3 Candidates Picked to Become Next Patriarch

MTMetropolitan Kirill, center, welcoming Metropolitan Kliment, right, and other members of the council of bishops Sunday at the Christ the Savior Cathedral.��
Senior clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church selected three nominees on Sunday to stand in a vote for the first new patriarch since the Soviet collapse.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, acting head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the death of Patriarch Alexy II last month and widely seen as a modernizer, received 97 of the total 197 votes cast by the council of bishops.

Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk had 32 votes, while Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk had 16 votes, church officials said.

The patriarch will be chosen at a separate gathering starting Tuesday.

Earlier Sunday, clergy prayed for divine guidance at the start of the contest for a new leader that is likely to pit conservatives against those who want to open up the church to the rest of the world.

The new patriarch will lead a church of about 165 million believers worldwide and determine whether to repair ties with the Roman Catholic Church that have been strained since a schism in 1054 split Christianity into eastern and western branches.

Several dozen of the church's most senior clergy members, in gold-embroidered vestments, held prayers in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral asking God to help them choose a worthy successor to Alexy II.

"Thousands of churches and hundreds of monasteries across all our land have risen from ruins in less than 20 years, largely thanks to the devoted work of our deceased patriarch," Kirill told the gathering of bearded senior clerics, dressed in black robes and cylindrical hats. "We cannot but understand the greatness of the task that faces us to be worthy of the memory of this great luminary of the Russian church."

There has been no overt campaigning for the patriarch's role, but there has been a vigorous debate in the Russian media between churchgoers who favor sticking to tradition and modernizers who want stronger ties with other Christian faiths.

The top contenders picked by the council of bishops are Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, 62, who spearheaded contacts with other religions, and a conservative camp whose favored candidate is Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk, 59.

Metropolitan Filaret
A local council -- made up of about 700 priests, monks and laypeople -- will then convene Tuesday to choose the next patriarch. The final voting procedure has yet to be decided, but it could involve a secret ballot or drawing lots at random.

The cathedral, a short distance from the Kremlin, was surrounded by hundreds of police. Orthodox activists gathered outside holding up ecclesiastical banners embroidered with the image of Jesus Christ. "Let the Holy Spirit point to the most worthy candidate," read a placard held up by one believer. Another read, "There is no salvation outside the church."

Alexander Ogorodnikov, a religion expert and editor of an Orthodox magazine, said Kirill had a "very good chance" of taking over. He said Kirill has the backing of the church's intellectual elite and is an active missionary.

Kirill is also likely to carve a more independent course from the Kremlin, observers say, though state influence is unlikely to wane significantly.

The church's current relations with the Kremlin are stronger than ever, as shown when President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin kissed Alexy II's forehead during last month's lying in state.

Alexy II had last year given his blessing to Medvedev's election as president, publicly praising the social programs Medvedev had implemented as first deputy prime minister.

But Kirill is unlikely to have a free run to the throne, Ogorodnikov said. He may face the strongest challenge from candidates who represent "not a crisis manager, but more of a father, a loving patriarch," he said.

Alexy II became patriarch in the dying days of the Soviet Union. He oversaw a revival of the Russian Orthodox faith after decades of communist repression but resisted a historic meeting with the Roman Catholic pontiff.

His critics accused him of allowing the church to fall under the sway of the Kremlin. As president, Putin was regularly shown at the patriarch's side, and the church held back from publicly criticizing the failings of Russia's leaders.

(Reuters, AP)

Main Contenders for next Patriarch

Metropolitan Kirill, 62: Kirill heads the churchs department for external relations, the same role filled by Alexy II before he became patriarch.
Until the election, Kirill is acting head of the church. An articulate public speaker, Kirill is often perceived as the public face of the church to many Russians, with frequent public appearances on television programs.
Many hope that he will establish better ties with Catholics if elected as the next patriarch. In December 2007, Kirill held a rare meeting with Pope Benedict in the Vatican. Kirill said he was increasingly optimistic about better relations with Rome.
Kirill was the rector of the Leningrad seminary, which was the one most open to the West, said Orthodox theologian Jean-Francois Colossimo. He is very open to international questions and speaks very well.
Kirill was born in Leningrad now St. Petersburg into a priests family and was ordained as a priest in 1969.
Metropolitan Kliment, 59: Kliment is a prominent figure within the hierarchy and manages the churchs economic affairs, though compared with Kirill he is considered to be closer to the government, a church source said.
Kliment was born in the Moscow region and enrolled in a Moscow seminary in 1970. He completed his studies in 1974 after serving two years in the Soviet army, according to his biography on the church web site www.patriarhia.ru. Apart from ministering in the United States and Canada in the 1980s, he held a succession of prominent positions in the church in the 1990s, the web site reports. In 2006, he was appointed to a state role to chair a committee of the Public Chamber.
Kliment is a man of the shadows of the system, said Antoine Niviere, editor of the Orthodox Press Service in Paris. He took an official trip to the U.S. in the 1980s, which means he was considered loyal to the state.
Kliment gives the impression of being conservative and dependable, he said. Kliment represents continuity in the tradition of a Russian Orthodox Church subservient to the state. Kirill is seeking an alliance, a partnership with the state.