The Local Council chose the new head of the Church from a list of three candidates selected on Sunday by the Council of Bishops and Patriarchs. In addition to Kirill and Kliment, Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk was the third candidate, but he pulled out during the day and votes that could have gone to him went instead to the “winner.”
The local Council included the prelates of the Russian Orthodox Church and representatives of the clergy, men and women religious and the laity from every Russian Orthodox community from around the world.
Out of 711 delegates more than half were from the Russian Federation and 27 per cent from the Ukraine. Altogether more than 60 nations were represented.
Compared to Tsarist and Soviet times, this election was presented as the least touched by external influence. Never the less, since the death of Patriarch Aleksij II in early December an election-style campaign was organised in favour of Kirill.
Initially state and Church publications described him as the most modern and open of candidates. But later, fearing he might be accused of being too internationalist or close to the Pope of Rome a campaign was launched to present him as staunch defender of Orthodoxy.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, spokesman for the Patriarchate, noted for example that it was Kirill who in the 1990s blocked “Western missionaries”, often accused of proselytism and of trying to “gain control over the Russian people.”
In his report on the state of the Patriarchate, which he delivered Tuesday to the Local Council as locum tenens on the patriarchal throne, Kirill said that “there can be no question about compromise of faith with other confessions.”
According to some analysts, given his experience in the Patriarchate’s External Relations Department Kirill is the best known Orthodox figure outside of Russia, and is said to be somewhat close to Catholics. However, in a recent interview with the Trud newspaper he said that the future Patriarch and the Pope cannot meet “unless we see some real progress in the issues that have long been problematic in our relations.”
Also Kirill’s election was favoured by revelations made in recent days by Alexander Pochinok, former head of the Russian Federal Tax Service who cleared the new patriarch from accusations stemming from allegations made against him in a notorious scandal involving tobacco, alcohol and Mercedes Benz imported into Russia as tax-free “humanitarian material”. In an interview with Izvestia, Pochinok laid the blame for the scheme on the doorstep of Kliment of Kaluga, Kirill’s challenger in the election.
Born Vladimir Michajlovič Gundjaev on 20 November 1946 in Saint-Petersburg (then Leningrad), the new patriarch is the son of an Orthodox priest. After studying in Leningrad’s seminary and Theological Academy he was consecrated monk on 3 April 1969 by Metropolitan Nikodim Rotov and served as the latter’s secretary till 1971. During this period the future patriarch also taught dogmatic theology at the seminary and Theological Academy.
Between 1971 and 1974 he represented the Moscow Patriarchate at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Between 1974 and 1984 he was rector of the seminary and Theological Academy in Leningrad.
He became bishop in 1976 and archbishop in 1977. On 26 December 1984 he was named to the diocese of Smolensk and has been the archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad since 1988.
On 13 November 1989 he became the president of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. On 25 February 1991 he was appointed metropolitan.
A permanent member of the Holy Synod, he was elected locum tenens pf the Patriarchate on 6 December 2008.
In the last 20 years Kirill has traditionally favoured accommodation with the government, albeit without the same submissiveness that prevailed during the Communist era. In fact he has been the ideologue and moving force behind Russia’s political transition of the last ten years, supporter of a reborn pride in Russia as a Christian Orthodox world power, standing somewhere between the Protestant-Catholic West, increasingly decadent and secularised, and the emerging East, torn by its many religious fanaticisms.