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15 Jan, 2009 00:57

The search for Aleksy II's successor

Russia's Church Council is preparing to elect a new Patriarch, who will succeed the late Aleksy the Second.

The new leader of the Orthodox Church will be enthroned on the first of February and there are several religious figures in the running.

The real challenge, experts say, is to choose which path the church will follow.

A more conservative approach, which may lead to isolation, or a liberal stance, aimed at developing ties with other denominations.

Metropolitans Kirill and Kliment are the front-runners among the potential candidates.

Kirill, currently the interim leader of the church, is head of its department for external affairs.

'He's a strong person… who can bear the responsibility of being the head of a church which includes many nations,' said Father Vsevolod Chaplin from the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Unlike Kirill who even hosts a weekly TV programme on religion, Kliment is not a public figure.

In charge of the internal affairs of the church, he's said to be the person with whom Aleksy II had worked most closely.

But despite the differences between the two candidates, some experts say, Metropolitans Kliment and Kirill have a similar approach.

'They want to make the church a stronger institution. In my view, they don't pay much attention to the community aspect of the church,' says religious expert Boris Falikov.

The late Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksy II will be remembered for his gift to unite people of all ages, religions and nationalities.

A consolidator, a conciliator and a diplomat, Aleksy II was determined to raise religious awareness among young people and those whose faith was suppressed during Soviet times.

In 2007, the late Patriarch presided over a key reunion with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad whose members had fled Russia to escape the Bolshevik revolution. The long-awaited move put an end to an 80-year schism.

Throughout his 18 years as Patriarch, Aleksy II built bridges between religions and communities. Believers in Russia are hopeful that his legacy of wisdom and unity will remain with the new leader of the Church.