Ukraine: A gift without a price?

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Ukraine.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

KIEV, UKRAINE – The visit to Ukraine by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in August was marked by a series of controversies – some more anticipated than others.

As he spread his message of church unity across Russian and Ukrainian lands, many accused Father Kirill of playing an important role in Moscow’s attempts to keep its neighbor and former Soviet republic in its sphere of influence.

In an interview on national television he blasted Western consumer society, cautioning against moving toward Europe only “for the sake of stomachs and pockets.”

“When a person has means, the first thing he does is buy himself some clothes, a car; then he does up his house, buys the latest appliances,” he continued. “[But] if a person loses the ability to answer the question, ‘Do I need it or not?’ is it not lust of the flesh, as Christian ascetics say, when flesh enslaves reason?”

But two days earlier, local media had published photographs of the patriarch during a service in which he wore a Breguet watch estimated to be worth around 30,000 euros (about $42,300). The photos were grist for the mill for his critics.

Argument raged on Internet forums, with many crying hypocrisy; others called the photos fakes and said the watch befits a man in his position.

The church’s response? Deacon Andrei Kurayev, professor of the Moscow Spiritual Academy, told Russian news agency Interfax that the watch was most likely a gift and the patriarch was perhaps unaware how much it was worth. According to Mr. Kurayev, Kirill doesn’t go shopping.

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