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In the name of Kyrill

  • 31 May 2022
  Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow has received much justified criticism for aligning his Church alongside Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine. If we are to understand how he could think it is right to do so, however, it is helpful to know how he came to be Kyrill. Just before his ordination as a priest the Bishop named him Kyrill after St Cyril the philosopher, who was the Apostle to the Slavic peoples in the ninth century. This Cyril, too, was given his name when he became a monk. He in turn was most likely named after St Cyril of Alexandria, who with St Athanasius is seen as one of the two pillars of the Orthodox Church. His feast occurs on June 27. The story of the two earlier Cyrils illuminate the conduct of the present Patriarch of Moscow. 

The ninth century Cyril was born in Thessalonika and educated and ordained in Constantinople. His first appointment was to teach philosophy in the Seminary, where he was given missions to distant tribes. Later the Patriarch of Constantinople sent him to preach the Gospel to the Slavs. This mission was delicate because both the Western and the Eastern Churches were sending missionaries there. At issue was whether they should use the Slavonic language or Latin. The ruler of the Slav area to which Cyril, and later his brother Methodius went insisted that it should be Slavonic. Cyril learned the language and invented the Cyrillic script in which to translate the Christian books.

When criticised by missionaries from present day Germany for his use of the Slav language Cyril travelled to Rome to win the support of the Pope who had authority over the Western missionaries. The Pope gave it and continued to support his mission and the use of the Slavonic liturgy during later feuds between rulers and church leaders. As a result Cyril and Methodius are recognised by Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches as apostles to the Slavs and the founders of the Churches. Cyril’s policy was to recognise and work with secular and other church authorities in his mission. His critics often accused him of selling out.

The fifth century Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria, a great Church as important as those of Rome and Constantinople. He had a troop of 300 bodyguards, and a reputation for autocracy. He was also a fine theologian and writer. He had to deal with the Emperor