Vienna, December 6 – Even before Aleksii II is laid to rest, Russians are speculating as to who will be selected as his successor. Most commentaries so far have identified four candidates of which two are held to be the more probable, with each of the latter seen as taking the Russian Orthodox Church in a very different direction.
The four names being mentioned most often are Metropoliltan Filaret, the patriarchal exarch of All Belarus, Metropolitan Yuvenalii, the chairman of the Canonization Commmission of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Kirill, the head of the External Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Kliment, the Patriarchate’s administrator.
While other candidates may emerge, it is likely that Aleksii’s successor will be one of these four – and even more likely that it will be one of the last two. Consequently, it is already useful to say something about each of them, about the way in which the new patriarch will be chosen, and about the various precedents that the Church’s leadership may invoke.
Metropolitans Filaret and Yuvenalii have only an outside chance, most Russian analysts suggest. Filaret, 73, has been the patriarchal exarch for Belarus since 1989, a position to which he was named following increasingly important assignments in the Russian Federation and in the Patriarchate’s External Relations Department.
Perhaps his most important qualification for the top post in the church is that he served in the 1970s as the Patriarchal exarch for Central Europe and archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Berlin, posts in which he had extensive contacts with Orthodox churchmen in these countries and with Soviet officials working there (religio.ru/dosje/20/22_print.html).
Meanwhile, however, his current post in Belarus could play either a positive or a negative role for his chances. On the one hand, it would help cement the two countries together, something the Kremlin would clearly like. But on the other, it might offend some in Russia itself who would view him as somehow less Russian because of that connection.
The other second-tier candidate is Yuvenalii, 73, who has attracted much attention in recent years for his role in leading the Commissiion on Canonization which among other things has approved and rejected candidates for what the Church calls the new Russian martyrs, including Nicholas II and others killed by the Soviets (religio.ru/dosje/26/47.html).
But a far more important qualification if that is the correct word is that his metropolitan see of Krupttsky and Kolomensky includes the parishes and monasteries of Moscow oblast, an administration that has brought him into continuing and close contact with many post-Soviet leaders as well as making him a true insider in the Patriarchate itself.
For the last several years, however, those who have tracked the Moscow Patriarchate in the last years of Aleksii’s reign have assumed that his successor will be one of two metropolitans, Kirill or Kliment, and argued that the links each has to the country’s political leaders will play a key role in the election (newsru.com/religy/05dec2008/kandidaten.html).
For almost two decades, Kirill, 63, the head of the powerful External Affairs Department of the Patriarchate and often the leading spokesman for the church both within Russia and abroad, has been described as “the second man” in the church hierarchy and the odds’ on favorite to succeed Aleksii as patriarch (religio.ru/dosje/10/15.html).
He has his own radio and television programs, has been an active participant in debates over human rights – he rejects the idea that there is such a thing as universal human rights – and religious instruction in the schools – he favors instructing Russian school children in Orthodoxy. And he has not been adverse to taking sides in political issues far removed from his faith.
But if his high public profile has won him accolades, it has also cost him on occasion. On the one hand, he actively supported Sergei Ivanov against Dmitry Medvedev in the campaign to be named Putin’s successor. And on the other, his willingness to stake out clear-cut positions for so many years has made him many enemies within the church and the state.
One aspect of Kirill’s career has made him vulnerable: his active engagement in the church’s involvement in business, an involvement that many believe has corrupted both him and the church and something that some fear could be used by the authorities to control him (blogs.mail.ru/community/voini_hristovi/2FBCD3976F66C681.html).
Consequently, many in the church hierarchy and in the Russian government as well have been looking for an alternative. They appear to have found one in Metropolitan Kliment, who has served as church administrator for several years, a key post in controlling the activities of the Patriarchate.
Kliment is thought to be close to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev and particularly to Medvedev’s religiously active wife, Svetlana, and despite his relative youth, the Kremlin chose him over Kirill to be a member of the Social Chamber, where he chairs the committee on the preservation of historical and cultural monuments.
But if he has these close ties, he has three obvious drawbacks from the point of view of senior churchmen and possibly the political elite as well. First, he does not have a high public profile and thus cannot play the kind of role that Aleksii did and that Kirill presumably could either as a church diplomat or a support for the regime.
Second, his positions on many religious questions are far more liberal than those of Kirill. For example, he has said that he favors teaching Islam in schools in regions of the Russian Federation where there are significant numbers of Muslims among the pupils rather than requiring them to study Orthodoxy.
And third, being both younger and more or an unknown quantity, Kliment would likely be patriarch far longer and might take the Church in new an unexpected directions, something many in the laity might prefer but that many in the deeply conservative hierarchy almost certainly fear.
Consequently, there is at the moment no consensus candidate to succeed Aleksii, and the rules of the church require only that a candidate be a senior hierarch, over 40, with a higher theological education, and demonstrated ability as an administrator of a see or a department in the Patriarchate.
And there are so few precedents about the election of a patriarch that one cannot be absolutely sure how the voting will be arranged. In the 20th century, Tikhon was chosen by the luck of the draw from three candidates approved in advance by the church hierarchy. Sergii, Aleksii and Pimen were chosen in non-competitive elections.
Only the late Aleksii was chosen in what proved to be the last year of Soviet power in a competitive election by secret vote. He and the other two candidates were approved in advance by the Patriarchal council, but then the bishops, archbishops and metropolitans of the church were able to cast their votes.
In all these cases, it is clear, the country’s political leadership played a role, albeit one hidden behind protestations that this was the Church’s decision. And it is certain that the current Russian political leadership will also have a voice this time around, but how the Kremlin and the Russian White House will act and whom they will choose is still an open question.