Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The first Holy Synod under the direction of newly elected Patriarch Kirill has concluded with a revolution in the Curia of the Russian Orthodox Church. In practice, the powerful Department for External Relations (DECR) is being dismantled. Kirill himself had led the department until his election as successor to Alexy II.
The DECR will be headed by Ilarion Alfeev, who until now was bishop of Vienna, and was a proponent of Kirill's election. But the department is being gutted, and the management of relations with dioceses, branches, monasteries, and parishes is passing directly under the patriarch's supervision. For this purpose, the Synod has instituted a secretariat for institutions abroad, which will answer directly to Kirill, while the DECR - according to the minutes of the Synod - will retain only "the oversight of institutes that conduct ecclesiastical diplomacy."
In the wake of the dismantling of the DECR, the meeting last March 31 instituted new dicasteries and offices. Above all, there is the synodal Department for Relations between the Church and Society, which is entrusted with the "relationship with the organisms of legislative power, with the political parties, with the labor unions, cultural organizations, and the other institutions of civil society in the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Moscow." The new dicastery will be led by Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, one of the patriarch's trusted men, and will also have the possibility of establishing contacts with the governments in the CSI and Baltic countries.
The radical reshaping of the DECR is interpreted by many as a clear break with the most recent past of the Moscow Church - the department had been created during the Soviet era - and, together with the structural reforms introduced by the Holy Synod, it appears to be a maneuver to concentrate the powers of governance into the hands of the new patriarch.
The other new developments include the creation of a synodal Information Department, which is being entrusted to a layman: Vladimir Legojda, director of the monthly Forma, the main Orthodox periodical, with a circulation of about 40,000 copies sent to churches and newsstands all over the Federation.
Finally, a doctoral branch of the Theological Academy of Moscow has been created at the DECR, "for the purpose of improving," the minutes state, "the level of formation and specific preparation of personnel capable of managerial and diplomatic work within the Church."
The Holy Synod also accepted the resignation of Metropolitan Kliment, Kirill's main competitor in the elections for the office of patriarch. The former Chancellor of the patriarchate of Moscow, one of the most important posts in the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, he has been appointed president of the publishing advisory board, and has been replaced by archbishop of Saransk and of Mordovia Varsonofij.
There have also been changes in the leadership of the synodal Department for Religious Instruction and Catechesis: Ioann Ekonomcev, rector of the Orthodox Institute of Saint John, has been replaced as president by Bishop Zarajsk, former Chancellor of the patriarchate's parishes in the United States.