Russian Orthodox patriarch in Romania, 1st visit in decades

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church arrived Thursday in Bucharest on the first visit to Romania by a head of the Russian church since the end of communism in the country.

NATO and European Union member Romania has cool relations with Russia, but the countries share cultural and religious ties through their respective Orthodox churches.

Kirill arrived a day ahead of a service celebrating ten years since Patriarch Daniel was elected head of the Romanian Orthodox church. Kirill and Daniel will lead Friday’s service, joined by senior Orthodox bishops from Albania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

He will also observe celebrations dedicated to St. Dimitrie the New, an 8th orthodox century monk, who is the protector of Bucharest. His remains are held in the patriarchal cathedral.

The two patriarchs are expected to discuss a rift between two orthodox churches in Moldova, a former Soviet republic which was part of Romania until 1940. One church is loyal to Moscow while the other is linked to Romania’s orthodox church.

Some 87 percent of Romania’s 19 million people are Orthodox. The collapse of communism there in 1989 paved the way for more religious freedoms, and the church quickly became more popular.

Patriarch Alexy I visited Romania in 1962, which was the last visit by the head of the Russian church.

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