The Orthodox Leader Most Familiar to Russian Protestants
Metropolitan Kirill elected as Russia’s new Patriarch
M o s c o w -- Russian Baptist leadership believes the election of Metropolitan Kirill as “Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia” in the Russian capital on January 27 can be interpreted as a clear vote for openness and dialogue. The Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) has chosen as its new head the leader best-known – and most-criticised - for his openness to other confessions. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ (RUECB) Department for External Church Relations, states: “I am very optimistic. Kirill is the ROC’s most brilliant metropolitan. In our short personal meetings he has always been very kind and respectful. Most top-level Protestant contacts with the Moscow Patriarchate have occurred through him.” He is the major Orthodox leader with whom Russian Protestants are personally most familiar.
Kirill has been active in interconfessional bodies such as the Geneva-based World Council of Churches since 1971. RUECB-President Yuri Sipko points out that he is therefore also the Russian Orthodox leader best-known to the world church community in general. Kirill has headed the ROC’s Department for External Church Relations since 1989. Sipko describes him as a “very creative, highly-educated and highly-organized leader. He is a very vigorous and patriotic servant of his church. I am convinced that our relationship with him will continue in a spirit of brotherly love and respect.” In a congratulatory letter addressed to the new Patriarch Sipko writes: “We highly appreciate the huge contribution you have made in the development of interconfessional and interreligious dialogue.”
Pastor Vlasenko notes that Metropolitan Kirill has been instrumental in the creation of two interconfessional bodies of vital interest to Russian Protestants. Though presently inactive, the reconvening of the Orthodox-Protestant-Catholic “Christian Inter-Confessional Advisory Committee for the CIS-Countries and Baltics” (CIAC) in Moscow on 2 October 2008 after a hiatus of seven years was due largely to the efforts of Kirill. Orthodox-Baptist consolations on moral values - the third and most-recent sessions were held in February 2007 - would also have been impossible without the Metropolitan’s vital support. Russian Baptist leaderships hope both of these gatherings will be resumed in the foreseeable future.
Yet Dr. Peter Mitskevich, Rector of Moscow Theological Seminary and the RUECB’s Senior Vice-President, cautions that one should not expect a quick resolution of on-going differences. “The new Patriarch will remain dependent upon the opinions and convictions of his colleagues elsewhere in Russia.” Both Mitskevich and Sipko speak of continuity. Sipko believes that Patriarch Alexei II, who died last December 5, had already started down the road towards dialogue and fraternity with Russia’s Protestants. He states: “I am deeply convinced, that Kirill’s term as head of the Russian Orthodox Church will be a continuation of that good tradition put into place by Alexei II.”
Despite his openness to interconfessional relations, Kirill, born in Leningrad as Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev in 1946, is clearly a moral and theological conservative - also the case among Russian Baptists. After Kirill had criticised the Ecumenical movement and appealed for a revival of Western conservatism and the Christian state at the European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu/Romania in September 2007, it was the Russian Baptists who came to his defence. Vitaly Vlasenko stated at that time: “For European society we Russians are still strangers – and that includes me.” (See our press release from 13.9.2007.)
Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad since 1991, will be enthroned as Patriarch on 1 February. A festive reception will take place the following day. RUECB-leadership has been invited to attend these events.
Though regular attendance is low, as many as 100 million of Russia’s 142 million citizens may consider themselves Orthodox. The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 29 January 2009
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Release #09-02, 615 words, 4.128 keystrokes and spaces.