On February 15 2013, two weeks from today, the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will begin the two-day process of choosing the three official candidates in the election of a new Patriarch – and sensitivity about excluding almost anyone from the race is quite clear.
This much emerged after Metropolitan Joseph, elected official spokesman for the Holy Synod on the process of electing a new Patriarch, publicly listed those candidates that he did not believe would be standing.
In the case of two, he was unquestionably correct: Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai, who is below the required threshold of an age of 50, and another Metropolitan, Ambrosii, who does not meet the criteria of having been in charge of a metropolitan diocese for at least five years.
Joseph, in a statement posted online, said that some of the metropolitans had indicated in writing or online that they did not want to be elected Patriarch. He said that these were Sliven Metropolitan Yoanniki, Vratsa’s Kalinik, Vidin’s Dometian and Veliko Turnovo Metropolitan Grigorii. Another could announce his unavailability on February 15, according to Joseph, who indicated that he expected that Simeon, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe, also would not participate.
If this was correct, it would leave six possible candidates to be Patriarch: the current acting head of the Synod, Varna Metropolitan Kiril, and the metropolitans of Rousse, Nevrokop, Pleven, Stara Zagora and Lovetch (of this list of six, all but one, Lovetch Metropolitan Gavril, were agents for Bulgaria’s communist-era secret service, State Security).
To reach the shortlist, a candidate must get 10 votes by the end of the meeting of the Holy Synod on February 15 and 16. Even if a metropolitan has said that he is not available, the Holy Synod is not bound to accept this. Either way, the plan is to announce the names of the three official candidates after they are chosen, by the end of February 16.
On January 24, specialist Bulgarian-language church news website Dveri said that the Holy Synod had denied that the calculations put forward by Joseph had been made at the Synod’s meeting that day.
The process of electing a new Patriarch, which set out after the death of Patriarch Maxim in November amid open conflict amid rival factions and again produced public controversy when there were claims of irregularities in the choice of the electoral college, currently is simmering beneath the surface, with controversial Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai still grumbling about supposed irregularities in the choice of delegates from Sofia to the electoral college.
Whatever further publicly-conducted disputes may or may not still lie in store, the election of the new Patriarch is scheduled to take place on February 24 2013.
An electoral college made up of 142 members, overwhelmingly clergy, will be issued special white ballot papers embossed with the sign of the Holy Synod. The ballot paper will include the names of the three candidates, with no indication of preference by the Synod itself, and delegates will be asked to circle the name of the candidate of their choice.
The ballot papers will be issued to members of the electoral college at 8.45am on February 24 in a hall of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the college will then meet at the office of the Holy Synod.
Joseph has told journalists that he has proposed to the Holy Synod to allow some photographers to be present when the containers of ballots are opened.
Should voting go smoothly, the plan is for the electoral college to walk in procession to Alexander Nevsky cathedral to await official guests from abroad, understood to number about 30 to 40 foreign clergy. Sound facilities are to be set up inside and outside the cathedral to enable people to hear the service at the cathedral as the new Patriarch is enthroned.
There are plans for the new Patriarch to hold meetings with President Rossen Plevneliev, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva. It has not been announced when these planned meetings will take place.
Church ceremonials celebrating the election of the new Patriarch are to continue on February 25. Logistics also have been set in train for hosting visiting delegations, with arrangements for accommodation, receptions, lunches, dinners and visits to holy places.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)