Soviet touches mark Russian Orthodox patriarch vote session

More from the life of Patriarch St Tikhon, and on to today’s news. NFTU

In March, the Patriarch condemned the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which left millions of Russians in captivity and freed the Bolsheviks to turn the war into a civil one. In July, he condemned the killing of the tsar, and warned that anyone who did not likewise condemn it was also guilty of this most terrible of crimes. And in October, he again condemned the Red terror, saying: “It is not our task to judge earthly governments. Every government allowed by God would attract blessing if it were truly a servant of the Lord for the benefit of its subjects and were a deterrent not for good deeds but for bad (Rom. 13.34). But now to you who use your powers for the persecution of the innocent, we direct our word of warning. Celebrate the anniversaryof your rule by freeing the imprisoned, cease the bloodshed, violence, destruction, persecution of the faith, turn not to destroying, but to maintaining order and laws, give the people their well-deserved rest from civil war. Otherwise you will have to answer for all the righteous blood shed by you (Luke 11.51), and you who have taken the sword will perish by the sword (Matt. 26.52).”

When this epistle was read out at a united session of the Synod andthe Higher Church Council, many tried to dissuade the Patriarch from publishing it, indicating that it would put him in great danger. The Patriarch listened carefully to all this, but did not change his decision. However, the Muscovites feared for the Patriarch’s life, and organized 24-hour guards at his residence so that the alarm could be sounded immediately if he was arrested.

At one point shortly after the murder of the Tsar, which the Patriarch openly condemned, some member of the Council suggested to the Patriarch that he take refuge abroad, so that he not share in the fate of the Tsar. “The flight of the Patriarch,” replied his Holiness, “would play into the hands of the enemies of the Church. Let them do with me what they want.”

As the civil war progressed, however, Tikhon adopted a strictly apolitical stance that reflected the fact that there were millions of Russian Orthodox on either side of the conflict. (However, he is reported as having blessed the White supreme, Admiral Kolchak.) Thus in the autumn of 1919, when the White armies had captured Orel and threatened Moscow, he issued an epistle to the clergy requiring that they not enter into the political struggle, while at the same time reminding them that the commandments of God are more binding than any human directives: “Remember the canonical rules, archpastors and fathers, and the testaments of the holy apostles: ‘Guard yourselves from those who create discord and dissension’. Decline from participation in political parties and speeches, obey your human superiors in external matters (I Peter 2.14), give no reasons to the Soviet authorities to suspect you, submit to their commands insofar as they do not contradict faith and piety, for we must obey God, according to the apostolic exhortation, more than men (Acts 4.19; Gal. 1.10).”

(FaithWorld/Reuters) There was a slightly Soviet air to the proceedings as bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church voted on Sunday for three candidates to be considered as their new patriarch. Meeting in the gold-domed Christ the Saviour cathedral overlooking the Moskva River, just a few hundred metres from the Kremlin, about 200 metropolitans and bishops had delegates badges dangling from their necks along with their usual pectoral crosses. A Soviet-style “presidium” of 16 top prelates presided over the session in the Hall of Church Councils. The proceedings started with voting for an election committee, a drafting committee and a credentials committee. Journalists covering the session couldn’t help but think of the old communist party conferences.

Seated in the middle of this “presidium,” Metropolitan Kirill — the acting patriarch and frontrunner for the top post — added to the atmosphere by chairing the meeting with a distinctively firm hand. But there were differences, of course. Voting for the three candidates was secret. And when it came time to announce the results of the vote, there was no official stamp to validate the protocol.

For readers outside of Russia, the only other major church election they might have seen in the news was the 2005 Roman Catholic conclave that picked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict XVI. That vote took place behind locked doors in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, beneath Michelangelo’s famous ceiling and his huge fresco of the Last Judgment behind the altar. Here the “presidium” sat in front of polished stone images of the 12 Apostles in a kind of modern icon style. Journalists were allowed in for the opening of the session, had to leave during the pre-vote debates but could return for the actual voting and result.

When the official stamp was finally found, the announcement ceremony got underway. “Your Holiness, Metropolitan Kirill, please bless me to announce the protocol of the secret ballot vote to elect candidates for the See of the Patriarch of Moscow,” Metropolitan Isidor of Yekaterinodar and Kuban, head of the election committee, finally said from a Soviet-style rostrum. After he read out the results giving Kirill a strong lead of 97 out of 197 votes, the delegates gave the acting patriarch a long ovation.

Kirill reminded the hierarchs not to forget to bring a special liturgical mantle on Tuesday when a solemn service will be held before the start of the Local Council to elect the new patriarch. “Those without these mantles will not be allowed to take part in the service,” Kirill stressed.

The Local Council is made up of about 700 bishops, monks and laymen. Russian newspapers say the lay delegates will include members of the ruling United Russia party, one possible conduit for the influence the Kremlin is assumed to want to exercise in this election. Delegates to the Local Council can also nominate their own candidates for the final round.

The Local Council will meet in the main hall of the cathedral. Unlike the Catholic conclave, where the doors are shut during the whole process, journalists here will again be allowed in for the start and end of the session. The result is due Tuesday or Wednesday.

One more thing — there won’t be any white smoke either, another trademark of a papal election. The Russian Orthodox Church will do it the Russian way, even if it sometimes seems to have a few Soviet touches.