January 25, 2009 / 5:30 PM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX: Three contenders for next Russian Patriarch

(Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church’s Council of Bishops Sunday nominated three candidates to succeed Patriarch Alexiy II, who died last month.

The church’s Local Council, made up of about of 700 priests, monks and laymen, will convene Tuesday for a final vote on who will be the next patriarch.

Following are brief descriptions of the three shortlisted candidates:

METROPOLITAN KIRILL, 62: Received 97 votes of the 197 valid ballots cast in the Council of Bishops.

He heads the Church’s department for external relations, the same role filled by Alexiy II before he became Patriarch, and has been named acting head of the church.

An articulate public speaker, Kirill is seen by many Russians as the public face of the Church, with frequent public appearances on television programs.

Many hope he will establish better ties with Catholics if elected the next Patriarch. In December 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: Picked up 32 votes in the Council of Bishops. He is a prominent figure within the hierarchy and manages the Church’s economic affairs. But 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 www.patriarhia.ru 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...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 FILARET, 73: The Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk received 16 votes. Based in Belarus, Filaret has developed cordial relations with the nation’s President Alexander Lukashenko who has been accused by Western governments of quashing democratic freedoms.

In striking contrast to many senior clergy in Russia, Filaret has good relations with local Catholics. But at the same time he lobbied for the adoption of a law on religions which proclaimed Orthodoxy the main faith in Belarus.

In 2004, Filaret angered Belarus’s opposition and human rights activists when he asked Alexiy II to decorate a Belarussian special forces commander with a top Russian Orthodox Church order. The opposition said the officer was responsible for kidnappings of its activists in the 1990s, but Alexiy eventually decided to decorate the man.

Filaret currently heads the Theological Commission of the Church’s Holy Synod.

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