Russian Orthodox Church names interim head
AFP - Sunday, December 7
PEREDELKINO, Russia (AFP) - - Russia's Orthodox Church named a relative reformist as its interim head Saturday as it made final arrangements for the funeral of deceased patriarch Alexy II next week.
The Church said a secret ballot of bishops had chosen 62-year-old Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as its acting leader, or "guardian of the throne," in what was seen as a pointer to Alexy's successor as patriarch.
The decision came as hundreds of mourners watched Alexy's coffin being transported from his residence at Peredelkino to Moscow, where his body was to lie in state at the Christ the Saviour cathedral.
Analysts warned that wrangling might still lie ahead. As head of the Church's external affairs department, Kirill built up major influence and contacts with churches around the world, making him relatively open to new ideas, but also a controversial figure among conservatives, they said.
He is also known for his forthright style of speech, making him something of a loose cannon in the eyes of some in the country's political leadership.
However some reports suggest President Dmitry Medvedev could push for reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church -- a target of deep enmity for much of Russian Orthodoxy -- making Kirill a logical choice if he were confirmed in office.
Born into a devout family in the western Leningrad region, he became a monk at 22 and rose through the ranks in the prescribed manner for the stultifying Soviet period, participating in Church youth organisations that allowed him travel opportunities unusual for the Soviet period.
In the 1970s he took up an array of overseas roles on behalf of the Church, travelling widely on visits that included nuclear disarmament discussions, a Middle East tour and oversight of parishes in neighbouring Finland.
He was made a bishop in 1976 and archbishop in 1984.
With the opening up that occurred in the 1980s he became ever-more involved in the Church's overseas links, visiting believers in the United States and taking part in dialogue with the Vatican.
The Church is to decide finally on its choice of successor to Alexy within six months at a general synod due to include some form of participation by members of monastic orders and laity.
The Kremlin is also seen as having strong indirect influence over the contest likely to pit Kirill against the head of the Church headquarters' administration, Metropolitan Kliment.
Kliment is regarded as an uncontroversial safe pair of hands in political circles, but also known for his strongly anti-Roman Catholic views.
Meanwhile the Church said Alexy II will be buried on Tuesday in a funeral service at Moscow's Bogoyavlensky (Epiphany) cathedral, "in accordance with his will."
Solemn services were held across Russia and in Orthodox churches abroad Saturday for the patriarch who had led the Church since 1990, overseeing its post-Communist revival and working with the Kremlin to make Orthodoxy the de facto state religion.
Popular newspapers also gave lavish praise to the 79-year-old whose death on Friday brought tributes from around the world, notably from Pope Benedict XVI and US President George W. Bush.
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The Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, seen here in 2007, has been appointed as the interim head of Russia's Orthodox Church.
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