Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Election Day in Russia

The much-anticipated election of the 16th patriarch of Moscow and All Russia is underway... and the eyes of Rome and the Kremlin -- not to mention the 135 million members of Orthodoxy's largest branch -- are on the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where the local council of 700 hierarchs, joined by elected clergy and lay delegates from over 30 countries, will shortly make its choice.

As the council's business opened, delegates received a report from Russian Orthodoxy's temporary head following last month's death of Alexei II, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kalingrad, on the accomplishments of the late patriarch's 18-year tenure.

Widely tipped as the front runner going into today's vote, at Sunday's ballot of bishops to determine the shortlist of three candidates for the post, the 62 year-old hierarch received 97 votes to his runner-up's 32.

Seeking to assuage anxieties in some church circles over his record of strong ecumenical bonds built during his two decades as the patriarchate's lead hand on external affairs, Kirill's sought to present an Alexei-esque tougher line in recent days, saying that while he's already met with Pope Benedict on several occasions, no meeting between the pontiff and Moscow patriarch can take place until "we see some real progress in the issues that have long been problematic in our relations."

As rumors persisted that Kirill's dialogue-friendly reputation would see the Russian church "surrender to the West," a surrogate for the metropolitan took to the airwaves to note that Kirill had actually kept Western missionaries out of the country -- a nod to the highly-emotional mindset that views foreign church-workers in Russia as aggressive proselytizers.

Bottom line: stand by for the result.

PHOTO: Reuters