RUSSIAN WORLD Kirill’s long parable about Benedict XVI

The solemn funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI took place on the eve of Epiphany and two days before Orthodox Christmas, for which even the primate of the militant Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has called for an armistice that would allow all celebrate divine mysteries, supported by President Putin, echoing Pope Francis’ pleas for peace. Joseph Ratzinger’s birth into heaven attracted attention from many quarters and also invited everyone to look at Christmas differently.

Benedict had met Kirill in 2006 – ten years before the historic meeting with Francis in Havana – when he was still metropolitan for foreign relations of the Russian Church, and was already preaching the reconquest of the world for the true faith. On that occasion Kirill had traveled to Italy to consecrate the Russian church in Rome dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, which rises above the dome of Saint Peter from the park of Villa Abamelek on the Janiculum Hill, residence of the ambassador of the Russian Federation. .

The future patriarch, moreover, had often visited Rome during all the years in which, while still very young, he already exercised the role of “ideological” guide of the patriarchate, and had met several times with Cardinal Ratzinger. Relations with Catholics were his main reference due to the universal aspirations of the Moscow Church, which since the Middle Ages had sought to elevate itself to the status of “Third Rome”, and the church built above the Vatican was only a symbol of its self-awareness. Kirill’s “universal” debut, after the Soviet years of his youth (he became a bishop under thirty, in Brezhnev’s time), was at the celebrations of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus in 1988, which he led with to the already old and sick patriarch Pimen, who would die the following year. Taking advantage of the fear that the Polish Pope John Paul II instilled in Gorbachev and all the elite of the still uncertain perestroika, Kirill sent a Vatican delegation with 10 cardinals to Moscow, from Casaroli to Martini and Lustiger, gathering in the Lavra of San Sergio a small ecumenical-patriarchal council. In 1990 Kirill supported the patriarchal appointment of Metropolitan Aleksij (Ridiger), falling out with the great favorite Filaret (Denisenko), the now 95-year-old Metropolitan of kyiv who inspired the Ukrainian church revolt against Moscow.

Ratzinger was already at the top of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, performing – in a role similar to that of Kirill in Russia – as the inspirer and ideologue of Wojtyla’s papacy, and in fact Kirill regarded him as the true reference of the possible orthodox-catholic alliance. The current 76-year-old Patriarch of Moscow is undoubtedly a brilliant and cultured man even if he does not have an academic curriculum and a theoretical production comparable to that of Benedict, perhaps the greatest Christian theologian of the second half of the 20th century. Ratzinger’s teaching tried to prepare the Church for a future of humility and concealment, what would later be called “the Benedict option”, and Kirill had in mind an integrating proposal, rather than an alternative, to this program.

The Bavarian theologian and future Pope already anticipated in the years after the Second Vatican Council – an event in which he had participated as a young consultant – a profound change in relations between the Church and the world. It was necessary to prepare to abandon the dominant positions and socio-political influence of official Christianity, returning to the prophetic and decisive of the Gospel, capable of changing the world without power and without the support of earthly glory. Many comments these days once again insist on Benedict’s clairvoyance, which already showed the “Church on the way out” and “from the periphery” invoked by his successor.

Kirill was very attentive to Ratzinger’s words in the years when he was trying to manage the delicate transition of the end of the Soviet Union, in which the Orthodox Church had faithfully served the party directives since the Stalin years, assuming a humiliating position and very committed. The religious renaissance of the 1990s plunged the Moscow patriarchate into crisis, which, while recovering the faithful, ran the risk of losing power. The metropolitan then proposed to put himself at the service not only of the Orthodox, but also of the Catholics, and in 1990 he suggested to the Holy See that it not appoint bishops or apostolic nuncios in Moscow, and that it send missionary priests to him to be distributed throughout the country. vast Russian-Eurasian territory (the USSR was still alive), as members of the “Catholic section” of the patriarchate.

Pope John Paul II did not like the idea at all, who barely succeeded in reinstating the Catholic structures in Russia and in the countries of the former Soviet Union, beginning with the Ukraine, which was especially important for Kirill and today it is well understood why. The metropolitan took it as a personal affront, and this circumstance led him to change the tone of his official pronouncements. He put aside ecumenism and the courtesies of diplomatic relations to start preaching another variant of religious renaissance, that of the apocalyptic Church facing the onslaught of the Antichrist. Using Ratzingerian arguments, Kirill wanted to show that Christianity was really in danger of being eliminated by secularized society; and after all, who better than the Russians to know, after seventy years of militant atheism? The Church had to be reborn under new forms, and that task corresponded precisely to the Muscovite Third Rome.

These and other considerations made Kirill -called at that time “the ecclesiastical oligarch” for his lack of scruples in embarking on the contradictory adventures of Yeltsin’s Russia- the true inspirer of the policy of the new president Vladimir Putin, who came to power power in the year of the third Christian millennium. Although today the Orthodox Church is somehow forced to support the warmongering excesses of Putinism, also accompanied by harsh repressions; in the first decade of the reign of the new “tsar” it was the patriarchy that guided the decisions, supporting in every possible way the “defense of tradition” as a solution to all problems.

When Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, Kirill had already taken the reins of Russia and its renaissance, no longer just generically religious, but properly Orthodox and “sovereignty.” He then tried to revive the alliance that had failed in 1990, standing with the new pontiff in defending true Christianity throughout the world. He effectively obtained the control over the Russian Catholics that he had asked for at the time, and that was granted to him by Pope Ratzinger, leaving aside the Polish proselytizing ardor. In the end, that was no longer his main need, since the new rules of the Putin regime allowed him to avoid any form of competition in the sacred territory of Russia.

Kirill’s desire was to push Catholics around the world to increasingly defend “inalienable values” in the social sphere, the traditional family and the defense of natural gender roles, along with the defense of the unborn life. , although this argument is hardly defensible in Russia, the country where in percentage terms more abortions are practiced in the world and where divorce is even allowed by ecclesiastical canons. Ethical and anthropological arguments are often cover-ups, expressed in Russia (and not only there) with a large dose of hypocrisy, despite the fact that they actually reveal deep demands on the Church’s action on a social level. What really matters, from the point of view of the Russian Orthodox, is the “defensive” attitude, the proclamation of an impassable space that constitutes the original meaning of the term “Orthodoxy”, the defense of the true faith. The document “Dominus Iesus” written by Ratzinger in the year 2000, the year of glory for Putin and Kirill in Russia, seemed to respond to these demands, reaffirming the uniqueness of salvation through Christ and not through other religions or ideologies.

In the years of Ratzinger’s pontificate, it therefore seemed that the grandiose project was feasible, a kind of “Benedict-Kirill option”, a union of Christians from East and West not to carry out structural mergers, but to witness the advent of a new era. of true Christianity. However, history has shown how groundless these dreams were. When Kirill became patriarch in 2009, a very serious economic crisis had already erupted in the globalized West, which caused deep discontent in all countries and in all the most vulnerable strata of the population. More than ethical crusades, the desire for social rebellion began to spread, the so-called “populism” and sovereignty of all kinds, and Russia also lost the last privilege it had left, that of being the only country in the world that challenged global power.

The second decade of the 2000s, the beginning of Kirill’s patriarchate, was instead the end of Benedict’s pontificate, who resigned for reasons known only to God, but nevertheless showing evident weakness in the face of the disintegration of the world and the Church. Instead of the syncretistic and ultra-liberal optimism of globalization, the era of susceptibility and the search for the culprits began in the public institutions of the State and the Church. The Orthodox-Catholic alliance, dreamed of by Kirill and supported at least in part by Benedict, was nevertheless proclaimed in Havana by Francis and Kirill, but unfortunately it could not be translated into a true revival of the universal Church.

We know today how it ended, with Kirill blessing Putin’s armies to “defend the world” from an Antichrist increasingly difficult to identify, or increasingly equal to each authoritarian drift on one side or the other of the battlefield. Pope Francis has long believed in the alliance with Kirill, favoring it in every way and trying to support it even during the months of the invasion of Ukraine, unable to believe that this was really the ultimate choice of the Russian Orthodox: the apocalypse. of history.

Benedict had withdrawn in prayer, entrusting to God the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the future of the entire world. His disappearance on Christmas days, after a year of war, imposed on everyone, believers and non-believers, militants and activists from all sides, a truce of reflection and contemplation, like that of the Magi from the East in front of the helpless child. The meek and profound Pope has prepared us for a long time to face the true Apocalypse, and today his prophecy is even more valid than yesterday. The Benedict option is the rebirth of the world in Christ, at the end of the war of peoples and hearts.



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