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A New Patriarch

Today, 27 January 2009, over 700 delegates of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, selected the next Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox world. He is the former Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Metropolitan Kyrill (Gundiaiev), and was selected by 508 out of 677 valid votes. After his selection the Icon ‘The Softening of Evil Hearts’, which had specially been brought to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour according to ancient tradition, wept myrrh abundantly.

The selection of the first Patriarch of Russian Orthodoxy of the twenty-first century comes on the same day as a very interesting statement on Orthodoxy in the West. This was made on the Russian Orthodox Radio Radonezh by the Deputy Head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Church, Fr Vsevolod Chaplin. Since this Department was very much founded and headed for many long years by the new Patriarch, the statement of its Deputy Head is particularly interesting. Although it comes as no surprise to those of us who have lived in Russian Orthodoxy in the West for the last few decades, it is notable because our situation here has at last been noted in Moscow. For the three and more generations of Russian Orthodox bishops, clergy and laity who are of Western European blood, it is good news.

Concretely, Fr Vsevolod noted that: ‘There have been and are now many who have joined the Orthodox Church and we should heed the spiritual thirst that also exists in the West’. He added that: ‘A great many people in the West today have understood that the impoverishment and secularisation of religion, the worship of quick profits, human abilities and human reason are all a path that leads nowhere’. ‘It means that people are experiencing an attraction to our spirituality, to the spiritual word that Orthodoxy brings and we must strive to respond to this seeking and thirst’.

In particular he noted that there are many ‘in the Anglican Church who are at a crossroads’, given that their representatives are calling for total liberalisation, ‘homosexual marriage’, ‘women bishops’ etc. ‘Many Anglicans…say to me openly that they understand that their place is in another Church’.

However, Fr Vsevolod, whom I know personally, sensibly added that many such people will of course look to Roman Catholicism, rather than to Orthodoxy. He also underlined something else that has often been overlooked in the past and with tragic results, especially perhaps in England and France. This is that in responding to the spiritual seeking of Western people, ‘it is important not to admit into the Orthodox Church an unOrthodox mentality’. Fr Vsevolod concluded that this whole question ‘is very serious for the future of the Orthodox Church in the West’.

It is heartening to see that the struggle for genuine Orthodoxy in the West, conducted over the last few decades despite strong opposition and betrayal from all sides, is at last being recognised at the highest levels in Moscow itself.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

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