Patriarch Kirill Takes Book Tour to Israel, Visits Holy Sites in Jerusalem and Jordan

From the Jerusalem Post:

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein on Sunday met in Jerusalem with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, who is currently in Israel on an official visit as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kirill arrived in Israel as part of a world tour promoting his book, Freedom and Responsibility, which has been published in more than 15 languages, including Hebrew.

The book, a collection of the patriarch’s speeches and articles, discusses the modern confrontation between secular, liberal values and religious ideals, arguing that religion can complement and supplement non-religious frameworks of ethical principles.

“Through your book, many people will be exposed to your words of wisdom,” Edelstein said at a press conference in the King David Hotel. “You have made great efforts to [advance] universal values and I hope that they will be realized in our life time.”

A rather more caustic view of book was provided recently by Nick Cohen, who perused a copy of the English edition:

“The most fundamental conflict of our present era is the clash between the liberal mode of civilisation on the one hand and national culture and religious identity on the other,” Kirill begins…. I must emphasise that by liberalism the patriarch does not mean rampant individualism but any human society that tolerates “sin” providing sinners “remain within the law of land and do not harm others”. No charge is too wild to throw at such hell holes. “The human rights concept is used to cover up lies, falsehood and insults against religion and national values,” Kirill fumes. Secularism is diseased – “infected with the bacillus of self-destruction”. Secular countries allow women to control their fertility and tolerate homosexuality. They are nominally free “but defenceless against evil”.

Cohen’s also detects anti-semitism in a reference to “Jewish philosophers”, although the context is not given. Of course, Cohen’s purpose is polemical, and there may be more to the book than just these kind of quotes, but their tone is in keeping with a general authoritarian strand we see in Russian Orthodoxy. I discussed all this in further detail here.

Kirill also met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, and presented him with a “certificate for seven bells that will be installed at the belfry of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Jaffa.” He also consecrated the Church of All Saints in Russia, which was begun in 1911 but left unfinished between 1914 and 2003, and he dealt with the problem of the Holy Sepulchre’s retrospective $2.3 million water bill; earlier this month, Theophilus sent an appeal for help to Russia which Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin would “thoroughly study”, and it has now been reported that the bill has been written off “after Patriarch Kirill met with Israeli President Shimon Peres”. The unpaid bill had threatened to force the site’s closure, and it had been reported that “the other Christian denominations which jointly manage the church are said to support the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in its battle”. Given the historic animosities between the various Christian groups at holy sites, that’s quite something.

Kirill then travelled on to Jordan, where he visited the Russian Pilgrim House by the river Jordan; according to Interfax, the building and its site “was provided to Russia by the Kingdom of Jordan free of charge for unlimited use in February 2007 during the official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Jordan.” Kirill also used the visit to award “a Sergius of Radonezh order to Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Russian presidential property management office, for his work for the good of the Russian Church” (Kozhin, incidentally, has also done work for the good of Putin – his signatures appears on a 2005  contract for a “£600 million Italianate palace” near the Black Sea coast, including “indoor cinema, a summer amphitheatre, a casino, swimming pools, a gym and a clock tower”).

Leaving Jordan, Kirill reflected on his visit:

“These are new important steps, which are aimed at increasing the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. When we speak about increasing its presence, we do not mean the increase of its physical presence, but we primarily believe it is important to ensure that as many our pilgrims visit the Holy Land as possible,” Patriarch Kirill says.

The Patriarch said an increase in the number of pilgrims will strengthen people spiritually and will “increase Russia’s ties with the countries where holy places are located.”

I noted the restoration and reclamation of Russian Orthodox sites in Jerusalem in 2008; I also noted Time‘s description of the church as Putin’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”. At that time, the Greek Theophilus had expressed concern at Russia’s “aggressive policy”; the water bill appears to have had a conciliating effect there, too.

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