Will Russian Orthodox role under Kirill match its numbers?
(Photo: Patriarch Kirill at his enthronement in Moscow, 1 Feb 2009/Sergei Karpukhin)
Our Moscow bureau chief Michael Stott makes an interesting point in his report (read it here) on the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill today as the new leader of the world’s 160 million Russian Orthodox Christians:The 62-year-old patriarch will oversee the world’s second biggest Christian church, which has grown stronger, wealthier and more influential since the collapse of communism.
About two billion people — one-third of the world’s population — are Christian. More than half of them are Roman Catholics — 1.1 billion — and they have the pope as their spiritual and administrative leader. After that, counting heads gets complicated. Second place usually goes to the Orthodox family of national churches and third to the Anglican Communion of member provinces. These groups earn these places because they are loose associations of churches with a spiritual leader for all. There are many Protestants divided into many denominations, but their churches are smaller because they are mostly independent of each other.
The latest figures from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary puts the Orthodox at over 250 million and the Anglicans at over 82 million. But the Russian Orthodox, 160 million under one spiritual and administrative leader, make up the second largest organised church in Christianity. About 30 million of them live outside Russia, meaning even the Russian Orthodox diaspora is larger than all of Sikhism (23 million) or Judaism (13-15 million).
With a dynamic new leader like Kirill, one who gathered wide experience abroad during two decades as the effective “foreign minister” of the Moscow patriarchate, we may hear a lot more about the Russian Orthodox in coming years. Attention will first focus on when to expect two “summits” — with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch (of all Orthodox) Bartholomew and with Pope Benedict. The meetings will probably take place in that order, and it’s not clear whether Kirill will receive Benedict in Moscow or meet him in a neutral third country.