Vienna, December 23 – While Metropolitan Kirill remains the favorite to become the next patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, with Metropolitan Kliment the equally obvious alternative if Kirill falters, there is an outside chance that the Church, possibly even with the support of the Kremlin, might turn to a Ukrainian if both of those candidacies fall short.
On the one hand, choosing Vladimir, the metropolitan of Kyiv, would help the Moscow Patriarchate to maintain control over its parishes and bishoprics in Ukraine, who represent nearly half of all such institutions in the Russian Orthodox Church. Indeed, it might allow the Moscow church to recover some parishes there that seek autocephaly for a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
And on the other, because Vladimir is 73 and in far from robust health, choosing him now would allow both the Church and the Kremlin to postpone a choice between Kirill, who enjoys the patronage of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Kliment, who is known to be close to President Dmitry Medvedev and especially the latter’s wife.
But many Russian nationalists both within the Moscow Patriarchate and in the Russian government are certain to oppose the selection of someone they suspect of having an insufficiently Moscow-centric view. At the same time, some in both places are likely to be against removing Vladimir from Kyiv where he has played a positive “Russian” role.
On Saturday, 56 of the Moscow Patriarchate hierarchs in Ukraine adopted an appeal to Metropolitan Vladimir saying that the churchmen consider him “to be a worthy candidate” for patriarch and that they will “support [his] candidacy” during the voting now scheduled to take place at the end of January (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2008-12-22/103615/).
Vladimir thanked the bishops and archbishops of the Moscow Patriarchate’s sees in Ukraine – who number more than a third of those who will have a vote next month – but did not indicate in his response whether he would agree to have his name go forward or would announce a personal choice among the other prospective candidates.
An analysis published in Moscow’s “Novyye izvestiya” yesterday said that this action suggested that the “Ukrainian” hierarchs in the Russian Church wanted to “strengthen their positions” in Ukraine given President Viktor Yushchenko’s announced intention of creating a single Orthodox church in that country.
And, the paper continued, it may have been a clever move not so much on behalf of Vladimir as in support of Kirill, who was behind the appointment of many of the “Ukrainian” churchmen and who “not long ago” enjoyed their clearly articulated support. Vladimir’s candidacy is thus designed to weaken other alternatives to Kirill and let him get in.
Reaction to this move has only begun to appear – and at least not yet from Kirill, Kliment or their immediate supporters. The most enthusiastic comment came from left-wing commentator Anatoly Baranov who argued that choosing Vladimir would bring only good things to Moscow and to Russia (forum.msk.ru/material/news/666094.html).
Specifically, it would put in place a reliable leader of the church, help overcome the looming splits in Ukraine, and avoid some of the baggage – including corruption – that Kirill carries. And he points out that it is worth noting that Vladimir was runner up to Aleksii during the last patriarchal elections.
Others who have taken a position over the last 48 hours include Konstantin Zatulin, the deputy head of the CIS Affairs Committee of the Duma, who argued that the collusion of the “Ukrainian” hierarchs behind Vladimir in fact pointed to a final split between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox (www.newsru.com/religy/22dec2008/vladimir.html).
Meanwhile, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who is Kirill’s deputy in the Patriarchate’s External Affairs Department, said only that Vladimir is “a worthy figure,” but Vladimir Vigilyansky, the Patriarchate’s spokesman, criticized the other “Ukrainian” hierarchs for acting “impulsively” by advancing Vladimir’s name before the conclave, as the Church requires (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1098329&NodesID=7).
According to “Kommersant,” there are now three possibilities ahead, other than Vladimir’s election which the paper implicitly dismisses. First, the conclave will not agree to having Vladimir’s candidacy go forward. Second, he will withdraw before that time. And third, he may either suggest “the Ukrainians” vote one way or allow the hierarchs to choose.
If he does the former, the Kyiv metropolitan will be the kingmaker, almost certainly on behalf of Kirill. If he does the latter, the outcome becomes more uncertain. Thus, as all those who have written about this today have said, the situation more than a month a head of the election is become “very interesting” indeed.