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BELGRADE — The Electoral Synod of the Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) met today in Belgrade and elected Bishop Irinej of Niš as the new patriarch.
Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Irinej of Backa also made it to the last three after the initial voting to elect the new spiritual leader of Orthodox Serb Christians.
The newly elected patriarch told Tanjug that his appointment was the will of God and the Serbian Orthodox Church Election Assembly.
“I have been elected for this honorable and difficult duty with the help of my fellow bishops, who will bear this burden and all problems that come with it together with me,” Irinej stated after the election.
Irinej Gavrilovic was born in 1930 near Cacak, in central Serbia.
He attended Orthodox seminaries in Prizren, Belgrade, and Athens, and served in the Ostrog monastery in Montenegro, and later in Prizren as the head of the SPC seminary in that town.
Irinej was appointed as the bishop of Niš in 1975.
The new patriarch will be enthroned on Saturday, January 23, in Belgrade’s Cathedral Church.
He will replace Patriarch Pavle, who passed away on November 15, to become the 45th head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
His Holiness Patriarch Pavle’s successor was elected by a random picking of a paper with the name of one of the three candidates who won most support when the 37 bishops voted.
Previously, media speculated that bishop of Zvornik and Tuzla Vasilije, Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop of Backa Irinej and Bishop of Zahumlje and Herzegovina Grigorije were the favorites for the Church throne.
The new head of the SPC was chosen by what is known as the apostolic vote.
Church expert and journalist of daily Politika Milenko Pešic said ahead of the proceedings at the Patriarchate today that three candidates must win over 50 percent of the cast votes before going through to the last round.
“The apostolic vote means that the candidates’ names are put in sealed envelopes, the monastery’s archimandrite then summons the Holy Spirit and picks an envelope. Such election procedure was introduced simply to protect the Church against external political influences of the state, which was against it [the Church]. Many have been challenging the election procedure because it does not exist in any other autocephalous Orthodox church,” Pešic explained.
There were many controversies surrounding the election of the patriarch regarding the influence of different lobbies within the SPC, but also the role of the state and politics.
There have been reports about alleged power struggles between bishops of the “Bosnian” and “Serbian” lobbies, as well as that government will in fact have the final say in the election.
NIN weekly journalist Jovan Janjic said that responsibility for creating such an atmosphere is shared by the media, some bishops, but also the state itself.
“You can recognize the handwriting of the bishops who would perhaps like to reach the SPC throne. It is possible that there is some political influence in it. I think that the government had to provide all the necessary conditions for the election of the patriarch. As for is there lobbying or should I say cheering – I think it’s there. Although I do not believe that it will be a key factor in deciding, especially if the current election procedure remains,” he said.