PROFILE: Serbia's new patriarch Irinej, a traditionalist and diplomat
By Boris Babic Jan 22, 2010, 15:32 GMT
Belgrade - Patriarch Irinej, appointed by fellow bishops and by chance as the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) on Friday takes over amid deep divisions over key issues.
Irinej, 79, was one of three to win the most support in several rounds of voting in the council of 45 bishops heading dioceses in Serbia, former Yugoslavia, Germany, United States and Australia.
His name was then pulled by a senior monk from a sealed envelope, his hand drawn by the Holy Spirit, according to the SPC.
On Saturday, he will be enthroned as the 45th patriarch since St. Sava founded the SPC in the 13th century.
Though himself a traditionalist, he is willing to compromise between the hardline dogmatists and the reformists, whose feuding has effectively blocked the SPC during the two years that his predecessor, Pavle, had been incapacitated in a hospital.
'He is a diplomat,' religion sociologist Danijela Gavrilovic told the Beta news agency.
The veteran bishop, who since 1975 has headed the diocese of Nis - Serbia's third-largest city, signalled last week that he would like the SPC to drop its hostility towards the Vatican.
In an interview, he indicated support for an invitation for the first-ever visit by the pope in 2013, within celebrations of the 1,700th anniversary since the Edict of Milan. The Roman emperor Constantine, who was born in Nis, ended the persecution of Christians with that law.
Irinej said that 'there is the wish of the pope' for a meeting in Nis and that it would be a chance 'not just for a meeting, but for a dialogue.'
Relations of the SPC, with roots in the Byzantine part of the Roman Empire, and the Vatican have been frosty at best since World War II, when the Hitler-backed regime in Croatia, a Catholic country, herded Serbs into concentration camps, killing tens of thousands.
Hardline Serb bishops continue to insist on the Vatican's alleged plotting against them and oppose any thawing in relations with Catholics.
Irinej said he would welcome Serbia's having a special place in celebrations of the Edict of Milan.
'It is, of course, their affair (of the Catholic Church), but we had the opportunity to hear that it is the pope's wish to meet representatives of Orthodox churches here,' he said. 'It would be the first such meeting since the (Christian) Schism in 1054.'
The Schism has split Christianity into what today is the Orthodox east and the Catholic west.
Apart from moderating the feuding over relations with the Vatican, Irinej will also have to deal with the 'renegade' Orthodox churches in Montenegro and Macedonia, which want independence from Belgrade.
The hardliners refuse to even consider talking about independence and are ignoring growing tensions, which have already erupted in violence in Montenegro and diplomatic incidents with Macedonia.
The new patriarch will also hear calls for changes in the liturgy and, most importantly, for the SPC to finally embrace the Gregorian calendar, used by the secular world.
Serbs still use the outdated Julian calendar which trails the Gregorian by two weeks, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7.