Moscow (AsiaNews) - The election process for the new primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate began today with the assembly of 74 bishops.
Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) died on 5 July at age 78 after a long illness. The name of his successor should be known by tomorrow at the latest, this according to archpriest Gheorgi Kovalenko, head of the Synodal Department for Information.
Vladimir's death occurred against a background of rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine. In fact, the clash between Moscow and Kyiv is also reflected in the relationship between religious denominations in the country.
In eastern Ukraine, which is still in the hands of pro-Russian separatists, many fear that the election of the new Orthodox primate could be influenced by forces outside the Church.
The vote is secret and will be held in two phases. In the first one, applications are made and the top three continue to the second phase when the one with the most votes is elected. After approval by the President of the Holy Synod, the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, will give his blessing.
Vladimir was considered by many as a proponent of a gradual rapprochement between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Kyiv Patriarchate. The latter represents Ukraine's second largest Orthodox community but is considered schismatic, and thus is not canonically recognised.
On 24 February, as Vladimir's health worsened, the Metropolitan See came under the regency of Bishop Onufry (Berezovsky), now considered the strongest candidate for the succession.
According to theology expert Dmitry Skvortsov, the locum tenens enjoys "good reputation". Like Vladimir, he "is a monk" and "untainted by any scandal." However, he is not a favourite in Kyiv's political circles because he advocates unity between the Ukrainian Church and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Aleksandr (Drabinko), who has always been in favour of the union between the two largest Orthodox communities, might be a possible candidate.
According to Skovrtsov cited in segodnia.ua, Metropolitan Simeon of Vinnitsa and Mogilev-Podolski, who is very close to President Petro Poroshenko, a practicing Orthodox, might be another candidate.
According to the well-known Archdeacon Andrei Kuraev, very active in the media in Russia, Metropolitan Serghei of Ternopil is also in the running. However, he has close ties with Onufry and might throw his support behind the locum tenens.
The enthronement of the new Metropolitan of Kyiv is scheduled for next Sunday at the Cathedral of the Dormition and will see the participation of representatives of all local religious communities.
Elected for life, the new primate will lead the Ukrainian Church with the Holy Synod. He will also be a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.