#3 - JRL 7216
Russian Orthodox patriarch moves to damp debate over succession
June 9, 2003
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II Monday sought to damp down speculation over who might succeed him following reports of ill health, saying a possible contender had been sent to a remote diocese because of his competence rather than as an effort to sideline him.
The patriarch told the Izvestia daily that Metropolitan Methodius had been named to a diocese in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan because of his great experience and the importance of his task.
He rejected reports that Methodius had been "punished and sent into exile because of his intrigues," the paper said.
It was the second attempt in a month by the 73-year-old church leader to calm feverish speculation over his succession.
On May 12, following the appointment of Methodius to a specially created diocese based in the Kazakh city Almaty, the ailing Alexy II said the move had been decided in "recognition of his merits as an administrator."
A week later he was again hospitalized after falling ill, having undergone treatment last autumn for a cardiac malaise.
Methodius's main rival is Metropolitan Kirill, the 57-year-old traditionalist archbishop for Smolensk and Kaliningrad who, with a weekly television show, is the closest thing the Orthodox Church has to a TV evangelist.
In the Izvestia interview the patriarch refused to speculate on his eventual succession, saying that the new head of church "will be elected when it is time for the church to do so, and there is no reason to start guessing who it will be."
However Alexy II listed some the qualities he believed a new patriarch should have.
"He must be over 40, an archbishop of the Russian Orthodox church, have a higher theological training, have experience in running a diocese, be respected within the church, and -- as the apostle Paul said -- be respected outside the church, by society and the state," he said.