Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has concluded his visit to London amid criticism from MPs and Ukraine.
On Tuesday the patriarch, who is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, met the Queen at Buckingham Palace. They reportedly discussed the rise of the Orthodox Church in the Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Patriarch Kirill also met the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace. In a statement the palace said the pair discussed tensions between the British and Russian governments and the persecution of Christians around the world.
In response to the patriarch’s visit, Labour MP John Woodcock told the Daily Mail that it was “very troubling” for someone so closely associated with the current Russian government to be welcomed to Buckingham Palace at a time when Russia is supporting a “murderous Syrian regime”.
Woodcock’s fellow Labour MP, Alison McGovern, said the visit was an inappropriate “PR opportunity”.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Natalia Galibarenko, reportedly said that Britain’s hosting of the patriarch risked legitimising Russia’s aggression in her country and described the patriarch as “a Kremlin mouthpiece”.
As many as 1,000 people gathered in London’s Russian Orthodox cathedral on Sunday to witness the consecration of the building, conducted by Patriarch Kirill.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was in attendance at the historic service at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints in Knightsbridge.
In an address after the service, Patriarch Kirill said: “The Church is a community open to everyone, [it] erases all human controversies. Even a very rich man stands next to the poor one, high-ranking officials stand next to the common people.
“The Church should also play a role in international relations. Through faith, through the Church the soul of a nation is manifested.”
The service followed a major refurbishment of the cathedral and also commemorated the 300th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Church’s arrival in the British Isles. The patriarch reportedly received a gift of a Welsh corgi puppy from the congregation.
During the service Patriarch Kirill prayed for “all the Saints who shone forth in the British land” and dedicated the Orthodox hymn Many Years to Queen Elizabeth II, the United Kingdom and Russia.