[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, paid a private visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace yesterday (Tuesday). Patriarch Kirill was in the UK to mark the 300th anniversary of the Diocese of Sourozh – the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain and Ireland. Earlier, Archbishop Welby and the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, were in attendance when Patriarch Kirill visited The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Bishop Chartres takes the lead on the C of E’s relationships with the Orthodox Churches, and was also present at Lambeth Palace for the meeting with Patriarch Kirill and his delegation.
Archbishop Welby and Patriarch Kirill spoke about “their shared compassion for Christian, and other, minorities in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, where they have been systematically targeted and persecuted and their communities decimated,” a Lambeth Palace spokesperson said.
“Conversation also touched upon the concerns and challenges that their two churches face in the present time in their different contexts; including the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in a secular culture; the witness of the Church in serving the poor and marginalised in our societies and addressing the needs of migrants and refugees.
“They also spoke of the importance of the Church as the keeper of tradition – that is, the wisdom of the past, living in the present.”
The visit comes at a time of heightened tensions between Britain and Russia in the diplomatic and political sphere. The two leaders acknowledged the divisions and “agreed that the first loyalty of the Christian Church is to the Lord Jesus Christ,” the spokesperson said, “and they affirmed that reconciliation was the key ministry of the Church in situations of conflict.”
The two delegations met together over lunch for informal conversation. The Patriarch presented “an icon of the protective veil of the Blessed Mother of God” as a gift to Archbishop Welby; who, in return, presented Patriarch Kirill with a specially bound album of the Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library.
Last Sunday (16 October) Archbishop Justin and Bishop Chartres attended the re-consecration of the Russian Orthodox cathedral in London – the cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints – by Patriarch Kirill.
The previous visit of a Patriarch of Moscow to Lambeth Palace was in 1964, when Patriarch Alexey I met with Archbishop Michael Ramsey.