ECHMIADZIN (RFE/RL)–The influential head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, paid tribute to Armenia’s history and Christian heritage as he began a three-day official visit to the country on Tuesday.
Both he and the supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, pledged to strengthen relations between their churches and states. The two pontiffs were greeted by hundreds of believers and led a joint prayer service at the Armenian church’s main cathedral in Echmiadzin shortly after Kirill’s arrival at the nearby Zvartnots international airport.
“Every visitor to Armenia receives unforgettable impressions, looking at its main symbol, the holy Mount Ararat,” Kirill said in an ensuing speech. “With profound awe, I feel today that every stone in his land is a silent witness of great and glorious deeds, exploits and achievements that have made their mark on the history of the entire humankind.”
Kirill added that Russian-Armenian relations have been “warm and friendly” ever since modern-day Armenia was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1828 as a result of a Russo-Persian war. He underlined the significance of that event later in the day by visiting a memorial to Russian soldiers killed in that war.
“Our churches should by all means contribute to and promote the fraternal relations between our countries and peoples,” the patriarch said in his speech.
Karekin II, for his part, spoke of the Armenian people’s “utter love of and warm feelings of gratitude towards the Russian Church, the great Russian people and the Russian state.” “Our joint prayer here is testimony to the righteous unity of the Holy Church of Christ,” he said.
Kirill is scheduled to meet President Serzh Sarkisian, inaugurate the start of construction of a new Russian church in Yerevan and preside over a Russian-Armenian ecumenical liturgy together with Karekin II on Wednesday and Thursday. A spokesman for the Catholicos, Rev. Vahram Melikian, told RFE/RL that the visit will “further strengthen” ties between the two churches enjoying strong government support.
Russian analysts say that unlike his predecessor Alexi II, who died in 2008, Kirill is active in the political arena and keen to reach out to other churches. Alexei Makarkin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, likened him to experienced politicians who can “very quickly achieve their goals.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Makarkin said the 63-year-old patriarch has a cordial rapport with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. “Patriarch Kirill is undoubtedly an influential political figure in Russia, someone whose views the Kremlin takes into account,” he said.