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.
“The vote will largely be for or against Kirill,” Antoine Nivière, editor of the Service orthodoxe de presse in Paris, told a meeting of religion journalists in the French capital this week. “If he cannot impose himself, a third man may emerge from among the older metropolitans with long experience.”
If Kirill is the candidate for a more modern and outward-looking Church, Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk is the conservative standard bearer. “Kliment is the candidate of the Russian state,” Jean-François Colossimo, a theologian at the Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, told the same meeting. “Kliment gives the impression of being conservative and dependable. Kliment represents continuity in the tradition of an Russian Orthodox Church subservient to the state.”