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Needed: An Ecumenical Reset

Ever since the early 1960s, the Vatican has been infatuated with the idea of a bilateral entente with Russian Orthodoxy. Whatever its noble intentions, that has been a fool’s errand.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow during a reception commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Grand Prince Vladimir I (Vladimir the Great), at the Kremlin in Moscow in this July 28, 2015, file photo. (CNS photo/RIA Novosti/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters)

In the early 1990s, I met Kirill, now Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’, when the man christened Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev was chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church. The occasion was a dinner hosted at the Library of Congress by the late, great James H. Billington, whose history of Russian culture, The Icon and the Axe, remains the classic work on the subject.

Metropolitan Kirill, as he was then styled, struck me as a sophisticated cosmopolitan, not unused to the finer things of life; there was nothing of the Dostoevskian ascetic or mystic about him. And if he seemed less a churchman than a suave and worldly diplomat in ecclesiastical garb, one had to be impressed by the cool composure with which he played that role. Much of the table talk and subsequent conversation over postprandials revolved around the possibility of Russia’s becoming a functioning democracy — a prospect for which, if memory serves, Kirill showed considerable, if urbane, skepticism.

Investigating his biography later, certain things about Kirill came into sharper focus.

In 1971, at the tender age of 25, then-Archimandrite Kirill was sent by the patriarchate of Moscow as a Russian Orthodox representative to the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Ten years earlier, the Soviet regime, then conducting a draconian persecution that shut down half the country’s Orthodox churches, had “allowed” the Russian Orthodox Church to join the World Council. The regime’s motives were hardly ecumenical, however. Russian Orthodox representatives at the World Council were carefully selected by the KGB, the Soviet secret intelligence service; their task was to block any challenge to the Soviet Union’s violations of religious freedom, while turning the World Council into a constant critic of the West.

All this is detailed in The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. And from that invaluable resource, it is impossible not to conclude that Kirill was, at the very least, a KGB asset; he may well have been a KGB agent like another Vladimir, Mr. Putin.

Kirill’s ecclesiastical career prospered during the Putin decades and he reportedly became a wealthy man — if not on the colossal scale of Putin himself, then to the point where he was once photographed, to his embarrassment, wearing a $30,000 Breguet watch which he assumed was hidden beneath his robes. (The Russian Church put up a fusillade of propaganda suggesting that the photograph had been doctored, although what seems to have been a subsequently airbrushed photo, deployed in Kirill’s defense, clumsily showed the watch’s reflection on a shiny tabletop.)

Whatever his financial circumstances, it is indisputable that Kirill has been a faithful servant of the Russian state since his election as patriarch in 2009. And while he got blowback from reactionary Russian Orthodox circles for his meeting with Pope Francis in Havana in 2016, he must have known that, whatever internal opposition he faced from anti-Roman clergy and congregants, the Kremlin and its master — without whose green light the Havana meeting would not have happened — had his back.

Thus it should be no surprise that Patriarch Kirill has attempted to provide cover for Putin’s unprovoked and brutal aggression against Ukraine, which Kirill has long insisted is part of the Russkiy mir, the “Russian world.” The war in Ukraine, he said on the fourth day of the Russian invasion of its neighbor, had been caused by “dark and hostile external powers,” the “forces of evil,” and “the attacks of the evil one.”

For Kirill to act as an instrument of Russian state power is nothing new. He has been doing that for decades. His February 27 statement set a new low, however, deliberately invoking Christian imagery to falsify what was going on in Ukraine. The technical word for such willful, aberrant use of the things of God is blasphemy. Kirill’s profane agitprop also undercut his own Church in Ukraine, whose leader, Metropolitan Onufry, condemned the Russian invasion.

Ever since the early 1960s, the Vatican has been infatuated with the idea of a bilateral entente with Russian Orthodoxy. Whatever its noble intentions, that has been a fool’s errand and it is past time for an ecumenical reset. If two of the most venal, corrupt organizations on the planet — the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the world soccer hegemon — can sever relations with Russia because of its lethal aggression, the Vatican can surely inform Patriarch Kirill that the Holy See’s ecumenical contacts with Russian Orthodoxy are suspended until Kirill condemns the invasion of Ukraine, thereby proving himself something other than Putin’s puppet.

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About George Weigel 428 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. It’s not right to frame an ecumenism with the Russian Orthodox in pure political terms with allegations of political psychology that seem true, “because tying back in” with the political straight-jacket. I would say very misleading. Also too “hawkish”.

  2. But if the Holy See did that would it not be proof it was whoever runs Americas puppet
    No, wait Covid already confirmed as much…carry on

  3. It’s as Alexis de Tocqueville warned in “Democracy in America.” When a religion is linked to the political order, it may prosper for a while, but its fortunes will mirror those of the particular regime to which it is linked, and becomes a de facto or official branch of the government. Separation of Church and State — properly understood — does not mean that the civil order ignores or attacks religion nor does it mean that there are not broad areas of mutual concern and cooperation. It means that purely religious doctrines may not be enforced by the government, and the government may not interfere in purely religious matters. This was the reason Pius IX in the “Fundamental Statute” separated the civil administration from the Church in the Papal States, and as head of state retained only a veto over any law that harmed the Church.

    Caesero-Papism has always been a danger to the Orthodox churches, and Patriarch Kirill is a textbook example.

  4. Continuing on the theme of venal and corrupt organizations, and blasphemous “church leaders” such as Kirill, we have an opportunity to consider the possibility of unbenign motives that explain the attraction of Pontiff Francis (and “Eminence” Parolin) for the blasphemous and reptilian fraud Kirill.

    Damian Thompson’s recent podcast sheds some light on the ugliness of the Havana Accord desired by Kirill and his counterpart Pontiff Francis, and their contempt for Eastern Rite Catholics in Ukraine (etc). Link here:

  5. Patriarch Kirill embodies the errors of Russia Our Lady warned about at Fatima: they are legion, but Kirill’s include his rejection of the Roman primacy and his submission to the Caesaropapist claims of the Russian state.

  6. This broad idea is fascinating, the fallacy of “bilateral entente [and] it is past time for an ecumenical reset.” In the context of the West alone, how do we also drift into bilateral entente, as with Protestantism and even Secularism?

    It’s almost as if, in some minds, the undeterred German “synodal way” serves as a decoy for enabling such a bilateral entente. So, how, instead, to complement or even ignite the living Tradition–rather than to displace? How to transcend more than one (as in Russian) national or plebiscite Church within a risked federation of synodal and continental (c)hurches?

    How to journey together while also getting this right?

    Probably not by displacing sacramental ordination (and Eucharistic coherence) with Luther’s horizontal congregations or communions (with “facilitator” ministers), nor by blurring self-donating personal engagement in the very nature of Christ’s salvific Mass with some other kind of possibly truncated participation, nor by reducing apostolic evangelization (as “sent” by Christ) with a more generic form of bottoms-up (even literally!) missionizing.

    Again, how to get this right? There has to be a slogan in there somewhere…

    • Dear Sir:

      Can any man do wrong following Christ? Of course we ask for our daily bread and the forgiveness of our sins, yet can we find better outside Bible? There are inspired men who offer insightful commentaries that aid us in our spiritual journey, yet they wish to follow the Bible.

      You touch on Luther and it is important to consider if he got it right! Would you take a point of disagreement and suggest where he went off the tracks?

      Yours in the bond of Christ,

      Brian Young

  7. To say that Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine was “unprovoked” is simply a lie. The provocation began in 2014, when a degenerate “West” staged a coup d’etat to install a puppet regime in Kiev, and continued on into 2022 with the deliberately provocative suggestion that the Ukraine could join NATO.
    On March 6, Patriarch Kirill delivered a sermon, attributing the need to liberate the Ukraine from the creeping pestilence that would mandate gay pride parades be held throughout the world. The Patriarch had commented in an earlier statement in February that the war in the Ukraine had been caused by “dark and hostile external powers,” the “forces of evil,” and “the attacks of the evil one.”
    Patriarch Kirill, whose father and grandfather were both Orthodox priests who apparently died in a gulag, was not wrong.

    • Disinformation. Millions of good, honorable people attacked in their homes and hospitals and towns. Indiscriminately. Driven to desperation and across borders. Remind me how you justify such brutality.

      • Where is the disinformation?
        The invasion was very much provoked. There can be no debate.
        Claiming that the “West” wishes to advance a degenerate agenda to the borders of Russia, and beyond?
        This is true. There can be no debate.
        No one has been attacked in their homes, save the puppet regime put such unfortunate persons in the line of fire. Denying this IS the disinformation. The fact is, Russia has not, as the U.S.A. has done, see e.g., the invasion of Iraq, rolled into a country and destroyed every last scrape of infrastructure at the outset of the invasion. Is the power still on in Kiev? Does one seriously believe that Russia has not the might to change this state of affairs?
        The U.S.A. has incinerated hundreds of thousands of non-combatants before, in the name of a “just war.” I do not claim to either defend or condemn such action, but this ought to give one pause before one starts throwing stones.
        Remind me, how you justify support the advance of Sodom and Gomorrah?

        • WHAT “degenerate Agenda” ? If you are talking about gay rights and Transgender stuff, that is cultural. And hardly something an outside force can impose on another nation. If you think civilians have not been attacked in Ukraine by the Russians you are deluded as plenty of video exists. To leftists, people are nothing more than pawns. Just like those locked behind the Berlin wall were pawns for so many decades. If any were shot trying to escape over the wall, the Soviet reaction was “oh well”. That is long before any “degenerate” issues ever raised their heads. Putin also put the stops on foreign adoptions. With half a MILLION children languishing in Russian orphanages, who age out of the system at age 16 with no future, who are almost NEVER adopted by Russian citizens, he halted foreign adoption as a political ploy. It is immoral and disgusting, like most things communists do, for whom people are mere pieces on a chess board. It is not for nothing that Stalin’s daughter eventually made her way out of the Soviet union to the west, as did myriad numbers of Russian artists (dancers and others) who risked their lives to defect to America. I put this fact to you. The US needs to build a wall to keep people OUT. Russia/China/Cuba/North Korea must wall their people IN. Who exactly are the degenerates????. Lastly, the US has a history of not striking first in wars. “Incinerating” the Japanese with a nuke (about which they were warned in ADVANCE) was a way to put an end to a brutal world war which they started with an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. That Japanese soldiers were still crawling out of bunkers 20 years after their surrender tells you the Japanese would never have surrendered otherwise. But I think I waste my time here as entrenched American haters never do have anything fair to say about the country.

          • Yes, in referring to a degenerate agenda, one is definitely referring to cultural, moral, etc… types of matters. If you do not believe that it cannot be imposed, I am afraid you are naïve.
            I am sure civilians have been attacked in Ukraine… as they have been for the last eight years, to which no one has paid any attention.
            Putin halted adoptions out of Russia because he understands that people are a resource for the greater Fatherland. Wow, what a concept.
            Russia has an atrocious history with abortion, but, at least to this point it has been Mr. Putin who has slowly ratcheted against it… in the face of opposition from the “West” in fact. America prefers to import “Americans.”
            Nonetheless one is fairly free to emigrate from Russia today. Perhaps you should look at the emigration statistics from the last 30 years, and Mr. Putin’s score.
            The fact that a country strikes first, does not make all that country’s citizens combatants. It is a violation of Just War Doctrine to deliberately target civilians. You should take a look at the Nagasaki Cathedral post-bombing; isn’t that nice?
            One wonders if Mr. Weigel would have supported General Franco in his liberation of Spain. Or would he have supported the “Republic”?

    • This is a daring new theory among traditionalists I am seeing, in which Christians must be bombed to bits to save them from gay pride parades. Please my friend, do your part to save Christendom from this nefarious force. I would buy you a ticket but getting a plane is difficult these days.

      • Though I condemn this evil attack, Robert brought to mind the times God’s people – the Jews – were attacked and taken prisoners to foreign lands because they transgressed. There were prayers being said and people fasted etc but their lifestyles were sinful.

  8. “Russian opposition to LGBT triggers American elites more than anti-gay laws and practices elsewhere because Russia is a white nation that justifies its policies based on an appeal to Christian values….
    Once you understand that American politics is motivated by some combination of interest group lobbying and culture war resentments, the hostility towards Russia begins to make more sense. It really is about the “rules based international order,” but that doesn’t actually mean following the fundamentals of international law like “don’t invade other countries or interfere in their domestic politics.”
    If that’s what it was about, one might effectively respond that the US has in recent decades tried to overthrow more countries than everyone else in the world put together.”

  9. Putin and Kirill, Biden and Francis – – – birds of a feather. The tie that binds, the tar that holds them together is moral corruption: Fratelli Tutti.

    “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.” – Revelation 19:17–18

  10. Feast of St.Frances of Rome today , interesting bio – of the many challenges of her life, a time may be worse than what we see unfolding around, including in her struggle to discern God’s Will .

    March 13th would be the blessed Anniv. of the Holy Father who chose the
    ( prophetic )name Frances – likely being warned by The Spirit of the challenges of these times , seeking in humility the blessings of all his name sake sts and more, for sake of all of us too ..

    Article about the other sts with related names –

    The Church in Lent, in desire to be with our Lord , in seeking the warfare merits He has garnered for us all against the enemy as the liar, the ‘prince ‘ of the world , fooling hearts to follow in his path – of violence and rigidity , despair and lies pointed out as the means to be the princes of this world ..

    One such seemingly blatant lie – as the news of the reason given for the war being the ‘gay parade ‘ in the rebel regions ..

    The Holy Father , blessed and prepared through the Eucharistic Miracle of Argentina in truly ‘KNOWING’ the Father’s Heart as being the remedy and the antidote for the deep seated fears against life and life givers, the related ‘death spirits ‘ that manifest in regimes who come under such powers , including through the unholy soul ties , its varied formats – such as the Nazi regimes , the ‘ mystery of evil ‘ of the massive , ongoing satanic sacrifice of the innocent in own lands that is ignored in refusing to see that all of it is from the same roots ..

    Invoking the Holy Spirit , to put to flight all such spirits invited in through evil choices in many a life , to help all such, including many in Russia , away from the spirits of despair and its rash and violent moves , into hope and trust in The Lord , to the memory of the Father of the Prodigal – such is the role of the faithful Shepherd who thus allows many a dissenting , even calumniating voices to be heard , such as from Germany , thus making reparations for the abusive use of power , from the rigid , hardened , hypocritical hearts ..

    all such , to be brought to The Mother – The Immaculate Heart to whom we all have been entrusted to , to be calling on her together – without excluding any !

    • What specifically does this comment have to do with the basic arguments and points in this article? Did you even read it?

  11. DOD news just in: Russia has bombed a children’s hospital (?in Kyiv). One more war crime for which Putin will be held to account.

    “For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.”
    – Jeremiah 5:26-28

    Jeremiah clearly notes: The wicked do not judge the just cause of the orphan and the needy. They simply appear not to see or to rise ‘above’ a judgment. When Francis will not judge wicked acts to be wicked, he does not judge the just cause of God. When Putin’s army bombs sick children, he too does not judge the just cause of the weak. When Kirill does not condemn Putin’s war crimes, he too does not judge the just cause of the widow, the weak, and the orphan. When Biden grudgingly and lately gives no more than a few weapons against Putin, he also does not judge the cause of the weak, the orphan, the widow. All are deceived and all will be called to account.

  12. What in truth distinguishes friend of Christ from foe is not the pretension of liberty. Rather it’s whether a nation and its culture promotes, or repudiates abortion and homosexuality as freedom. Reset must have some common intent for justice. Freedom of itself doesn’t define justice.
    A contract between nations with an historical foundation in Christianity, that nevertheless doesn’t at large believe or practice Christianity but instead strives to promote the opposite hasn’t a privilege to impose itself.
    Hypothetically, absent of affirming one side of this conflict or the other, does a nation have a right, even a duty to defend its frontiers, thereby itself from liberty understood as licentiousness?

    • May the Almighty continue to bless you as you bless others.

      Numbers 6:24-26 The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

      James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

      Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

      Ezekiel 34:26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.

      Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

  13. “…that has been a fool’s errand…”
    And not merely with the Orthodox. The entire “ecumenical” enterprise has been an exercise in deception and self-deception. Having worked for a decade, twenty-five years ago, in academic administration in one of the most prestigious divinity schools in the country — Ivy League — which at that time would have described itself as “ecumenical” or “trans-denominational” — with a light seasoning of “Catholic” faculty [one of whom was an internationally renowned Biblical scholar] rest assured I have never met a protestant of any sort who has any respect for Roman Catholicism. It is held in contempt.
    Ecumenical outreach was an effort on the part of self-conscious Catholics to elicit some sort of affirmation from the reigning elite in academia. The result has been the defection from the faith by our episcopate and theological academy, here in the United States, globally, and particularly now in the Jesuit Vatican.

    • “… rest assured I have never met a protestant of any sort who has any respect for Roman Catholicism.”

      I believe you. And it says something (not good) about the Ivy League and certain ivory towers.

      But matters are different in other places. I know more than a few Protestants (some of the pastors or in leadership in their denominations) who have a very high respect for Catholicism. Many are attracted to it; I’ve known quite a few who have become Catholic.

      I am friends with a priest who left Orthodoxy (where he was also a priest); he and I had many discussions about Catholicism and Orthodox over two years before he became Catholic (be assured that my role was small, but it was certainly something).

      No, the entire “ecumenical enterprise” is not as you describe it, especially not when it is authentic and robust, that is orthodox and direct, without being either triumphalistic or wobbly.

      • If you will allow me to say, the press is largely left wing and extremely liberal. A heterodox position is discarded by the liberal of today as he seldom values the thrust of point and counterpoint.

        To say men and women in the Roman Catholic Church are not supporters of godliness would be absurd. Yes, sheep will joined by wolves, we understand this and do our best to withstand this onslaught by the evil one. Christ is King.

        Over the years, I have been blessed by godly Catholic priests who present the gospel in a way that honours God and enlightens the flock. Also it has been a pleasure meeting Roman Catholics who have the Spirit of the Lord on their countenance.

        Yet, when people are insular and not agreeable to understanding what God is saying, much is lost. The traditions of the church are to be considered carefully and they are an aid to faith. Yet, sometimes disparity between, tradition and Scripture appear. Who is supreme, which will be antecedent

        Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

        John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

        1 Peter 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

        Hebrews 4:1-16 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” …

        Ecumenicalism is the building walls and empires, it does not bless the one who is struggling and seeks the peace of the Lord.

        God bless you and thanks.

      • You describe heartening events, Carl, but if we dig a bit deeper I believe we would find a statistic far more heartening and even shocking. The number of conversions from protestantism to Roman Catholicism in the first half of the twentieth century here in the United States as well as in Europe. The flow across the Tiber was substantial – how many prominent names come to mind let alone of the common man?
        I recall a fine discussion years back with the Presbyterian president of the seminary where I was employed – the discussion was primarily regarding the Irish situation. As discussions go it veered off into the Kennedy election in 1960. He described the common apprehension current then among prominent mainline protestants in the theological academy regarding another advance for Catholicism in American culture. He articulated the concern they endured that the United States might actually become a Roman Catholic nation, not because of the election, but because of the longstanding momentum of conversions to Rome. Actually the Associate Dean of the institution himself was a devout convert from the Episcopalians.
        When the mid-century council was announced in 1959 it was promoted in parishes and schools as an opportunity to draw our separated brothers into the “One True Church.” That was said quite clearly. Six years later that goal was rather abandoned and Catholicism was the one making the accommodation to our separated brothers and it was very much a one way street. I recall well in college theology Godfrey Diekmann OSB [council peritus] proudly bragging of all the advances made in the dialogues between our Church and the other Christian confessions but it was always a diminishment of Roman Catholic praxis [and by crafted ambiguity the perennial Magisterium]. Today mainline protestantism is a shadow of itself, not in numbers alone but in theological substance. Our reckless ecumenical enthusiasm has promoted that same dissolution of Roman Catholicism.

      • Dear Mr. Olson:

        While off topic, would you allow a request?

        This is a good forum for dialogue, promoting understanding and glorifying God. Where ever we can, let us celebrate our commonalities and exalt God.

        As people post comments there is no easy way of coming back to those comments (as I see it). If a person responds it would be good to consider their point of view and answer! Perhaps a “My comments” addition would facilitate an exchange of thought and act as a learning curve for one and all.

        Blessings to you and your staff as you proclaim Christ crucified.

        Brian Young

    • Assume the truth of the Catholic Church is as a light upon the hill. That essential light should attract the blind unfortunates who dwell in the shadows of ravines and valleys below.

      Dimming the light on the hill has failed and will fail to attract the blind. The essential nature of the blind is failure to discern any but the strongest of lights.

      The Church needs to re-fuel her own holy and ‘one’ lamp of unity. At this late date, she will not do that by her example of divided and corrupt leaders and ‘faithful’ who themselves cause buckets to be placed over her source of light. Teaching which is watered-down will confuse or demean the truth of the Church’s very being. Efforts not themselves of Christ, not marked by holiness or firm apostolic teaching, are bound to fail.

      The wise virgins had a ready supply of oil, yet they did diminish (by sharing) the supply they needed to see and to greet the bridegroom.

      All are welcome, but only a few are chosen to see the light of Christ.

  14. Weigel claims this: ” If two of the most venal, corrupt organizations on the planet — the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the world soccer hegemon ”

    Yet fails to see that it is very possible that both are being manipulated by even more corrupt people behind the scenes, the same people who want to punish Russia for failing to follow their agenda.

  15. A miracle is neeeded to reset with a former KGB member who believes the murder of fellow orthodox and catholic brethern is fine. A patriarch should be first with God and not first with a government leader.

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