Prior to becoming Patriarch, Kirill was Archbishop (later Metropolitan) of Smolensk and Kaliningrad beginning on 26 December 1984, and also Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church's Department for External Church Relations and a permanent member of the Holy Synod beginning in 1989.
In cultural and social affairs the Church under Kirill has collaborated closely with the Russian state under President Vladimir Putin. Patriarch Kirill has backed the expansion of Russian power into Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Kirill was born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev in Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg) on 20 November 1946. His father, Rev. Mikhail Gundyaev, died in 1974. His mother, Raisa Gundyaeva, a teacher of German, died in 1984. His elder brother, Archpriest Nikolay Gundyaev, is a professor at Leningrad Theological Academy and rector of the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in St. Petersburg. His grandfather, Rev. Vasily Gundyaev, a Solovki prisoner, was imprisoned and exiled in the '20s, '30s and '40s for his church activity and struggle against Renovationism.
After finishing the eighth grade, Vladimir Gundyayev got a job in the Leningrad Geological Expedition and worked for it from 1962 to 1965 as cartographer, combining work with studies at secondary school. After graduation from school, he entered the Leningrad Seminary and later the Leningrad Theological Academy, from which he graduated cum laude in 1970.
On 3 April 1969, Metropolitan Nicodemus (Rotov) of Leningrad and Novgorod tonsured him with the name of Kirill after saint Cyril the Philosopher and on 7 April ordained him as hierodeacon and on 1 June as hieromonk.
From 1970 to 1971 Father Kirill taught Dogmatic Theology and acted as rector's assistant for students’ affairs at the Leningrad Theological Schools and at the same time worked as personal secretary to Metropolitan Nicodem and supervising instructor of the first-grade seminarians.
On 12 September 1971, Kirill was elevated to the rank of archimandrite and was posted as a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva. On 26 December 1974, he was appointed rector of the Leningrad Academy and Seminary. Since December 1975, he has been a member of the WCC Central Committee and Executive Committee.
In 1971 he was appointed representative of the Moscow Patriarchate at the World Council of Churches and has been actively involved in the ecumenical activity of the Russian Orthodox Church since then.On 14 March 1976, Archimandrite Kirill was consecrated Bishop of Vyborg, Vicar of the Leningrad diocese.
On 2 September 1977, he was elevated to the rank of archbishop.
From 26 December 1984, he was Archbishop of Smolensk and Vyazma.
From 1986 – administrator of the parishes in the Kaliningrad Region.
From 1988 he became Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.
On 13 November 1989, he was appointed chairman of the department for external church relations and permanent member of the Holy Synod.
On 25 February 1991, Archbishop Kirill was elevated to the rank of metropolitan.
The Supreme Authority of the Church charged Kirill with the following functions:from 1975 to 1982 – chairman of the Leningrad Diocesan Council;
from 1975 to 1998 – member of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches;
from 1976 to 1978 – deputy Patriarchal Exarch for Western Europe;
from 1976 to 1984 – member of the Holy Synod commission for Christian unity;
from 1978 to 1984 – administrator of the Patriarchal Parishes in Finland;
from 1978 to 1988 – member of the Millennium of the Baptism of Russia preparatory commission;
in 1990 – member of the preparatory commission for the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church;
in 1990 – member of the commission for assistance in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl accident;
from 1989 to 1996 – administrator of the Hungarian Orthodox deanery;
from 1990 to 1991 – temporary administrator of the diocese of the Hague and Netherlands;
from 1990 to 1993 – temporary administrator of the diocese of Korsun;
from 1990 to 1993 – chairman of the Holy Synod commission for reviving religious and moral.
from 1990 to 2000 – chairman of the Holy Synod commission for amendments to the Statute of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Statute was adopted by the Jubilee Bishops’ Council in 2000.
from 1994 to 2002 – member of the public board for restoration of the Church of Christ the Saviour.
from 1994 to 1996 – member of Russian Foreign Ministry council for foreign policy and the prominent importer of alcohol and tobacco into Russia;
from 1995 to 2000 – chairman of the Synodal working group for elaborating a Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church on church-state relations and problems of modern society as a whole.
from 1995 to 1999 – member of the Russian organizing committee for events commemorating the 1941–1945 Great Patriotic War;
from 1996 to 2000 – member of the supervisory board of the 50th Anniversary of the Victory foundation;
from 2006 to 2008 – leader of the working group for elaborating a Basic Teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights.
since 2008 – chairman of the Economy and Ethics experts council under the department for external church relations (now the Economy and Ethics experts council under the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia).
On 27 January 2006, Kirill was given the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia.
Since 1994 Kirill has hosted a weekly Orthodox television program "Слово пастыря" on ORT/Channel One.
On 6 December 2008, the day after the death of Patriarch Alexy II, the Russian Holy Synod elected him locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne. On 9 December, during the funeral service for Alexey II in Christ the Saviour Cathedral (which was broadcast live by Russia's state TV channels), he was seen and reported to have fainted at one point. On 29 December, when talking to journalists, he said he was opposed to any reforms of a liturgical or doctrinal nature in the Church. On 27 January 2009, the ROC Local Council (the 2009 Pomestny Sobor) elected Kirill I of Moscow as Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus; with 508 votes out of 700.) He was enthroned on 1 February 2009.
The conservative wing in the Russian Orthodox Church criticized Kirill for practicing ecumenism throughout the 1990s. In 2008, breakaway Bishop Diomid of Anadyr and Chukotka criticized him for associating himself with the Catholic Church. However, in a recent statement, Kirill stated that there could be no doctrinal compromise with the Catholic Church, and that discussions with them did not have the goal of seeking unification.
Still, contact with Benedict XVI was characterized as greatly warm and with mutual respect with relations between the churches following. In 2012, Kirill's visit to Poland advanced greatly relations with the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Poland. Visits and encounters with Roman Catholics in Russia and abroad continue to enjoy support, if tacit, from many Orthodox clergy and lay people.
On 12 February 2016, Kirill and Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, met at José Martí International Airport near Havana, Cuba, and signed a thirty point joint declaration, prepared in advance, addressing global issues including their hope for re–establishment of full unity, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the Syrian Civil War and church organisation in Ukraine. This was the first meeting between a pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch.
Patriarch Kirill introduced significant changes in the administrative structure of the Church: On 27 July 2011 the Holy Synod of the Church established the Central Asian Metropolitan District, reorganizing the structure of the Church in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. In addition on 6 October 2011, at the request of the Patriarch, the Holy Synod introduced the metropoly (Russian: митрополия, mitropoliya), administrative structure bringing together neighboring eparchies.
On 20 October 2008, while on a tour of Latin America, he had a meeting with First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Fidel Castro. Castro commended Metropolitan Kirill as his ally in combating "American imperialism". Kirill awarded Fidel and Raúl Castro the Order of St. Daniel of Moscow on behalf of Patriarch Alexy II in recognition of their decision to build the first Russian Orthodox Church in Havana, to serve the Russian expatriates living there.
He was criticised by some for the ROC's failures in the Diocese of Sourozh and Ukraine.
Kirill "heartily congratulated" Alexander Lukashenko for winning the Belarusian presidency in 2010 by an apparent 80% majority, in elections marred by violence and accusations of intimidation and vote rigging.
When Kirill was elected Patriarch on 27 January 2009, by the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church by secret vote he gained 508 out of 702 votes and enthroned during liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow on 1 February 2009 the service was attended, among others, by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin.
The following day, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted a reception (a formal banquet) for the ROC bishops in the Grand Kremlin Palace, whereat Patriarch Kirill held forth about the Byzantine concept of symphonia as his vision of the ideal of church-state relations, though acknowledging that it was not possible to fully attain to it in Russia today.
On 8 February 2012 at a meeting of religious leaders in Moscow, Kirill described the Putin era as "a miracle of God" and criticised his opponents. He said that those who were demonstrating for democratic reform and the rule of law were emitting "ear piercing shrieks"
Journalists of the newspapers Kommersant and Moskovskij Komsomolets accused Kirill of profiteering and abuse of the privilege of duty-free importation of cigarettes granted to the Church in the mid-1990s and dubbed him "Tobacco Metropolitan". The Department for External Church Relations was alleged to have acted as the largest supplier of foreign cigarettes in Russia. The profits of this operation allegedly under Kirill's direction were estimated to have totaled $1.5 billion by sociologist Nikolai Mitrokhin in 2004, and at $4 billion by The Moscow News in 2006. However, Nathaniel Davis said that "... There is no evidence that Metropolitan Kirill has actually embezzled funds. What is more likely is that profits from the importation of tobacco and cigarettes have been used for urgent, pressing Church expenses." The duty-free importation of cigarettes ended in 1997. In his 2002 interview with Izvestia, Metropolitan Kirill called the allegations about his profiteering a political campaign against him.
Alexander Pochinok who was the minister of taxes and levies (1999-2000), said in 2009 that Kirill had no involvement in the violations.
Three female members of the feminist group Pussy Riot were arrested in March 2012 for performing a brief song in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow during which they called on the Virgin Mary to "chase Putin out". The women were arrested for hooliganism and were later sentenced to two years' imprisonment. The song contained swear words and offending the Church itself, as well as it was performed in the part of church near the altar where no laymen are allowed to enter. This act was considered a desecration and offence by many of Orthodox believers in Russia, and depicted like so both in local media as well as by some media abroad. It was also said that few people had known this feminist group before their act in the Cathedral. Commenting on the case, Kirill said they were "doing the work of Satan" and should be punished. This sparked criticism of the Orthodox Church on the Runet for not showing mercy, while Amnesty International described the women as "prisoners of conscience". In their closing statements, members of Pussy Riot said that Patriarch Kirill had used the church to support the cultural position of Putin's government. At the same time, polls by Levada centre showed that more than half of Russians are also unsupportive for the punk group.
Pope Benedict XVI, who was the leader of the Catholic Church at the time, has supported the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on this issue.
In March 2012, the former Russian Health Minister (1999–2004) Yury Shevchenko, pursuant to a court ruling, paid about 20 million rubles ($676,000) in compensation for the dust resultant from the renovation work that had settled in a flat upstairs in the prestigious House on the Embankment privately owned by Patriarch Kirill and occupied by the Patriarch's long-time friend businesswoman (variously described as Kirill's "sister", "second cousin", or "wife") Lidia Leonova. According to the media reports, the former minister is personally acquainted with the then RF prime-minister Vladimir Putin.
"I sold my apartment in St. Petersburg, and we paid the required sum", said Shevchenko's son, also Yury, in early April 2012.
According to the lawsuit, renovation works in Shevchenko's apartment stirred up a lot of dust, which settled on a collection of valuable books owned by Kirill. The Patriarch confirmed his ownership of the dusty apartment in a private conversation with journalist Vladimir Solovyov.
Most of the reports in the media tended to be critical of Patriarch Kirill and laughing at the claims that the dust was harmful, saying that it was just sand and it would have been far more efficient to just hire a maid to vacuum it up. The Patriarch himself then said he thought it to be inappropriate to forgive Shevchenko.
In 2012, Kirill was accused of wearing a Swiss Breguet watch worth over £20,000 (USD $30,000). In an interview with Vladimir Solovyov, Kirill said that he owned a Breguet, among other gifts, but he had never worn it. Concerning a photo which appeared to show him wearing the Breguet at a liturgy, Kirill stated "I was looking at that picture and suddenly I understood - it was a collage! But after that photograph was posted I began examining. As many people come and make presents. And often there are boxes that were never opened and you don't know what is there. And I found out that in fact there is Breguet watch, so I've never given commentaries that the Patriarch doesn't have it. There is a box with Breguet, but I've never worn it." This triggered at least one Internet blogger to study the issue and collect images of Kirill's wristwear. Some time later, photographs on his official website showed him wearing what appeared to be an expensive watch on his left wrist, and later one even showed the watch airbrushed out, but with a reflection of it still visible on the table's glossy surface. Later, it was stated by the Russian Church officials that it was a 24-year-old employee who "acted out of stupid, unjustifiable and unauthorized initiative" in editing the photo. It was also stated that "the guilty ones [for the image manipulation] will be punished severely".
A spokesperson added that it was "unethical" to discuss Kirill's private life, and the Russian Orthodox Church said on 4 April 2012 that foreign forces were taking revenge on it for supporting Putin: "The attacks have become more prominent during the pre-election and post-election period [... This] shows their political and also anti-Russian motives."
In June 2012, Kirill was given the Silver Shoe Award (given in Russia each year "for the most dubious achievements in show business") for "immaculate disappearance of a watch" in the category "Miracles up to the elbows". The award found a pained reaction from representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In 2016, Kirill stated that silencing priests that speak against same-sex marriage is symilar to censorship, such as those that existed under "Soviet totalitarianism". In May 2017, he likened it to Nazism and referred it as threat to family values during a visit to Kyrgyzstan.
In a sermon on Sunday 20 March 2016, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Kirill said that "Orthodoxy must defend itself" and fight against the "heresy" of human rights, which "contradicted the Bible", without giving details of which human rights he objected to.Russian Orthodox Church
Order of St. Prince Vladimir 2nd class (16 September 1973)
Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh, 1st and 2nd class
Order of the Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow, 1st class
Order of St. Innocent Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna, 2nd class
Order of St. Alexis the Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, 2nd class
Named Panagia (1988) – for active participation in the preparation and conduct of the Jubilee celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia
Order of Saint Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, 1st class (UOC-MP, 2006)
Order of Saint Stephen the Great pious governor, 2nd class (Orthodox Church of Moldova, 2006) – in recognition of diligent service, and the glory of the Orthodox Church in Moldova
Silver Jubilee Medal of St. Apostle Peter (St. Petersburg diocese, 2003)
Order in honour of the 450th anniversary of bringing the land Pochayiv Volyn icons (UOC-MP, 2009)
Order of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 2011)
Awards of local orthodox churches
Order of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Georgian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hellenic, Poland, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Finland and America.
Order of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I degree (Antiochian Orthodox Church, 2011) 
Gold Medal of St. Innocent (2009, The Orthodox Church in America) 
Awards of other churches and denominations
The Order of St. Gregory of Parumala (Syrian Orthodox Church(Malankara Orthodox), India, 2006) 
Order of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenia, 2010) 
Order "Sheikh ul-Islam" (Caucasian Muslims Office, 2011) 
Order of Merit for the Fatherland;
2nd class (20 November 2006) – for his great personal contribution to the spiritual and cultural traditions and strengthening friendship between peoples
3rd class (11 August 2000) – for outstanding contribution to the strengthening of civil peace and the revival of spiritual and moral traditions
Order of Alexander Nevsky (7 January 2011) – for outstanding personal contribution to the Motherland in the preservation of spiritual and cultural traditions
Order of Friendship (28 December 1995) – for services to the state, the progress made in implementing a comprehensive program of construction, reconstruction and restoration of historic and cultural sites in Moscow
Order of Friendship of Peoples (1988)
Medal "50 Years of Victory in Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945."
Jubilee Medal "300th Anniversary of Russian Navy" (1996)
Medal "In memory of the 850th anniversary of Moscow" (1997)
Gratitude of the President of the Russian Federation (14 August 1995) – for active participation in the preparation and conduct of the 50th anniversary of Victory in Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945
Diploma of the State Duma of the Russian Federation (2001)
Order of Honour (Azerbaijan 2010)
Order of the Republic (Moldova, 2011)
Medal "65th anniversary of Victory in Great Patriotic War" (Transnistria, 2010)
Lukoyanovsky District of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast (2000), Smolensk Oblast (5 February 2009), Kaliningrad Oblast (5 March 2009), Kemerovo Oblast (2010), Smolensk (2003), the selo of Rizskoye of Smolensk Oblast (2004), Neman of Kaliningrad Oblast (2006), Vyazemsky District of Smolensk Oblast (2006), Kaliningrad (2006), Khoroshevo-Mnevniki District of Moscow (2006), Republic of Mordovia (2011 – for outstanding contribution to the preservation and development of domestic spiritual and moral traditions, strengthening of interaction of church and state).