According to reports I've read, two hard-line nationalists and one "moderate" bishop were the three finalists in the election of the new Serbian Orthodox Patriarch yesterday. The name of each finalist was sealed in an unmarked envelope, and each envelope was placed into a Bible. After a prayer to the Holy Spirit, a monk from one of the local monateries (an archimandrite) then picked one of the three envelopes at random.
The envelope was given to the president of the Holy Synod (the gathering of bishops), who read the name aloud to those present, signaling the election of the Patriarch.
The Serbian Orthodox Church is the only autocephalous Orthodox body to conduct an election in this manner. It was adopted during the time of Soviet domination, as a means of thwarting Communist pressure to install someone of their choosing as Patriarch.
The Bishop of Niš, Irinej Gavrilovica, was elected in this manner, and will be enthroned as Patriarch later today in Belgrade. Niš is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, who decriminalized Christianity in the Fourth Century of the Common Era. The 1700th anniversary of that event will be observed in 2013.
Of the three candidates, he is considered to be the most moderate. Earlier this month he stated that he was open to the possibility of the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, coming to Serbia for a visit in 2013. Such a visit would be unthinkable for other more hard-line Serbian bishops, who are very conscious of the split between the Roman church and the Orthodox churches.
The schism which separated the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity took place in the year 1054 of the Common Era.
My friends who go to a lot of Al-Anon meetings have told me that anyone from a goofy family knows that a 950-year-long resentment is one that's just getting started.
Given the troubled history of the Balkans, especially in the recent past, the position of the Patriarch is an important one politically, as well as spiritually.
May God bless the new Patriarch, and the people throughout the Balkans.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ