Kirill interim Russian Orthodox head, final outcome unclear
The Russian Orthodox Church has chosen Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as its interim leader, picking one of its best-known personalities to stand in until a successor to the late Patriarch Alexiy II can be chosen. The Church’s charter says this must happen within the next six months, but crucially does not say exactly how the new man should be picked. That introduces a potential wild card into the equation, the so-called “apostolic method” of election that leaves the final decision to be decided by drawing lots.
(Photo: Metropolitan Kirill, 19 Oct 2008/Ramon Espinosa)
Kirill, 64, has headed the Church’s department for external relations for two decades and has been active in the ecumenical movement abroad. He is considered relatively open to cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church, which has been trying for years to arrange a papal visit to Moscow despite tensions over Orthodox charges the Vatican is trying to win over Orthodox to Catholicism. At home, most Russians see him as the public face of the Church, at least partly because of his frequent appearances on television.
While he is considered a front-runner, he reportedly does not have strong support among the bishops, who are considered more nationalist and less outward-looking than he is. Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk is said to be more to their liking. Metropolitan Juvenali of Krutitsy and Kolomna and Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk are also mentioned as possible contenders.
Those names would put question marks over the outcome of a secret ballot with multiple candidates, the way Alexiy was picked in 1990. But the Church synod could opt for the “apostolic method” in which the synod (made up of clergy and laity) vote for the leading candidates and the new leader is drawn by lots from among the top three names. The Church used this method in 1917 to pick Patriarch Tikhon, its first leader after the patriarchate was restored following a 200-year suppression. The Serbian Orthodox Church used it in 1990 to select Patriarch Pavle and apparently plans to use it for his successor.
(Photo:Pope Benedict XVI and Metropolitan Kirill at the Vatican, 7 Dec 2007/Osservatore Romano)
This method is called “apostolic” because the original Apostles used it to replace the traitor Judas (Acts 1:26). The idea is to allow room for the Holy Spirit to guide the choice. The Russians used this method several times in the Middle Ages, sometimes asking a blind man to draw the lots to rule out any possible human influence on the final result.