Russian Orthodox Church elects new Patriarch

 The Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad was elected with an overwhelming majority on 27 February, by the church's local council, which is made up of more than 700 priests, monks and laypeople representing each diocese and foreign mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. He succeeds Patriarch Alexis II who died on 5 December 2008.

At the end of his general audience yesterday, Pope Benedict expressed his happiness at the news, saying: "Upon him I invoke the light of the Holy Spirit". In an English-language telegram sent to the newly-elected Patriarch, the Pope wrote: "May the Almighty bless your efforts to maintain communion among the Orthodox Churches and to seek that fullness of communion which is the goal of Catholic-Orthodox collaboration and dialogue.

"I assure Your Holiness of my spiritual closeness and of the Catholic Church's commitment to co-operate with the Russian Orthodox Church for an ever clearer witness of the truth of the Christian message and to the values which alone can sustain today's world along the way of peace, justice and loving care of the marginalised".

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also expressed its joy at the election of "a Patriarch with whom we have maintained fraternal relations for many years, and who met the Holy Father immediately following his election in April 2005, and again in the months of May 2006 and December 2007.

"We trust we will be able to continue together down the path of mutual understanding we have already begun. We do not, of course, wish to lose sight of the difficulties that still remain, but we are ready and willing to co-operate in the social and cultural fields in order to bear witness to Christian values while, nonetheless, not forgetting that the ultimate aim of dialogue is the realisation of the testament of Jesus Christ our Lord: the full communion of all His disciples.

"We hope and pray that God may grant the new Patriarch abundant blessings and guide him with the gifts of strength and wisdom".

Kyrill headed the external relations department of the world's largest Orthodox church for almost 20 years. He also served as permanent representative of the Moscow Patriarchate to the WCC in the 1970s and as member of the WCC Executive and Central Committees ­ the Council's governing bodies int the years between its assemblies ­ from 1975 to 1998.

In a letter congratulating Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad on his election as the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia expressed the appreciation of the worlwide ecumenical fellowship for this "outstanding Orthodox theologian, leader and hierarch".

"We give thanks for your friendship and companionship in the area of inter-Christian relations and we pray that your commitment to the dialogue, deep knowledge of the present ecclesial and ecumenical developments and challenges, and critical, yet constructive attitude will strengthen the relationships between the divided churches and their common witness within a world in search of values," Kobia wrote.

"We recognize the church leader who has played an important role in the realm of inter-religious dialogue and international relations and we pray that the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church will continue to speak to the world openly and courageously, frankly and caringly, promoting and defending the human person, every human person, created in the image and likeness of God."

Source: VIS/WCC

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