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Metropolitan Kirill Elected New Patriarch Of Russian Orthodox Church

January 27, 2009

MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church has elected modernizer Metropolitan Kirill, 62, as its new leader, succeeding the late Aleksy II.

A church official said on live television that the Local Council, made up of about 700 priests, monks, and laymen, chose Kirill over his rival, conservative nationalist Metropolitan Kliment, 59.

Kirill received 508 votes in a secret ballot, while Kliment received 169 votes.

Kirill will be installed February 1 as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, succeeding Aleksy II, who died in December after leading Russia's dominant faith -- with some 165 million faithful worldwide -- in a powerful post-Soviet revival.

Kirill served for years as the church's external relations chief.

He is seen as a modernizer more likely than his rivals to seek a measure of independence from the state and better relations with the Vatican.

It was the first such vote since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Kirill's election comes at a time of unprecedented popularity in Russia for the church.

Former President Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, has worked to restore the church to a central role in Russian life -- and rebuild its traditional ties to the Kremlin. Signs of that relationship were evident at Aleksy's funeral last month, when both Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev kissed the dead patriarch during his lying-in-state.

Recent weeks had seen intense lobbying by the contenders, with Kirill accused by some of engaging in smear tactics reminiscent of political campaigns.

"It was tense, dirty, and aggressive," Aleksandr Soldatov, editor of the Orthodox affairs website credo.ru, told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "On various blogs and Internet forums, Metropolitan Kirill's supporters published compromising material against his opponents and other possible candidates."

As the church's long-standing external relations director, Kirill is Russian Orthodoxy's public face. Known to millions of people across Russia and beyond, Kirill is also seen as an advocate of better ties with the Catholic Church. In December 2007, the 62-year-old from St. Petersburg held a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, with which the Orthodox churches split in the "Great Schism" of 1054.

"He has a very good understanding of the church and its relations with other states," Scalfi told RFE/RL before the vote. "He is well prepared for the great mission of being patriarch. He's very ecumenical, so I believe in terms of relations with Catholics and others he has every chance of continuing an agenda that has recently been strengthened, both by the [previous] patriarch as well as by the [Catholic] church."

From agency reports, with contributions from RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan in Prague.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Metropolitan_Kirill_Elected_New_Patriarch_Of_Russian_Orthodox_Church/1375534.html

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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