Soviet touches mark Russian Orthodox patriarch vote session

January 26, 2009

(Photo: Russian Orthodox prelates vote for candidates for patriarch, 26 Jan 2009/pool)

There was a slightly Soviet air to the proceedings as bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church voted on Sunday for three candidates to be considered as their new patriarch. Meeting in the gold-domed Christ the Saviour cathedral overlooking the Moskva River, just a few hundred metres from the Kremlin, about 200 metropolitans and bishops had delegates badges dangling from their necks along with their usual pectoral crosses. A Soviet-style “presidium” of 16 top prelates presided over the session in the Hall of Church Councils. The proceedings started with voting for an election committee, a drafting committee and a credentials committee. Journalists covering the session couldn’t help but think of the old communist party conferences.

Seated in the middle of this “presidium,” Metropolitan Kirill — the acting patriarch and frontrunner for the top post — added to the atmosphere by chairing the meeting with a distinctively firm hand. But there were differences, of course. Voting for the three candidates was secret. And when it came time to announce the results of the vote, there was no official stamp to validate the protocol.

(Photo: Metropolitan Kirill addresses the Council of Bishops, 25 Jan 2009/Alexander Natruskin)

For readers outside of Russia, the only other major church election they might have seen in the news was the 2005 Roman Catholic conclave that picked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict XVI. That vote took place behind locked doors in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, beneath Michelangelo’s famous ceiling and his huge fresco of the Last Judgment behind the altar. Here the “presidium” sat in front of polished stone images of the 12 Apostles in a kind of modern icon style. Journalists were allowed in for the opening of the session,  had to leave during the pre-vote debates but could return for the actual voting and result.

When the official stamp was finally found, the announcement ceremony got underway. “Your Holiness, Metropolitan Kirill, please bless me to announce the protocol of the secret ballot vote to elect candidates for the See of the Patriarch of Moscow,” Metropolitan Isidor of Yekaterinodar and Kuban, head of the election committee, finally said from a Soviet-style rostrum. After he read out the results giving Kirill a strong lead of 97 out of 197 votes, the delegates gave the acting patriarch a long ovation.

Kirill reminded the hierarchs not to forget to bring a special liturgical mantle on Tuesday when a solemn service will be held before the start of the Local Council to elect the new patriarch. “Those without these mantles will not be allowed to take part in the service,” Kirill stressed.

(Photo: Christ the Saviour Cathedral, 26 Jan 2009/Alexander Natruskin)

The Local Council is made up of about 700 bishops, monks and laymen. Russian newspapers say the lay delegates will include members of the ruling United Russia party, one possible conduit for the influence the Kremlin is assumed to want to exercise in this election. Delegates to the Local Council can also nominate their own candidates for the final round.

The Local Council will meet in the main hall of the cathedral. Unlike the Catholic conclave, where the doors are shut during the whole process, journalists here will again be allowed in for the start and end of the session. The result is due Tuesday or Wednesday.

One more thing — there won’t be any white smoke either, another trademark of a papal election. The Russian Orthodox Church will do it the Russian way, even if it sometimes seems to have a few Soviet touches.

(Photo: Candidates for Russian Orthodox patriarch selected by the Council of Bishops. Pictured are (L-R): Metropolitan Kliment, Metropolitan Kirill and Metropolitan Filaret, 25 Jan 2009/Alexander Natruskin)
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