Lottery system to chose next Serbian Orthodox patriarch
(Photo: Prelates pay respects to Patriarch Pavel, 15 Nov 2009/Ivan Milutinovic)
If U.S. voters elected their president in the same way the Serbian Orthodox Church chooses it patriarch, they could have seen Ralph Nader, Ross Perot or other third place finishers taking up residence in the White House. That’s because the Church, in a move originally aimed at thwarting Communist authorities, uses a system that incorporates a lottery within the election by church elders to choose a leader.
The Holy Synod of Bishops, the Church’s top executive body, will use that system within the next three months to elect a successor to Patriarch Pavle, who died on Sunday. Pavle headed the Serbian Orthodox Church during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as Serbs warred with neighbours of other faiths.
Pavle, 95, died at Belgrade’s Military Hospital where he had been treated since 2007 for various ailments. As his health deteriorated, although nominally still head of the church until death, Pavle had given up its day-to-day running in 2008 to Bishop Amfilohije, who is seen as a Serb nationalist on issues such as Kosovo.
(Photo: Patriarch Pavle, 24 March 2001/Ivan Milutinovic)
The Holy Synod of Bishops will first convene the Holy Assembly which will then decide to initiate the proceedings of electing a new patriarch in a so-called Apostolic Vote. “At least two-thirds of metropolitans, active bishops, candidates for bishops who run dioceses for more than five years must attend, and those absent may delegate power of attorney to another participant,” said Jovan Janjic, a Belgrade-based analyst with the weekly NIN magazine.
Each member of the assembly votes for the three candidates and the vote is repeated until the selection is narrowed to three. After balloting, names of the three top candidates with more than 50 percent of backing are put in three sealed envelopes. “It all becomes a lottery then,” Janjic said.
The names of the three candidates are placed inside a Bible and after a holy service, a specially selected monk who prepares for the task through fasting and praying, takes the envelope from the Bible, shuffles the three names and pulls out one. The presiding bishop immediately takes the envelope, opens it in plain view of others and announces the name of the new patriarch.
The so-called “Apostolic Vote” was introduced in 1967 as a move tailored to curb the influence of Communist authorities in the former Yugoslavia on the appointment of patriarchs. At the time authorities said the Holy Spirit should lead the hand of the monk therefore excluding allhuman interference. This voting system dates back to 1917 when the Russian Orthodox Church used it to pick Patriarch Tikhon, its first leader after the patriarchate was restored following a 200-year suppression.
(Photo: Bishop Amfilohije, 15 Nov 2009/Ivan Milutinovic)
Insiders say the lobbying and politicking between the candidates and their supporters is as fervent as in a U.S. or European style election campaign.
Three bishops — hardline Montenegrin Amfilohije close to nationalist parties, moderate Irinej from the northern Serbian Backa diocese and another moderate Grigorije from the Serb region of Bosnia — are the key contenders. According to sources from the Holy Patriarchate, Amfilohije and Irinej are the two top candidates as they can muster backing of at least 15 bishops each. Grigorije, considered modern and pro-European, has the backing of several younger bishops, as well as from rank-and-file clergy and faithful.
“We may speculate as long as we want and it is clear that the three are the most popular. But at the end it is the Apostolic Vote that decides. And there are always dark horses in this race,” the source said.
In 1991, Patriarch Pavle was chosen after nine rounds of voting as a monk picked him over two other candidates including Amfilohije.