Last updated: 5 November, 2012

Russian Orthodox patriarch to visit Holy Land

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is on Friday to begin his first trip to the Holy Land since being elected in 2009, officials said.

The head of Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church will visit key Christian sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories from November 9-14, as well as the Yad Vashem memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem.

“In religious terms, it is the most important visit since Pope Benedict XVI” in 2009, Israel foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Monday.

The visit was confirmed by the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem, which will host Kirill.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III met the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan in May.

The primate is expected to tour Christian landmarks in Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and in the Israeli towns of Nazareth and Tiberias.

Officials said he was expected to hold meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Mass arrivals from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s boosted the Russian Orthodox community in Israel, which is now estimated to number up to 300,000 people.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches and has around 150 million followers worldwide.

Kirill, who is 65, visited Syria and Lebanon in November 2011.

On November 13, the Russian patriarch will cross the River Jordan for a visit to Jordan where he will meet King Abdullah II, before returning to Moscow the following day.