First recognized as Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, he later held the title of Patriarch of Moscow and All of Russia. In 1989, he began serving on The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Before attending the Leningrad Seminary and the Leningrad Theological Academy, he worked as a cartographer for the Leningrad Geological Expedition of the 1960s.
Upon his 1969 ordination as a Hierodeacon in the Russian Orthodox Church, he was given the name of Kirill in honor of the Greek Christian missionary Saint Cyril.
Born Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyayev, he grew up in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia, as the son of a teacher mother and a cleric father.
Russian President (and later Prime Minister) Dmitry Medvedev attended Kirill's 2009 Patriarchal election ceremony.