Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, began a three-day visit to Bulgaria on April 27 2012, the first by a Russian patriarch since Aleksey II in 1994, during which Kirill will meet the country's top church and lay officials.
Kirill was scheduled to meet his Bulgarian counterpart, Patriarch Maxim, on arrival. The official part of the visit would include meetings with Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev, Speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov on the morning of April 28.
Later in the day, Kirill will visit Plovdiv, where he is scheduled to lay wreaths of flowers at the monuments of Russian tsar Alexander II and to the Soviet Army. He will also serve a mass at Plovdiv's St Marina church. On the last day of his visit, Kirill and Maxim will serve a mass at Sofia's St Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
The trip has stirred some controversy among church circles. It is part of the traditional tour of other autocephalous churches taken by newly-elected patriarchs upon election, but the tradition dictates a certain order, which this visit will break.
Kirill's visit to Sofia comes before the trip to Constantinople or the other autocephalous churches ahead of the Bulgarian church in the order of visits, giving rise to speculation in some Bulgarian media that it was as much a lay mission as it was a church one. In the past six months, Bulgaria has pulled out of two major joint energy sector projects with Russia, much to Moscow's chagrin.
The Patriarch of All Russia has recently become embroiled in controversy of a different sort, after his public relations office was forced to apologise for doctoring a photograph to remove an expensive Swiss watch from the patriarch's wrist (but failed to do the same to the mirror image in the polished surface of the table on which his hand was resting).
In the past month alone, Kirill has also been accused of trying to acquire, using underhanded tactics, the apartment of his neighbour and has also come under criticism for his harsh condemnation of a punk band's performance against Vladimir Putin (held inside the Christ the Saviour cathedral in Moscow).
In response to the recent media attention, Kirill delivered a speech on April 25, calling on all priests to avoid appearing on television talk-shows, which he described as "vanity fairs where participants seek to win the approval of viewers".
"For us, the guiding principle should be not the public opinion, not the positive or negative feedback, nor the number of laymen making internet posts, but the revelations handed by God in prayer and spiritual experience," Kirill was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Interfax.