, MOSCOW, Russia, Oct 14 – A historic first ever visit to Britain by the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church will help strengthen trust between the countries with ties at a frosty low, a senior cleric said Friday.
Patriarch Kirill is set to meet the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury during a four-day visit starting Saturday which will be the first ever to Britain by a head of the Russian Church.
Kirill’s visit “will help our peoples strengthen their mutual trust,” said Metropolitan Ilarion, who heads the Church’s external relations department, in an interview with RIA Novosti state news agency.
He admitted that Russia and Britain’s relations in recent years “have not been going through the best of times.”
Ties between Moscow and London have slumped as Britain has joined sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis and berated the Kremlin for bombing in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has accused Russian forces of committing potential war crimes in the war-ravaged country, and urged protests outside the country’s embassy in London.
Ilarion pointed out that the British royal family has ties to the Church since Prince Philip was a Greek Orthodox Christian before switching to the Church of England when he married the Queen, its head.
“The past and present urge us to promote greater closeness between the peoples of Russia and Britain which in turn cannot but have an effect on official contacts,” said Ilarion.
The Patriarch is meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace on the last day of his visit.
Kirill has promoted closer relations with the authorities under the conservative rule of President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer and Orthodox believer, with clerics playing a greater role in schools and the army despite the Church’s nominal separation from state.
His spokesman reiterated the Russian Orthodox Church’s opposition to women priests, saying it supports those Anglican Churches that “stand up for moral norms in accordance with the gospel.”
Most of the Russian Orthodox churches in Britain are part of a diocese loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate called Sourozh, with most parishioners having origins in Eastern Europe but some also converts.
Some other churches are loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (RCOR), which was formed shortly after the 1917 October Revolution and opposed the Church inside the USSR over its acts of loyalty to the Soviet authorities.
The Patriarch on Saturday evening in a gesture of reconciliation will hold a service at the Cathedral of the Dormition in Chiswick which is under the RCOR.