FaithWorld

Russian Orthodox church removes wild card from new patriarch’s election

January 16, 2009

One of the most intriguing questions about the voting for a  new Russian Orthodox patriarch on Jan. 27-29 has been answered. Speculation about the succession began as soon as the late Patriarch Alexiy died in December, but it had an unusual extra layer of uncertainty. Orthodox church leaders sometimes elect the top three candidates and then pick the winner by drawing lots. This, they say, lets the Holy Spirit have the final say. So even a strong front-runner could be passed over.

During the Roman Catholic Church’s papal transition in 2005,  we speculated about the papabili (papal contenders) for days and explained in detail the complex rules for the election of a new pope. The “apostolic method,” as the election by lots is called, would inject additional uncertainty into the Orthodox vote — if  they used it.

(Photo: Metropolitan Kirill leads Orthodox Christmas service in Moscow’s Christ The Saviour Cathedral, 7 Jan. 2009/pool)

But Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the acting patriarch who is also a front-runner, has indicated that this wild card has been taken out of the patriarchal election procedure. In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, he said earlier heads of the Church had usually been chosen by the tsar or elected in open ballots. “His Holiness Patriarch Alexiy II was elected by secret ballot out of three candidates suggested by the Archbishop Council,” Kirill said. “Years of his ministry proved it was the right choice made by God’s will.”

Kirill made clear the Holy Spirit was not completely sidelined even with a secret ballot. He said the Church leaders believed that prayers by the council participants “backed up by prayer of the whole Church will open hearts and minds of the council members for perceiving the message of the Holy Spirit.”

Kirill, 64, has headed the Church’s department for external relations for two decades and has been active in the ecumenical movement abroad. 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. as

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