Serbian Orthodox Church elects Gavrilovic as new leader

The Serbian Orthodox Church elected a new leader who could lead the church towards modernisation at a time the country is seeking a future with EU.

Serbian Orthodox Church elects Gavrilovic as new leader

The Serbian Orthodox Church elected a new leader on Friday who could lead the church towards modernisation at a time the country is seeking a future with the European Union.

Bishop Irinej Gavrilovic, 80, will be Serbia's 45th patriarch and the successor to Patriarch Pavle, who died in November aged 95, the Belgrade-based patriarchate said in a statement.

"I will carry the burden and all the problems of my awesome and difficult duty together with my fellow bishops," the statement quoted him as saying.

The church is an important moral force in Serbian society and politicians often seek its tacit support. Religion has long been a defining, and often dividing, characteristic of Slavs in former Yugoslavia, identified as Orthodox Christians, Catholics or Muslims whether or not they are believers.

Irinej will head a church of about 11 million people of Serbian Orthodox background in Serbia itself and in five other former Yugoslav republics, as well as Kosovo and dioceses in the United States, Australia and Western Europe.

Zivica Tucic, a Belgrade-based religious affairs journalist, described him as a moderate and constructive man.

"Patriarch Irinej is also very open to other churches and is a man of dialogue," he told Reuters.

Until Friday, Irinej, born Miroslav Gavrilovic in 1930 in southwestern Serbia town of Cacak, served as bishop of Nis, a large diocese in the south of the country.

He remained largely neutral during Serbia's turbulent 1990s. Irinej is also a scholar who in the past headed several theological and monastic schools.

Earlier this month he said the pope might visit Serbia in 2013, marking a break with the church's long-held opposition to a papal visit. Irinej is regarded as a figure who could put an end to theological bickering inside the church and strengthen its role in society.

The election took place in seclusion in a complicated vote by at least two-thirds of metropolitans, active bishops and candidates for bishops who have run dioceses for more than five years.

Each member of the assembly voted for three candidates and the vote was repeated until the selection was reduced to three names which were then placed inside a Bible in sealed envelopes.

After a religious service, a monk picked one envelope and handed it over to the presiding bishop who announced the name of the new patriarch.

The so-called "apostolic vote" was tailored in 1967 to curb the influence of Communist authorities in Yugoslavia on the appointment of patriarchs.

Under church laws, Irinej will immediately take over his throne in the Belgrade patriarchate, A separate, more elaborate enthronement at the Pec patriarchate in Kosovo would be held at a later date, the statement said.

Irinej will probably maintain the church's opposition to the independence of ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo, cherished as the cradle of medieval Serbian civilisation.

Although the Serbian population in Kosovo has dwindled in past decades, the Serbian Orthodox Church still has dozens of monasteries and churches there

Reuters
Last Mod: 23 Ocak 2010, 09:36
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