Two images of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, the top one taken in 1981 when he was about 35 (taken at a conference on nuclear weapons and disarmament in Amsterdam, Holland), the second one taken recently. Kirill has been the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church for 12 years, since February 1, 2009, when he succeeded the late Patriarch Alexi II. He is now 74. Yesterday, Kirill made some intriguing statements about what happened in the days after the Soviet Union fell (see below)
Letter #20, 2021, Tuesday, April 27: Kirill
From the heart of Russia
Today I write to send you a brief, but quite important, recollection published yesterday, April 26, in Russia.
The recollection is that of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarch, Kirill, now 74.
It concerns critical moments at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Kirill was then in his mid-40s (so, about 10 years older than he is in the photo at the opening of this letter, which was taken in 1981, when he was 35).
Kirill says that powerful men in Russia at that time offered the Orthodox Church leadership a role in leading post-Soviet Russia.
And he says the Church leaders refused the offer, recognizing that the Church must offer spiritual life to souls, not temporal peace and prosperity for their fleshly bodies — as important and filled with dignity as those bodies, those “temples of the Holy Spirit,” may be precisely because they are “in the image and likeness of God.”
So these recollections of Kirill seem important for all who are interested in Russia, and in the Russian people, and in the Christian faith in Russia, and in the role of Russia in history, both secular history and salvation history.
And perhaps one of you, my readers, might help me regarding a perplexity I have: why does Kirill recall these events publicly now, precisely now?
Kirill has been the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since 2009.
Yet now is the first time he has ever spoken about these historic events.
What Kirill tells us is that, as the Soviet Union began to collapse — one may imagine a huge iceberg slipping slowly off of a coastal glacier, in Greenland perhaps, into the sea, with a mighty, colossal splash into the icy ocean waters, as what had seemed so durable suddenly slides and breaks apart into myriad fragments — a proposal was made by key players in Russia to the Russian Church.
And Kirill says the proposal was rejected.
One thinks of the temptations that the devil proposed to Jesus after Jesus had spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert: that the devil would grant Jesus political power over all the earth, if Jesus would agree to bow down and offer worship to the devil.
Jesus rejected that temptation, saying that only God is worthy of worship and adoration.
Kirill says that the Russian Church leaders rejected that offer then, in the early 1990s, and I wonder if they did not have the same reason: only God is worthy of our worship and adoration, not any political party or system or any prince of this world, no matter how many benefactions such a prince may appear to bestow upon us.
So I wonder if Kirill perhaps speaks out now because he sees a similar danger in our time, and wishes to warn Christians everywhere not to yield to a similar temptation that looms. Would that be a possible correct interpretation of his remarks?
Here are Patriarch Kirill’s recollections (link):
26 April 2021, 11:50
Patriarch Kirill speaks of offer to head up opposition in 1990s
Moscow, April 26, Interfax — Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said he had received an offer to head up the opposition in the early 1990s.
“Older people remember that there was a real civil conflict over the White House. [Note: The residence of the Russian president.]
“Multidirectional political will of various political forces was concentrated there.
“I was then a permanent member of the Holy Synod and chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, who was in charge of interaction, including with the government and public organizations.
“Knowing about that, a delegation of deputies came to me, asking me to lead the struggle against the hated regime or the attempts of the hated leader, I will not say that name, you know it well.
“And [they wanted] the Church to lead that struggle,” Patriarch Kirill said on Pussy-Willow Sunday [Palm Sunday, April 25 this year in the Orthodox calendar] after a liturgy in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
The patriarch said he had just been told he had to go into the White House, take power and give it to the deputies.
“And we will all support you, and you, not me personally, but the Church, you will go down in history as the savior of Russia, that will lead to a sharp increase in religiousness, you will get new Church members if you head up the political struggle now,” the deputies said to the Church leader, according to Patriarch Kirill.
“I did not find any words except to say that the entire experience of the Church, Universal and Russian, shows that if the Church gets political power it becomes part of political struggle, it immediately gets political opponents, and there may be Orthodox Christians among political opponents.
“It means the Church, fighting for power or receiving power, inevitably breeds an opposition, including one that may include Orthodox Christians. The Church becomes a factor of people’s division,” Patriarch Kirill said.
Patriarch Kirill said he had asked himself the question as to whether the Church could be an authority, the house and spiritual mother to everyone if it identified itself with a specific political force and became a factor of political struggle.
“Never! Because a person who comes up to a church could [then] ask whether the people here are my political friends or my political foes.
“And today no one can ask themselves this question when they come to the doors of an Orthodox church, they are open to everyone, to all our people,” the patriarch said.
[End, Kirill’s recollection]
The Unitas Project
We have met on several occasions with Patriarch Kirill.
He has encouraged us to believe that Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodox may work together on common projects while we wait patiently for the slow work of theological dialogue to address disputed questions to take its course.
This has provided a foundation for our newest work, a work which we are about to launch worldwide: Unitas: “Come, Rebuild My Church.”
We are looking for 24 “Elders” and 153 “Founding Members” (we already have 60 of these Founding Members) to become the principal sponsors of this work, which will use every means to restore unity within the Catholic Church and to recover unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We would particularly like to include some members of the Orthodox faith.
With your support and encouragement, we will continue the work we have begun, seeking to bring Mary back to Russia, and to bring the “lux ex oriente” (“the light from the East”) back to the increasingly materialistic West.
Unitas: “Come, Rebuild My Church” will carry out initiatives to build unity — within the Catholic Church, and between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and in doing so between each of our souls and God one stone at a time… one living stone at a time… in the hope of the promise…