FaithWorld

Russian Othodox Church picks Kirill, better Vatican ties expected

The Russian Orthodox Church elected Metropolitan Kirill, 62, as its new leader on Tuesday, succeeding Alexiy II who died last month. The new leader of the 165 million-strong Church, the largest in the Orthodox world,  is seen as a moderniser who may thaw long icy ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

There was speculation before the vote that nationalists, anti-westerners and anti-Catholic forces among the clergy and monks might rally to block Kirill’s election. He seemed to take the possibility seriously enough to strike a conservative tone in recent days. In his address before the vote, Kirill spoke of “the assault of aggressive Western secularism against Christianity” and of “attempts by some Protestant groups to revise the teachings of Christianity and evangelical morality”. He also hit out at Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries, saying they sought converts in post-Soviet Russia — a key point of discord with the Vatican. (Photo: Metropolitan Kirill before the vote, 27 Jan 2009/Alexander Natruskin)

But the vote showed his support was strong. Kirill received 508 votes from a total of 677 valid ballots cast. His rival, conservative nationalist Metropolitan Kliment, 59, polled just 169 votes and a third candidate, Metropolitan Filaret of Belarus, withdrew in favour of Kirill.

Kirill, whose official title is Metropolitan (senior archbishop) of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, is one of the few  senior Russian clerics to have met Pope Benedict. He favours closer ties with the Vatican and observers say he would chart a more independent course for the Russian church.

Hopes of a thaw have been fuelled by Kirill’s meetings with Pope Benedict at the Vatican in 2006 and 2007 and his optimistic comments about better relations with Rome. He even spoke about a thaw in an interview with the pope’s own paper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Soviet touches mark Russian Orthodox patriarch vote session

(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.

Strong showing for Kirill in first round of Russian Orthodox vote

Frontrunner Metropolitan Kirill made a strong showing in the first round of the Russian Orthodox voting for a new patriarch on Sunday. He won 97 of the 197 votes cast in the Council of Bishops, which picked three candidates for the final voting by the Local Council of about 700 priests, monks and laymen this week. His main rival, Metropolitan Kliment, picked up 32 votes while the third candidate, Metropolitan Filaret, got 16 votes.

See a full report here from our Moscow bureau. (Photo: Metropolitan Kirill, 19 Oct 2008/Ramon Espinosa)

The next round of voting, to be held in a Local Council session lasting from Tuesday to Thursday, requires a  majority of 99 votes. That puts Kirill just two votes behind the magic number. If one of the three candidates does not get an outright majority, the third man drops out and the two others go into a run-off. Church watchers say the Local Council will have many delegates who are more nationalist, anti-western and anti-ecumenical minded than Kirill and might vote for anyone but him. Watch this space…

In Moscow next week, it’s all about Kirill

The Russian Orthodox Church election of a new patriarch next week is shaping up as a vote for or against Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.  Already the acting head of the Church since the death of Patriarch Alexiy II last month, Kirill is the clear frontrunner and the man who other churches — especially the Roman Catholic Church — would like to see take the top post. Those two factors, though, could work against him when the Council of Bishops and the Local Council — the two bodies that conduct the election — meet. (Photo: Metropolitan Kirill, 6 Jan 2009/Alexander Natruskin)

Dmitry Solovyov in our Moscow bureau has provided a rundown of the leading candidates in the election, which begins with the meeting of the Council of Bishops on Jan. 25-26, and a rundown of the leading candidates. The bishops will propose three candidates, who will then be voted on by the Local Council of 711 representatives of clergy and laity during its Jan. 27-29 session. The new patriarch will be installed on Feb. 1.

This will be the first patriarchal election since the end of the Soviet Union (the last one was in 1990, a year before communism collapsed there) and since the spectacular revival of the Russian Orthodox Church. One effect very visible abroad was the higher profile the Church has taken in ecumenical exchanges. Less visible to those outside Russia are the different currents in the Church, such as nationalists, anti-westerners, critics of ecumenism and others, who oppose that new openness and activism. If they can close ranks, they could block Kirill’s ascension.

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

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.”

Russian Orthodox to elect new patriarch in late January

The Russian Orthodox are wasting no time with the election of their new leader to replace the late Patriarch Alexiy. Although Church statutes give them six months to ponder the decision, a Holy Synod meeting today decided to hold a General Council in late January to elect a successor.

“On Jan. 27 the General Council will open. It will be held on Jan. 28-29,” acting Partriarch Kirill — one of the frontrunning candidates — said in Moscow.

“Jan. 30-31 will be dedicated to preparations for the enthronement of the newly elected Holy Patriarch. The enthronement will be held on Feb. 1,” he told journalists in Moscow.

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.

Kirill tells L’Osservatore that Moscow-Vatican ties thawing

L’Osservatore Romano, Nov. 1, 2007We reported on Wednesday that Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been making very positive comments about relations between the Russian Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw,” he told journalists in Moscow on Tuesday.

Now he’s said it directly to the Vatican, in an interview with the pope’s own paper L’Osservatore Romano (at the upper right of the PDF, in Italian). The Vatican daily on Thursday has an unusual front-page interview with Kirill where he spoke again of a thaw. “The big chill is over and it’s thawing time,” he said. The rest of the short interview repeats earlier statements about how the two churches share the same spiritual and moral valules and should work together to tackle the many problems facing humanity today.

Frost turns to thaw in Russian Orthodox-Catholic ties

Metropolitan Kirill and Vatican ecumenical chief Cardinal Walter Kasper in Moscow, Feb. 19, 2004Recent high-level contacts between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are starting to show some results. It’s still in the atmospheric stage, but the comments from Moscow are now much more positive than they used to be. The latest came on Tuesday from Metropolitan Kirill, the external relations chief of the Moscow Patriarchate, in a very Russian turn of phrase — “We now have a positive tendency — we have moved on from a severe frost to a thaw.”

Pope Benedict has been wooing the Orthodox churches from the start of his papacy and would like to become the first Roman pontiff ever to meet a Russian patriarch. The current patriarch, Alexiy II, tested the Catholic waters with a visit earlier this month to Paris, where he met Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard and other French prelates. He spoke about “emerging cooperation” between the two churches, without going into too many details. Speaking to journalists the next day, Kirill added a clearer assessment. “We have achieved some very positive results recently,” he said.

So does the frost-to-thaw image add anything? For journalists weighing every word these men say, it pushes the story just a little bit further. It was another departure from the wooden responses we used to hear in the past. That usually signals some real movement behind the scenes. When will we see the next step?