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New Russian Patriarch Kirill Elected in Moscow Synod

By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 28th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Most observers of the growing warmth between the two churches received this news of the election of Patriarch Kirill with great hope.

MOSCOW (Catholic Online) - As observant Christians throughout the world watched and prayed, deeply aware of the importance of the choice of the next Russian Orthodox Patriarch, the delegates to the Synod in Moscow gathered. The event, bathed in prayer, was the venue for an historic vote to choose the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

The beautiful Cathedral of Christ the Savior hosted the gathering of electors. Not only the Orthodox world, but the Catholic world - indeed the entire Christian world - watched in hope as the proceedings unfolded. There is a growing recognition that we who bear the name Christian live in a new missionary age and need one another to be faithful to the task we now face in an increasingly secularized culture.

As is the custom, the tolling of the bells announced on Tuesday that the election was complete. First to toll was the bell referred to as the ‘Czars Bell’. It was followed in sequence with the Bells chiming a melody dating back to the 17th century. The new Patriarch had been chosen!

As expected by many observers, Metropolitan Krill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad is now the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The highly regarded Metropolitan Kirill had served as the interim leader when the Office was vacant, the “guardian”. When the ballots were counted, he had collected 72% of the votes of all who had assembled. To be elected Patriarch, the candidate must receive more than half of the votes.

Metropolitan Isidor, charged with certifying the results, stepped up to the beautiful ambo of the glorious Cathedral of Christ the Savior to proclaim that the Orthodox Christian faithful had a new Patriarch. The new Patriarch will be crowned next Sunday in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and record crowds are expected.

This was the first election of a Patriarch since the fall of the atheist Communist regime which governed the former Soviet Union for so many years. The beloved Patriarch Alexy II died on Dec. 5, 2008 at the age of 79. He had served as the Russian Orthodox Patriarch since 1990.

The new Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill received a majority during the first round of votes. As is the custom, they were collected during a secret ballot of clergy. In accordance with the canonical procedure for Patriarchal election, the balloting then progressed to today’s vote. Over 700 delegates, including members of the hierarchy, clergy, monks and lay faithful, had convened for this historic election.

The setting of Christ the Savior Cathedral is right within the view of the Kremlin. It holds a deep significance for the Russian Orthodox faithful. Under the brutal regime of Josef Stalin, the Cathedral had been demolished by dynamite in 1931. Its rebuilding in the 1990’s stands as a symbol of a resurgent Orthodox Church in Russia and the growing hope for the revival of Orthodox Christianity around the world.

The new Patriarch is considered to be theologically and doctrinally solid and a man of deep faith. He is a champion of the Tradition and stalwart defender of the doctrine of the ancient Faith. He is also known to be very concerned over the moral decline of Russian, European and the broader western culture. Yet, some within the Church do not see him as “orthodox” enough. Most observers see this reticence as based upon a concern among some of the Orthodox faithful that he has shown openness to dialogue with the Holy See.

Patriarch Kirill is articulate and outspoken when it comes to his strong critique of the current decline of moral values, the hostility of the contemporary culture toward the Church and the growing rejection of Christian influence throughout the world. He has called upon Orthodox Christians to be actively involved in reclaiming the culture with the values informed by the ancient faith. In that work, he has also expressed his support for their collaboration with Catholics.

He served as the interim leader of the Church during the process leading up to the selecting a new Patriarch Tuesday. The day began with prayers invoking the Holy Spirit. The faithful gathered outside, carrying icons and chanting their prayers together. They beseeched the Holy Spirit to guide the process. Many carried banners expressing their faith and their hope. One expressed the sentiment of many in the crowd quite clearly. It read: "The Holy Spirit Will Point Out The Worthy One." By the end of the day most felt the Holy Spirit had indeed done just that.

The new Patriarch has hosted his own television program for over ten years entitled “Words of a Pastor”. He is known as a wise and gifted teacher and preacher. Some reports have emphasized his recent comments reaffirming the doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches as an indication that he is somehow not going to continue the dialogue with the Holy See. However, both Orthodox and Catholic leaders are well aware of those differences. Rather than an obstacle they believe such honesty provides a framework for making real progress in their efforts.

What is most promising is the rediscovery between Orthodox and Catholic Christians of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ with a mission. There is a recognition that there is much that joins theologically faithful Catholics and theologically faithful Orthodox today. Most observers of the growing warmth between the two churches received this news of the election of Patriarch Kirill with great hope.

The new Patriarch recently noted "in the Vatican and not only in the Vatican but all over the world, Catholics understand that Orthodox (people) are their allies. And Orthodox (people) are more and more coming to understand that Catholics are their allies in the face of hostile and non-religious secularism."

The late Servant of God John Paul II wrote and spoke regularly of the need for the Church to breathe once again with “two lungs”, East and West. Patriarch Kirill’s election gives many, myself included, a growing conviction that day may truly be on the horizon.

“May he have many years!”

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