Two days ago, His Beatitude Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ Kirill turned 70, and I’d like to offer my belated best wishes.
I could also offer a eulogy, but there’s no need. One has already been delivered by Dmitry Kisiliov, the TV dummy to Putin’s Kremlin ventriloquist: “Patriarch Kirill is one of mankind’s leading thinkers. His thoughts on spirituality, duty, good and evil, wealth and poverty, meaning of life provide priceless spiritual supports for millions of people.”
St Paul, St Augustine, Nietzsche and Milton Friedman thus come together in the patriarch’s brocaded breast, and one can only prostrate oneself in awe. Then, having resumed the vertical position, one may dare offer a few comments, in the fear that a smiting lightning may strike at any moment.
Vladimir Gundiayev, as the Patriarch was in the lay world, remembers “that a man is not justified by the works of law but by the faith of Jesus Christ”. As a prelate, he has so much faith that he knows he can get away with anything for which lesser people would face everlasting fire.
For example, poor mortals can’t serve God and mammon, but, according to Gundiayev, that injunction doesn’t preclude other parallel careers. One can indeed serve two masters, in his case God and the KGB (FSB/SVR).
His Beatitude has been serving that organisation faithfully since at least 1972, when he first appears in KGB dossiers as ‘Agent Mikhailov’. Operational reports describe his assignments, always adding they were “fulfilled successfully”. No wonder the KGB then seconded Gundiayev to the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) – he earned it.
It’s from the height of Gundiayev’s dual consecration that the other day he addressed Russian abbots with a sermon of asceticism. He was scathing about their lives of comfort and luxury.
For example, he forbade them to decorate their sceptres with “baubles” and to have salaries. Abbots, he thundered, should “think more about heroic asceticism”.
Do as I say, don’t do as I do, goes the old saw, while an earlier one says in Latin that quod licet iovi, non licet bovi. Gundiayev’s flock are the bulls here, with him himself as Jupiter.
For His Beatitude doesn’t exactly practise what he preaches. The Russians began to notice that a few years ago, during what I then called the Watch’s Sabbath.
Gundiayev was photographed sporting a £30,000 Bréguet at a press conference. After the ensuing outcry, His Beatitude produced a doctored version of the same picture, with no watch anywhere in sight.
Alas, his retoucher had overlooked a minor detail: the reflection of the watch on the shiny table top in front of Gundiayev. As befits a prelate, the picture became supernatural with idealistic Platonic touches: only the shadow of an object was perceived, not the object itself.
Nor is Gundiayev immune to delights of the flesh. Even though he’s a monk, the patriarch openly lives with a woman he describes as a distant relation, a kinship for which no documentary evidence exists.
This cohabitation unfolds in multiple residences, some of which belong to Gundiayev outright, while others are variously described as ‘church property’, ‘gifts’ or ‘convents’. Russian researcher Dr Bychkov has published a long list of Gundiayev’s palaces, yachts and jets of which he has either ownership or exclusive use. His Beatitude has confirmed most of the items, which suggests that ‘patriarch’ must be etymologically related to ‘pay’.
I particularly liked the story of a convent converted into a patriarchal residence and stuffed with designer furniture imported from Italy. One table cost €20,000, and its finish must have been specified as matte, just in case.
I shan’t bore you with a full translation of the list, hoping you’ll take my word for it: we’re talking about uncountable millions. A tiny detail: last year Gundiaev won a lawsuit against his neighbour, who lived beneath the patriarch’s personal property, a 1,450 sq. ft. apartment with a view of the Kremlin.
His Beatitude claimed that refurbishment of the neighbour’s flat had produced dust, causing damage to Gundiayev’s furnishings. The damage was estimated at over $1,000,000, leaving us to guess the overall value of said furnishings, not to mention the apartment itself.
But let’s not get hung up on trivialities. For, with Putin’s blessing, His Beatitude has issued himself a patriarchal dispensation to serve mammon on a serious scale.
Gundiayev’s business activities have earned him a personal capital estimated at between $1.5 and 4 billion. As a good businessman, he has diversified his activities since the time he was a simple metropolitan (bishop). Tobacco products, oil, spirits and foodstuffs have figured prominently among his interests.
In 1996 he was party to a ROC deal whereby huge consignments of tobacco products were imported as duty-free ‘humanitarian aid’ and then sold through shops at market prices. It’s estimated that Gundiayev’s cut of that scam alone topped $50 million.
Later he got into the oil business, earning a fortune whose exact size hasn’t yet been documented, possibly because investigators can’t count that high. Then in 2000 His Beatitude made another $17 million flogging caviar and crabmeat – every little bit helps. His other interests include semi-precious stones, banking, stock market and property development.
And so it goes on, ROC around the clock. Happy birthday, Your Beatitude! God bless the good works.