Monday's press review

This Monday Russian newspapers mourn the deceased Patriarch Aleksy II of the Russian Orthodox Church and remember the historic events of his era.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA quotes well-known hierarchs and laymen reminiscing over various events of the Patriarch’s rule.

Ioann, Bishop of Belgorod and Stary Oskol: the Patriarch’s rule coincided with a difficult transitional period – the fall of the USSR and the emergence of new, post-Soviet states. That required a tremendous effort from the supreme leader of the Church in defining its correct role and meaning. A huge sacrifice was needed, alongside long years of service dedicated to peace and reconciliation, a service aimed at the spiritual revival of the nation.

Natalia Solzhenitsina, the widow of the famous Russian author: Patriarch Aleksy’s term was dedicated to the building, and re-building, of the Church. A reinstatement of the Church’s role and meaning in our society, in times when everything else was first falling apart, and then transforming, changing into new shapes. The fruits of his work are enormous in meaning and substance.

Priest Vladimir Vigilyansky: The main achievement of the late Patriarch was that he restored the meaning our Church used to have in the past. The Church was losing significance as early as in the 19th Century, to say nothing of the temptations it had to encounter in the 20th Century. The Patriarch played the leading role in the process of restoration of the Church to its rightful place in society. Many call that period ‘The Second Baptism of Russia.’

Alehey Varlamov, writer: I think he was one of the best Patriarchs in the whole history of the Church. Aleksy II managed to avoid significant breaches in the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church while such breaches were more than possible. This year has special significance: we lost both Solzhenitsyn and the Patriarch. It seems Russia has arrived at a boundary of sorts and only the future will show the true meaning of these losses we sustained this year.

Deacon Andrey Kuraev: the main event in the rule of Patriarch Aleksy II was one that never happened: the Church avoided a ‘parade of sovereignties’ which hit the temporal State. In the USSR there were two Patriarchs, the Moscow Patriarch and the Patriarch of Georgia. Today there are two Patriarchs as well, no new posts were added in the past decades.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI writes that the Patriarchic rule of Aleksy II was signified by the more active participation of the Church in social life and even public politics. In the past 18 years, writes the paper, the Church has adopted its own doctrine of human rights and formed policies regarding many spheres of social and political life of the nation.

IZVESTIA quotes the Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Mironov as saying: ‘The Patriarch has not only played the leading role in the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, the leader of the Church was also a true patriot, a highly moral man, a man of culture and an outstanding intellectual.’

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA quotes some internet posts of believers. One of them, a former policeman, tells a story how during Aleksy II’s visit to Khabarovsk a cloud was following the motorcade around the city against all laws of nature, always at the same distance, so the crowds that gathered to greet the Patriarch were soaked – but not a single drop of rain fell on the Patriarch’s car.

The same paper says that the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II is coming to Moscow for the funeral and that there is a hope that his visit may become a step towards the reconciliation between the two nations, and Aleksy II will for the last time play the role of a peacemaker and diplomat.

The paper also quotes Georgian people randomly chosen from the line of people waiting to pay their tribute to the late Patriarch: ‘We are all Orthodox believers. If we had more faith in us, the August conflict wouldn’t have happened. Look, we are all together here today, in spite of everything…’  

KOMMERSANT writes that from the point of view of the Church, any talk of the election of a new Patriarch is immoral before the body of the late Patriarch is interred. However, says the paper, rumours have started circulation already that among the candidates the strongest are Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk, Yuvenaly of Krutitsk and Kolomna and Philaret of Minsk and Slutsk. A Church official is quoted by the paper as saying that to qualify a candidate has to be a ruling hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church with Higher Theological education,  and be older than 40.

A well-known Theologian Deacon Andrey Kuraev believes that Metropolitan Kirill, who has been elected the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, is ‘the brightest personality’ among the candidates, whose work always consisted of building and maintaining contacts with people of different beliefs – from the officers of government to Catholics and Muslims.

MOSKOVSKI KOMSOMOLETS calls the decision of the Holy Synod to elect Metropolitan Kirill the Patriarchial Locum Tenens ‘unexpected’, explaining that usually the hierarch who is elected to that position succeeds the deceased Patriarch. The paper says it had always been this way before the election of Aleksy II who was the first Patriarch to be elected by a secret ballot. The same method is supposed to be used this time, continues the paper, and that may bring an unexpected result.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA says that nevertheless, Metropolitan Kirill has a better chance to become the next Patriarch than any other hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. That’s because the conditions of the financial crisis mean some Church charitable programs are already suffering losses, so the Church, as with many temporal organisations, needs a ‘crisis manager’ at the moment, and Metropolitan Kirill fits nicely in that role.

The paper also sums up the main achievements of Patriarch Aleksy’s rule: ‘It seems that the main fruit of his work was that special system of cooperation between the Church and the State in the transitional period which the late Patriarch used to call ‘co-workmanship.’ The paper also publishes two of the best known quotes by the late Patriarch: ‘The Church is separated from the state but not from society’ and ‘The Church has never before enjoyed such freedom as in the post-Soviet era.’

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT