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MOSCOW, DECEMBER 31 /from RIA Novosti's Nikolai Zherebtsov/ - Today, RIA Novosti interviewed Metropolitan Cyril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Moscow Patriarchy Department of External Church Relations.

Fraternal links within Eastern Christendom were the year's top priorities in transnational contacts of the Russian Orthodox Church. To bring the situation of the Estonian Orthodox Church back to normal was among principal achievements as the Church, affiliated to the Moscow Patriarchy, received an official status in its country after trials and tribulations.

Last July's 13th Orthodox Church Council in Orlando, Florida, came as another landmark. The Orthodox Church in America elected its new Primate-Metropolitan Hermann, the Russian Orthodox Church's friend of long standing.

The Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches established a joint commission to analyse schisms in Eastern Christianity. The commission met delegates of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchy for an in-depth view of a schism in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Cyril attaches tremendous importance to his visit to Iraq, where he met Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and several other ministers. Russian Church hierarchs offered their view of developments round Iraq. "The use of force will bring disastrous results," warned the Very Reverend Cyril.

The receding year gave start to a dialogue with North Korea's Christian Federation.

A delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church visited the Philippines, November last, for "successful preaching".

There were essential contacts with the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever tensions may persist between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchy, there are fruitful links with many Catholic organisations.

The year brought spectacular improvement to contacts with the World Council of Churches.

Of special importance in relations with the Protestant churches were theological debates with spokesmen of the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland.

Metropolitan Cyril highlighted a maiden session of the European Council of Religious Leaders, which gathered in Oslo, Norway, November last.

The top of the Russian Orthodox Church had contacts with Romano Prodi, European Commission President, and other leading officers of the European Union's highest executive body.

In July, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church determined to establish an office of the Moscow Patriarchy in Brussels.

As he was rounding off the talk, Metropolitan Cyril stressed an unprecedentedly high ethical level of interreligious relations in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church is in fruitful contact with other religions and confessions traditionally established in the country.

Though a theatre hostage crisis of October in Moscow's Dubrovka came as a drastic challenge to interreligious peace, Orthodox Christian hierarchs regard leaders of traditional Islam in Russia as no mere partners in a dialogue but as brethren, our interviewee emphatically added.

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