The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church consecrated a prominent new church on Sunday near the Eiffel Tower.
Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of President Putin, led the elaborate
sanctifying ceremony in the Saint Trinity Church on the banks of the
Seine River, the gold-domed centerpiece of a €100 million complex owned
by the Russian government that will include a cultural centre and a
The ceremony included the consecration of the altar, a procession
around the grounds and the placing of relics, accompanied by an all-male
choir and the rich smells of incense.
The Paris mayor, Russian model Natalia Vodianova, Russian Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wife Svetlana and members of France’s large
Russian community crowded into the invitation-only, high-security event
in the imposing, block-shaped white church.
While it was primarily a religious event, it carried strong political overtones.
Putin championed the project for a new Russian church in Paris, which
prompted criticism from rights groups when it was first approved in
2008, and new concerns as diplomatic relations soured in ensuing years.
Putin played down suspicions that it would be used by Russian secret
services to spy on sensitive government buildings and embassies in the
The patriarch visit comes as some leading French and other European
politicians argue for better relations with Russia after years of
diplomatic tensions over Moscow’s role in the conflicts in Syria and
Churchgoer Ekaterina Besse, a Russian living in Paris, welcomed the
new church complex and expressed hope for a “thaw” in relations.
“We can see this is also a political gesture as much as a religious one,” she said.
In Russia — until 25 years ago an officially atheist state — the role
of the church has grown under Putin, notably in its lobbying for
traditional family policies and against homosexuality.
Putin, who once
explained the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine by
noting that the prince of the ancient Kievan Russian state was baptized
there more than 1,000 years ago, has publicly supported conservative
Christian groups, arguing that Western liberal values are alien to
The Russian patriarch thanked France for allowing the construction of
the “magnificent” Paris site.
In meetings with Russian emigres, he
warned that it’s “dangerous” for them to lose their loyalty to Russia.
“It’s your duty. You can live wherever you want, but you cannot break spiritual and cultural ties with your people,” he said.
Patriarch Kirill met on Monday with French President Francois
Hollande, a critic of Russia’s support for both Syrian President Bashar
Assad and separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Putin was meant to inaugurate the Paris church complex in October,
but cancelled his trip amid French anger at Russia’s bombing of
civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo.