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Analysis & Opinion
21.01.09 Preconciliar Tension
Comment by Andrei Zolotov-Jr.

The Council of Bishops and the Local Council – the two top bodies of the Russian Orthodox Church -- will convene in less than a week. The Councils will elect the new Patriarch of Moscow, and the pre-council tension has reached the apogee. This will be the first time for the Russian Church to elect its new primate in an informational society, and thus, whether the church acknowledges this or not, in the circumstances of a public “election campaign.”

It is not yet clear how this campaign will affect the results of the election, because the main electors are bishops, and it is doubtful that they will make their decision based on Internet forums or newspaper articles. They are the ones who will have to follow the results of the Bishops’ Council sessions on January 25-26 by proposing official candidates for the patriarch throne. And it is doubtful that the elected representatives of the clergy and the laity, who are to take part in the Local Council on January 27-29, will vote differently from their bishop. The effect of this campaign is all the more hazy if you consider the fact that according to the faith of the Church, the Holy Spirit participates in the councils, and thus the role of the people who participate in them is very limited.

Nevertheless, both the candidates to the patriarch throne that emerged during the preconciliar period and the topics discussed in the church’s “informational yard” signify important tendencies in the modern life of the church.
Certainly, the first, leading, and most probable patriarch candidate is the current Patriarchal Locum Tenens, Metropolitan Kirill (Gundyayev) of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Metropolitan Kirill, who had headed the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate for 20 years, was always considered the “second man” in the Church, and never really tried to conceal his desire to become the next patriarch. His age is ideal for the job (62 years), and he is the brightest modern Russian church teacher, a social thinker and a politician. However, this is the aspect that might play against him, because his political enthusiasm is beyond the scope of what’s customary for the Church, and the combination of initiative and zeal might turn many bishops against him – they will not want to lose their patrimonial independence and usual course of life.

What speaks in support of Kirill is the general awareness of the fact that the issues of mission, education and enlightenment come to the foreground during this stage of church building. He is also supported by the fact that he is seen as an adequate partner in the dialogue with the state, capable of building a normal relationship while maintaining the Church’s autonomy. Against him is the fact that he is associated with the ecumenical movement, heterodoxy, and, in a wider sense, with the outside world, in the conditions of a powerful fundamentalist and thus isolationist current in the Church. Another thing that is starting to play against him is the excessively zealous propaganda campaign for him and against his rivals, which has been unleashed on the Internet by some of his supporters (Deacon Andrey Kurayev, Kirill Frolov, and others).

In any case, Metropolitan Kirill would have been considered one of the leading candidates for the patriarch throne, but by becoming also the locum tenens – that is, the leader of the Church during the interregnum – he has taken control of the preparations for the Council (and thus has the power to influence its outcome) on the one hand, but on the other hand he has exposed himself to the special fire of criticism by his ill-wishers. Although, it should be mentioned to the credit of the Orthodox community that the ideological issues – the correlation between missionary pathos and prayerfulness, the concept of the boundaries of the Church – are given much more space in this discussion than the notorious accusations that the metropolitan was involved in cigarette trade and other corruption scandals of the 1990s. It is hard to say how many members of the Council will vote for Metropolitan Kirill “by heart.” But many will probably vote for him “by reason.”

In the recent years the figure of Metropolitan Kirill was so powerful in the Church that the election of the next patriarch was always seen as a choice between him and someone else, and the place of this “someone else” had been taken consecutively by a few different church hierarchs over the course of the last decade.

The most recent of such “non-Kirills” is the Chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kliment (Kapalin) of Kaluga and Borovsk. At this time it should be mentioned that the office of the Chancellor – that is, the person responsible, among other things, for the communication between the Patriarch and the local bishops and for the coordination of their activity – is, by definition, a “counterweight” to the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, within the structure of the church machinery. This is the office that was occupied by the deceased Patriarch Alexy for many years in the past, as well as by his closest “runner-up” in the 1990 elections, the current Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) of Kiev and All Ukraine.

There is no doubt that Metropolitan Kliment enjoyed the special confidence of Patriarch Alexy, although he never proved himself to be an outstanding church figure. He has his own support group among the bishops. It is quite likely that some of Metropolitan Kirill’s opponents among the traditionalists will place their stakes on him. However, there are some things that have objectively worked against Metropolitan Kliment. On the one hand, it is his lack of success in promoting the course on “The Foundations of Orthodox Culture” in public schools; this was his main public project. And during the pre-council period, it was the evidence, made widely and publicly known by his opponents, that the assembly of heads of ecclesiastical seminaries was manipulated by his brother, Archbishop Dimitry (Kapalin) of Tobolsk and Tyumen and by his ally, Archbishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz Feofan (Ashurkov). Actually, the “monster threat” – the fact that if Metropolitan Kliment is elected, the church will be ruled by the two Kapalin brothers, one of whom has a rather poor reputation in the church circles – is one of the main propaganda weapons against Metropolitan Kliment.

The second possible alternative to Metropolitan Kirill is a candidate from Ukraine. Ukraine will be represented by 192 members of the Council, with the total number being 720 – that is, by more than one quarter. It is also capable of mobilizing the ethnic Ukrainians among Russia’s bishops. Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) of Kiev and All Ukraine, whom a council of Ukrainian bishops asked to run for the patriarch office, has already refused the honor. During a meeting of the Ukrainian council delegation in Kiev, he declared that he wishes to “come before God as the 121st Metropolitan of Kiev,” not as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow.

With not much time left before the Council, the church circles also discussed the candidacy of Metropolitan Onufry (Berezovsky) of Chernovtsy and Bukovina – a man who has spiritual influence and authority not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia and in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). He holds a centrist position on the issue of the status of the Ukrainian Church, adhering to a moderate pro-Moscow orientation, and is basically considered as one of the leading candidates to the Kiev see in the future. Another fact that stands objectively in his favor is that he has not participated in the Russian public life, and thus has not had a chance to make enemies here. However, it is unlikely that the Russian council members will want to see a Ukrainian as their leader.

Nevertheless, we should acknowledge the fact that the Ukrainian delegation will hold if not a “controlling,” then certainly a “blocking” packet of votes during the Council, and its strategy and line of behavior will in many ways predetermine the future status of the Ukrainian Church – whether it will remain a part of the Moscow Patriarchate or turn into an autocephalous church.

Despite the fact that the hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and primarily the Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) of New York and East America and Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain have a lot of influence in Russia today and represent a successful combination of traditionalism and popular anti-ecumenism with the ability of establishing relations with “outsiders,” if only by virtue of their foreign experience, it is doubtful that they will nominate themselves for this election. They are fully aware of their lack of experience in managing the Russian reality.

If Patriarch Alexy had lived for at least another five years, it is quite possible that a candidate from among the “forty-year-old” hierarchs would have been nominated. These are the bishops that were ordained during the post-Soviet era, and they make up the overwhelming majority of bishops today. However, right now this would be premature.

Thus, today there are two candidates that are the most realistic alternative to Metropolitan Kirill. Curiously enough, they are his senior Synod colleagues and disciples, just like he is, of Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) of Leningrad (died in 1978) – Metropolitan Yuvenaly (Poyarkov) of Krutitskoe and Kolomna and Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Slutsk, the Exarch of All Belarus. Both are 73 years of age, which is a factor against them if we are talking about a long-term choice, but it can be in their favor if it suddenly comes to electing a compromise figure.

Along with their age, their Soviet experience is a plus for some people and a minus for others. Both are subtle church politicians and good public speakers; they are viewed as “lesser modernists” than Metropolitan Kirill, although their theological, social and ethical views are rather more liberal than his. This is a question of style, though, rather than that of essence.

Such an election, naturally, will not please the radical fundamentalists; they will dislike all the real candidates, although Metropolitan Kirill is the worst of them. They use the pre-council discussion to repeat their monarchist, anti-globalist and anti-hierarchal slogans. For the more moderate traditionalists, however, one of Synod’s elders might be a more acceptable choice.

Perhaps one of the main topics of heated discussion during this preconciliar period is the procedure for electing the patriarch. The Synod proposes, following the election model used in 1990, voting by secret ballot for one of three candidates introduced by the Bishops’ Council. An idea that is popular in the church circles, however, and especially among the traditionalists, is using the 1917 model of electing the patriarch – when the Council first votes to elect three candidates, and then a patriarch is chosen from their number by casting a lot. This is the way they see as reaching the maximum balance between the will of man and the will of God. And in a more earthly sense, this is their only chance of “snatching” the patriarchy from the hands of Metropolitan Kirill (in 1917, the elected patriarch was the man who had won the least number of votes among the three leading candidates, St. Patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin), and the candidate with the most votes, Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), later became the founder of ROCOR). This is exactly why the supporters of Metropolitan Kirill today actively campaign against the election by lot and do all they can to make sure that this idea does not surface during the Council.

In the meantime, the locum tenens, who has already venerated the holy shrines of his native St. Petersburg, is delivering services every day in different churches and monasteries of Moscow and is doing a lot of preaching. On Sunday, on the eve of Epiphany, he delivered a service before the famous icon of Our Lady of Vladimir I in the St. Nicholas Church attached to the Tretyakov Gallery. After the service, according to the press service of the Patriarchate, he went to the exhibition halls of the Gallery and aspersed holy water on the famous painting by Alexander Ivanov, “The Appearance of Christ to the People,” which is recognized as an icon of Russian spiritually-oriented art, but not as an icon in the narrow ecclesiastical sense. This kind of going outside the narrowly-understood ecclesiastical boundaries is probably what is meant when people talk about the main candidate’s missionary pathos.
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