How Will The New Patriarch Be Selected?

The following article, How Will The New Patriarch Be Selected, appeared in the Tuesday issue of the Serbian newspaper Politika (here):

Will the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church be elected in the same apostolic fashion as Patriarch Pavle, by casting lots among three candidates? Even though the Constitution of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) prescribes such a procedure this does not exclude the possibility that the electoral Holy Hierarchical Assembly, which should meet before February 15, 2010, alters the manner in which the 45th patriarch is elected.

“It is difficult to say at this time how the new patriarch will be elected. The Constitution of the SOC cannot be changed without the patriarch but the possibility must not be ruled out that the bishops decide otherwise, since the Assembly [of bishops] is the highest ecclesiastic legislative power,” said one source from the SOC who wished to remain anonymous.

The electoral Assembly should be scheduled by the Holy Synod of Bishops which is presided by Metropolitan Amphilohije of Montenegro and the Coastlands. According to some suggestions, it is unlikely that the election of a new patriarch will be done before Christmas, January 7. There are also those in the SOC who think that the Assembly of Bishops might assemble around the feast of St. Sava, January 27.

Member of the Holy Synod, Bishop Irinej of Nis, thinks that there is no reason to rush and that the election of the new head of the Church can be done at the Spring session of the Assembly of Bishops in May of 2010.

“The canons specifically state that the patriarch’s throne can remain vacant three months at the most. Only irregular political conditions in the place where the elected patriarch would eventually be are able to justify a change in the date of conducting the electoral Sabor,” says Dr. Miodrag M. Petrovic, an expert in church law.

This canonist is not certain which system will be used in electing the new head of the SOC and says that it depends on the  Holy Synod, which will prepare the electoral church assembly. “It would be best for them to apply the apostolic system of the casting of lots,” says our source.

Since the re-establishing of the Patriarchate in 1920 and until 1958, five heads of the SOC, Dimitrije, Varnava, Gavrilo, Vikentije and German were elected by a majority of votes of the electoral assembly. After WWII, with the change of the regime, the Communists began interfering more in the work of the SOC. In order for the election of the successor of the throne of St. Sava to be stripped of outside influence, Patriarch German suggested at a special assembly held on September 14 and 15, 1967 a change in the manner the head of the SOC was elected, which the bishops accepted.

Article 42 and 43 of the Constitution of the SOC were changed at that time and the apostolic practice of election was accepted with which Patriarch Pavle was elected on December 1, 1990.

This method of selection requires that the Assembly, in which at least two-thirds of the bishops are present, votes using secret ballots and, with an absolute majority, elects three candidates.  When the names of the three candidates are obtained, they are placed in sealed envelopes. After prayers in the Chapel of St. Symeon the Myrhh-flowing usually one of the senior, venerable abbots, in the case of Patriarch Pavle it was Archimandrite Antonije from Monastery Tronosa, shuffles the envelopes, pulls one out and gives it to the chairperson of the Assembly who opens it and reads the name of the new patriarch.

However, this method of election was not favored by everyone and they wished to simplify it, modeling it after the practice of the other Orthodox churches, which opens the possibility for various lobbying and outside influence. Thus the Spring session of the Assembly held on May 17, 2000 decided on a new regulation regarding the election of the patriarch. Even though these changes to Articles 42 and 43 of the Constitution of the SOC were never publicly presented, it is known that the apostolic practice of election has been abandoned.  At the Spring session of the Assembly of Bishops in 2005 this decision was repealed and the apostolic practice of election, from September 15, 1967, was once again returned.

Regarding these changes from 2005 Bishop Vasilije of Srem wrote once:  “This was done so that, in returning to the ancient evangelical manner of election of the patriarch, the Church might preserve her dignity from possible outside influence. Namely, election by the casting of lots was originally the Biblical, New Testament, way with which the Lord God, knowing the heart of each candidate, his spiritual and moral level, shows him worthy of this great Service (Acts 2:24).”

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