Who is Cyril I, Putin’s ally against “evil forces”?

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church could be one of the next targets of European Union sanctions, due to his proximity to the Kremlin, but above all to its president.

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church could be one of the next targets of European Union sanctions, due to his proximity to the Kremlin, but above all to its president. But who is Cyril I, Vladimir Putin’s ally against “evil forces”?

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev was born in November 1946 in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, and since February 1, 2009 he has been Cyril I – Patriarch of Moscow -, the greatest figure in the Orthodox Church and centerpiece of Russian politics in recent decades. being one of the pillars of Vladimir Putin and one of the defenders of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

An apologist for conservative religious values, he was once accused of being a former informant for the KGB – the Soviet secret services. He is one of the powerful in Putin’s inner circle and has been instrumental in reinforcing the Kremlin’s authoritarianism since rising to the highest religious office in Russia.

From his early days at the helm of the Russian Orthodox, he has shown himself as a whistleblower of protests and protesters, as well as an unwavering supporter of Vladimir Putin. In 2012, he even described it as a “miracle from God”.

Gundyayev and Putin gathered for Saint Cyril’s Day in Moscow, 24 May 2019 (AP Image)

Both Cyril I and Putin, and several other prominent figures in the Russian oligarchy, are from the country’s former imperial capital, St. Petersburg. Like his father, Mikhail, and his grandfather, he eventually opted for a religious career, but unlike his grandfather – who was exiled for 30 years in forced labor camps – Vladimir Gundyayev quickly rose through the ranks of the Russian church, eventually become head of foreign affairs, even winning his own television program, focused on religious doctrine.

On Russian television he had the audacity to propose an ambitious plan to reform the church, which had been stagnant since the period of Soviet atheism. The objective has always been one: to expand the presence of religion in state institutions such as schools and armies. As patriarch, he ended up making it a reality, always very close to Putin.

He ensured the consolidation of orthodox values ​​in the last constitutional revision, approved in 2020, introducing several conservative principles also defended by Vladimir Putin, such as faith in God, marriage reserved for heterosexuals, patriotic teaching and lifetime immunity for Russian presidents.

Gundyayev and Putin in Kronshtadt, a coastal town 30 kilometers from Moscow, July 30, 2017. (AP Image)

In recent weeks, he has been one of the biggest public voices in support of Russia’s “military campaign” in Ukraine, urging all believers to unite in combating Moscow’s “external and internal enemies”. In the European Commission’s sixth sanctions package, she is one of the names on the list of 58 personalities to be punished.

In February, with the war already underway, he told the faithful that a struggle was underway against the “evil forces”, which oppose the “historic unity” between Russia and Ukraine.

It was recently targeted by Pope Francis, who told Vladimir Gundyayev that churchmen “must not use political language, but the language of God.”

Cyril I and Putin place roses at National Unity Day ceremonies at Red Square in Moscow, November 4, 2019 (AP Image)

Another controversy involving Cyril I was when, in October 2015, he granted a blessing to the Russian intervention in defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an operation he classified as a “holy war” to protect Christians. He then said that “Russia made the responsible decision to use military forces to protect the Syrian people from the problems caused by the tyranny of terrorists”, justifying that the bombings became necessary because “the political process did not lead to any noticeable improvement in the lives of innocent people and they needed military protection”.

Cyril I has been using rhetoric in relation to the Ukrainian people, in everything similar to the position of Vladimir Putin. For the patriarch, this is a confrontation that must be seen as a religious and national drama, an existential battle in which good (Russia) is opposed to evil (Ukraine), a confrontation between tradition, values, unity and corrupting foreign influences present on Russia’s border.

“We got into a fight that doesn’t have a physical meaning, but a metaphysical one”said the patriarch in a sermon on March 6.

Cyril and Putin at the Wailing Wall in Moscow, commemorating victims of Stalin’s political persecution, October 30, 2017 (AP Image)

Since Gundyayev took over as patriarch of Moscow, the Russian Orthodox Church has targeted religious minorities, such as in 2017 when Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were described as a “totalitarian sect” that wanted to “destroy people’s psychological and families”, were eventually banned from the country.

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