Patriarch Kirill shakes up Russian Orthodox hierarchy; Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev to head External Relations

A report in Georgian Daily by Paul A. Goble details a number of new appointments and transfers put in motion by Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Goble says that “Russian commentators agree” that the patriarch intends to use his position to promote a more public and more active approach at home and abroad. But, citing a report by Aleksandr Soldatov on the Russian language Portal-Credo site, Goble says there are also signs of preparations for a major council.

At the direction of Kirill, the Holy Synod created a “still mysterious” commission for the preparation of materials in anticipation of an as yet undefined and unscheduled church council or “sobor” and named Archmonk Saava, who is particularly close to the new patriarch as its secretary.

This group, which Kirill apparently will chair could prove to be only a place holder for housekeeping functions or it could – and Soldatov suggests that Kirill’s own personality makes this more likely – a staging area for the convention of a Church Council like the one that met at the time of the Russian revolutions of 1917-1918.

Such a session would likely not only seek to redefine the relationship between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church could also serve to “guarantee” Kirill’s place “in the annals of the Church,” an outcome that the in no-way-retiring patriarch almost certainly would like.

Ecumenical News International reports that the Russian Holy Synod appointed Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, an Oxford-educated cleric who served as the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative to European organizations in Brussels, to lead the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations.

The appointment was made on March 31 at the first meeting of the church’s synod of bishops chaired by Patriarch Kirill I since his enthronement in February, ENI said.

As metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Kirill himself led the church’s external relations department for nearly 20 years until he was elected patriarch on Jan. 27 following the death of Patriarch Alexei II in December.

Anatoly Krasikov, director of the Centre for Religious and Social Studies of the Institute of Europe in Moscow, told ENI that Bishop Hilarion is a “a vivid personality,” and said the decision “is a gain for the church.”

Interfax reported that the Holy Synod “unanimously” approved the 42-year-old bishop as chairman of the Department of External Relations on March 31. “He will now be transferred to Moscow from abroad,” a spokesman for the patriarchate said.

ENI said that Bishop Hilarion will be “watched closely” for his handling of relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Critics of Kirill have stepped up their attacks on the new patriarch, who they describe as an “agent of Rome.”

Krasikov, who reported from the Vatican as a correspondent for the Soviet-era Itar-Tass news agency, told ENI that these charges are unfounded. “It may be the reverse; Benedict may be declared an agent of Kirill,” he said. “The Catholics have problems and are counting on support from the Orthodox.” Krasikov recalled a conference in 2000 at which Hilarion, then still only a priest, spoke in tough terms about Catholic proselytism in Russia among other issues, while a message from Kirill to the conference was seen as being much more positive.

Visit the personal site of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev for his collected writings, musical compositions and other materials.

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