Ecumenical leaders, including Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, welcomed the election of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and of all Russia.
Patriarch Kirill I, 62, was elected by an overwhelming majority of a council of the entire Russian Orthodox Church on Jan. 27 at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, says Ecumenical News International (ENI).
He succeeds Patriarch Alexei II, who died on Dec. 5 “after guiding the world’s largest Orthodox church of more than 140 million people through the turbulent post-Soviet era,” said ENI.
“Your noble and historic church has remained faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ through difficult days and has been blessed in recent times with renewed energy and opportunities to witness,” said Archbishop Hiltz in a congratulatory letter to Patriarch Kirill I. “Your holiness is known for your support for ecumenical relations and we look forward to your continued leadership in the oikoumene.”
Pope Benedict XVI also congratulated the new leader, saying, “May the almighty also bless your efforts to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue.”
Rev. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said, “We recognize the church leader, who has played an important role in the realm of inter-religious dialogue and international relations.”
The general secretary of the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches (CEC), Archdeacon Colin Williams, said he hoped that Patriarch Kirill’s election would bring the Russian church back into the church grouping. The Russian church suspended its membership in CEC in 2008 following dispute about the non-admittance to CEC of the Orthodox Church in Estonia.
Patriarch Kirill’s election was announced live on national television, “as the cathedral’s bells rang out and cameras panned over rows of black-robed hierarchs and hundreds of other delegates from around Russia, the former Soviet Union and the world, who came to the local council to elect the new patriarch,” said ENI.
Born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev in 1946, both his grandfather and father served time in Soviet prison camps.