• In this Monday, Jan.  18, 2016 file photo, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, conducts an Orthodox Epiphany service in Christ The Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

    In meeting Pope Francis, patriarch asserts Russia’s role

    MOSCOW (AP) — When Patriarch Kirill meets Pope Francis this week, the historic event will allow the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to assert Russia’s leading role in the Eastern Christian world. It may also allow Kirill, a skillful political player with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, to open a new avenue of communication for the Kremlin as it tries to escape Western isolation.