Interview of Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad for Greek Newspaper ‘Vima’

1. Last year the Department for External Church Relations celebrated its 60th anniversary. You are its coeval. What was the most difficult and painful decision that had to be made over these years?

The Department for External Church Relations was established in 1946. At that time full-scale external relations of the Russian Orthodox Church were impossible, it was necessary first to reestablish relations with the Russian emigration, other Local Churches, to create a small chancellery, which could develop daily relations between the Church and State structures.

The basis of the modern full-scale and multi-sided activity was laid by the founder of the Department Metropolitan Nikolai (Yarushevich) and his successor Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov). They created the Department which subsequently faced a hard task of developing relations between the Church and the State, the Church and the Society, interfaith and inter-confessional ties during the collapse of the Soviet Union, destruction of stable social connections, during the period of breaks and divisions.

It is rather hard to say which decisions were the most painful. There always were a lot of them. The main task of the Department has always been to provide adequate participation of the Church in public life, to keep voice of Orthodoxy heard in Russia and the whole world, so that the Russian Orthodox Church, no matter what the historical circumstances are, accomplishes her main mission – saving people.

2. At the end of November Pope Benedict XVI visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Do you consider the Pope’s visit to Moscow possible?

First of all I would like to remind that even when the relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches were most complicated, we never excluded the possibility of the Pope’s visit to Russia or his meeting with His Holiness Alexy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia somewhere else. But it is our conviction that this historical event should testify positive tendency in relations between our Churches. It could be reached only if several concrete problems that exist between us are solved – missionary activity of Catholics in Russia and other CIS countries and conflict between Orthodox and Greek Catholic believers in Ukraine. I am sure that the basis for the improvement of our relations can be the closeness of our Churches’ positions on such problems as morality, bioethics, protection of tradition Christian values.

3. There was information that you interfered in the situation with the Monastery of Esphigmen, demanding that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not permit the expulsion of the brethren, settled down in the monastery. What exactly did you demand from the Ecumenical Patriarch and what would be your answer to those, who accused you of interfering in the internal affairs of the Holy Mountain, which is under the jurisdiction of Patriarch Bartholomew?

In this case you are obviously mentioning the distorted account of the events which took place four years ago. As you remember, in 2003 the conflict around the monastery of Esphigmen in Athos sharpened. The press reported that one of the monks died during the attempt to penetrate into the blocked convent, different dates of the assault were sounded. The further escalation of the conflict could cause new victims, which we consider intolerable at this holy place. We shared our concern with the Church of Constantinople. We did not demand anything. It becomes obvious if you see the address, published on the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church. Quite the opposite, we stated that our Church respects the jurisdiction of the Constantinople See and has no intention to interfere in the events on the Holy Mountain.