12 October 2016, The Tablet
A meeting between the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Queen at Buckingham Palace, during a pastoral visit to Britain by Patriarch Kirill, has come under fire from leading MPs critical of the senior cleric’s links to President Vladimir Putin.
In a statement, the Russian Orthodox Church’s London-based Diocese of Sourozh said that the four-day visit, beginning on 15 October, would mark three centuries of Russian Orthodoxy in Britain. It would include the re-consecration of the Orthodox Dormition cathedral, located in London’s Ennismore Gardens, following a major refurbishment.
It added that the opening of the Church’s first parish in 1716 had launched “the development of Russian Orthodoxy” over “the whole of Great Britain and Ireland”, where Russian Orthodox parishes are now united in the Sourozh diocese, founded in 1962.
The statement said Kirill’s tour, the first by a Russian Orthodox patriarch, would include a visit to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society devoted to his pastoral trips as well as a visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at Lambeth Palace.
However, the planned itinerary was criticised by Labour MP Alison McGovern, co-chair of the parliamentary Friends of Syria group. She said that Buckingham Palace invitations should not be issued to “people who spread propaganda for Putin”. Meanwhile, the chairman of Labour’s backbench defence committee, John Woodcock, said he also believed it was “not the moment to be giving President Putin’s key allies the red-carpet treatment”.
Patriarch Kirill and his foreign relations director, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, have been widely criticised for endorsing the policies of President Putin, and for failing to criticise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, its military backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine and a savage bombing campaign in Syria.
In a birthday message to Putin on Monday, Patriarch Kirill praised the President’s support for “important state reforms”, and for dedicating his life “to the ministry of Russia’s welfare”.
In a separate statement on Monday, the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate said that Kirill’s visit would include the screening of a film by Metropolitan Hilarion on Britain’s Christian history, detailing the “conversion of the archipelago’s peoples to Christianity, and the development of Christian churches there before the division between East and West”.
Metropolitan Hilarion told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the Queen would discuss the Middle East with the Patriarch, including the “critical and tragic” situation of Christians. He added that the Russian Orthodox church’s 300,000 members in Britain represented “an ethnically mixed and very sizeable group”, and included “Brits who have come over to Orthodoxy”.
The Queen’s senior communications officer, David Pogson, told The Tablet that Buckingham Palace could not “comment in advance about any audiences, nor confirm their date in advance”.