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News 27 Oct 17

Russian Patriarch Visits NATO Member Romania

Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is making a three-day visit to Romania despite the government’s anti-Russian political stance.

Ana Maria Touma

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, is making the first trip by a Russian religious leader to Romania since 1962.

Kirill arrived on Thursday evening after being invited by his Romanian counterpart, Patriarch Daniel, who is set to celebrate 10 years since his appointment this weekend.

The Russian Patriarch officiated at a mass on Friday to mark the day of Saint Dimitar the New, the patron saint of Bucharest.

"In the name of the Russian Church, I brought a gift here today for the Romanian Church, a part of the holy relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the miracle maker, to be a reminder of our undivided spiritual unity and our common spiritual treasure," Kirill said at the end of Friday's sermon.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchy stressed that the visit was not official.

“I am happy to step onto Romanian soil,” Kirill told journalists on his arrival.

“Orthodox values are what we share – we Romanians, Romania, Russians, Russia and all other Orthodox peoples. And people can have good relations when they share common values. Wherever history might take us, we, Orthodox Christians living in different countries, have to remember that we share the same values, a common system of life,” he added.

Kirill was appointed head of the Russian Orthodox Church in 2009 and he has collaborated closely with the Russian state under President Vladimir Putin.

The Patriarch also backed the expansion of Russian power into Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Scores of Romanian believers gathered for the mass at the cathedral in central Bucharest, but Kirill was also met by protests.

Award-winning documentary maker Alexandru Solomon was detained by Romanian military police after showing up in front of the cathedral wearing pictures of Putin to protest against Kirill’s visit.

Romania opposes Russia’s policies in Eastern Europe and relations between Bucharest and Moscow were tense even before the fall of communism.

A NATO member, the country also hosts a US missile shield that has angered Russia.

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Romania also advocated an increased allied military presence in the Black Sea to deter Moscow.

The Russian government also views Romania as a military threat whose government is pursuing Russophobic policies. In February 2017, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, who heads a department for European affairs at the Russian foreign ministry, said former Communist Romania’s stance on EU sanctions and decision to host elements of a NATO missile defence system made it a “clear threat”.

Putin himself warned in February that Romania, together with Poland, might be in Russia’s crosshairs due to an increased NATO military build-up.

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