The Russian Orthodox Church has selected 62-year-old Metropolitan Kirill as its new patriarch, an outspoken figure who analysts say could prove a headache for Kremlin.
A seasoned operator after long service as head of the church’s foreign relations section, Kirill was elected on Tuesday by an overwhelming majority in a ballot of church leaders in Moscow’s ornate cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, received 508 votes in a secret ballot of the Church Council in Moscow, while his challenger Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk won 169 votes.
“I accept and thank the Church Council for my election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,” Kirill said solemnly after the results were announced, before leading the congregation in an Orthodox liturgy.
Addressing the incense-filled gathering earlier, Kirill called for church unity and urged the faithful to resist Protestant and Catholic proselytizing, dampening hopes of a transformation in poisonous ties with Rome.
About 700 bearded and robed bishops and laity from both Russia and diocese abroad had the right to participate in the first such vote of the post-Soviet era, following the death of Alexy II last month.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin both congratulated Kirill, news agencies reported.
“Medvedev voiced hope for further strengthening of the dialogue between church and state in developing the country and boosting spiritual values,” Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Putin, who is himself an Orthodox believer, telephoned Kirill to offer his congratulations, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Kirill’s comments echoed the tough approach of his predecessor, who resisted attempts by late Polish pope John Paul II to reach out to Catholics in ex-Soviet lands and who refused to countenance a papal visit to Russia.
Metropolitan Kirill, who has hosted his own weekly television program Words of a Pastor for the past 10 years, is seen as something of a loose cannon in political circles, analysts say.
“Among the bishops, he’s the only real politician. If I were president, I’d be afraid of such a man,” said religious affairs expert Sergei Filatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, referring to Kirill.
Russia’s politicians “can’t tell what he’s going to do. If [the economy] all goes pear shaped they don’t know what Patriarch Kirill would do. They’d prefer someone they had control over,” religious affairs analyst and journalist for the Forum 18 religious news agency Geraldine Fagan said earlier.