International Orthodox Christian News

Possible contenders for next Russian Patriarch

(Reuters) - The most likely contenders to succeed Alexy II as Patriarch are the following senior figures within the Russian Orthodox Church, according to church sources, religious scholars and media.

The Church will pick a new leader next week for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad and Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk are considered to be the two main candidates to replace Patriarch Alexy II, who died on Dec. 5 at the age of 79.

A third possibly compromise candidate would be Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna.

Following are brief descriptions of the three:

METROPOLITAN KIRILL, 62: Kirill heads the Church's department for external relations, the same role filled by Alexiy 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 programmes.

Many hope he will establish better ties with Catholics if elected next Patriarch. In Dec. 2007 Kirill held a rare meeting with Pope Benedict in the Vatican. Kirill said he was increasingly optimistic about better relations with Rome.

Orthodox theologian Jean-Francois Colossimo said: "Kirill was the rector of the Leningrad seminary, which was the one most open to the West. He is very open to international questions and speaks very well."

Kirill was born in Leningrad -- now St Petersburg -- into a priest's family and was ordained a priest in 1969.

METROPOLITAN KLIMENT, 59: Kliment is a prominent figure within the hierarchy and manages the Church's economic affairs, though compared with Kirill, he is considered to be closer to the government, said a church source.

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 website.

Apart from ministering in the United States and Canada in the 1980s, the website reports he held a succession of prominent positions in the Church in the 1990s.

In 2006 he was appointed to a state role, to chair a committee of the Russian Federation's Public Chamber responsible for the country's spiritual and cultural heritage.

"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. 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."

METROPOLITAN JUVENALY, 73: Juvenaly, who has been linked in the early 1990s to Church reformers, has also been mentioned by analysts and in Russian media as a possible successor.

Juvenaly is more than a decade older than either Kirill or Kliment. He was born in Yaroslavl in 1935 and enrolled in a seminary in 1953, the same year Stalin died.

In 1964, Juvenaly led the first Orthodox Church delegation to visit Jerusalem since the 1917 revolution, according to the Church website . For more than 30 years, Juvenaly has been a member of the Church's Synod.

Juvenaly was the Church's foreign minister in Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's era. Analysts say he is "reassuring to the state".


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