

Kommersant (The Businessman)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion



Love Russia


Novodevichy Monastery (Vladimir Sobolev, 2001)

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the marvels of Russia and its citizens in this column. Some familiar facts and rituals, so commonplace for Russians, turned out to be a great and mysterious novelty to foreigners. Russia is famously an enigma wrapped in mystery, with its numerous questions and controversies, and these peculiar features make us what we are. Trying to find out more, I understood why I am Russian. Never before have I felt so patriotic. Never before have I taken such a pride in my country and its people. I discovered myself with you, dear reader. Looking afresh at all these peculiarities, I learned a lot to pass on to you. I hope the process was enlightening for both of us. I am not a connoisseur of Russia, though. Nobody can be, as this land embraces an extremely wide range of creeds and ideas, customs and traditions, feelings and faces.

Once, in primary school, a teacher asked my class to draw a picture of Russia and left it up to us to choose what to draw. Everyone could choose a personal vision, some image which defined their homeland. A child’s perception of the world is an honest one. We drew many pictures of matrioshkas, bears, Russia’s giant territory on the map, and so on. My picture showed a birch tree that was growing into a beautiful lady. For me, this was a tangible image of my country. The lady symbolised the entire nation, the birch tree an image of something strong, but, fragile. Thus, in her simple way, the teacher helped us to understand the meaning of the proud name ‘Russia’. I hope I have helped you uncover this magnificent country. Not entirely, of course, as that’s impossible even for Russians. Now that you know more about my Motherland, I want you to love Russia as well. To love a country that you can’t understand with your mind alone, as Fyodor Tutchev wrote in one of his lyrical masterpieces:

You will not grasp her with your mind

Or cover with a common label,

For Russia is one of a kind –

Believe in her, if you are able…

This stanza has already been quoted in one of my columns, but, its sense is so deep that it reflects the feelings of many Russians. Yes, believe in her as the poet said. This country needs belief, for despite all its strengths, it has a feminine spirit. Like every lady, it wants some love and warmth throughout its existence. Since Russia is feminine, it hides a number of secrets that “cannot be grasped with your mind”, but, they all make her unique. It is always wrong to judge by surface appearances, whether we think of people or their countries.

Don’t apply some common yardstick and don’t believe those who speak about Russia in generalities. Stereo­types exist for every nation and every country. We tend to accept the favourable ones and focus our attention on the negative and critical opinions of others. In Russia, we rarely say farewell, so, I say goodbye. Please, discover my country yourself. It’s not that difficult, just feel it, and let it feel you. But, I ask you… love Russia. If you manage to find this love inside you, you will understand this country a bit better.

29 January 2009

Daria Chernyshova

A Russian Briefer

Moscow News


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