(Recasts with Metropolitan Kirill as interim leader)
By Simon Shuster and Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW Dec 6 The Russian Orthodox Church chose
Metropolitan Kirill as an interim leader on Saturday after the
death of Patriarch Alexiy II, a move that could open the way for
more cooperation with Catholics.
Kirill, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, is an
articulate public speaker and heads the Church's department for
external relations. Most Russians see him as the public face of
the Church, frequently appearing on television.
A group of 12 senior clergy, the ruling body known as the
Holy Synod, selected Kirill by secret ballot at the patriarchal
residence in the village of Peredelkino outside Moscow.
"One of the most blessed decisions taken by the synod was
the selection of the interim leader of the church ... the
Metropolitan of Smolensk, Kirill," Father Vladimir Vigilyansky,
chief spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in comments
broadcast live on Vesti television.
Patriarch Alexiy, who revived the Orthodox Church after the
collapse of communism, died on Friday of heart failure at the
age of 79.
The next Patriarch has to be chosen within six months and
observers said four main candidates were in the running,
The main issues in choosing the new Patriarch will be Church
relations with the state and the Catholic Church. Kirill, 64,
has been a reformer on both matters.
He has been relatively open to the idea of building stronger
ties with the Vatican, and some observers say he is a proponent
of a more independent partnership with the state. Alexiy
strengthened ties with the government under former President and
current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
ALEXIY LAID IN STATE
Alexiy will be laid in state on Saturday at Christ the
Saviour Cathedral, where his funeral ceremony is to be held on
Tuesday at 1100 Moscow time (0800 GMT), Vigilyansky said.
He is to be buried at 1300 Moscow time at Moscow's Epiphany
Cathedral, where the relics of his patron saint are stored.
During his 18 years as leader of the world's largest
Christian Orthodox church, Alexiy helped heal an 80-year rift
with a rival faction, which was set up abroad by monarchists
fleeing the atheist Bolsheviks.
Another triumph was the reconstruction of Christ the Saviour
Cathedral, which was demolished on Stalin's orders. The date in
1931 when authorities demolished the Cathedral -- Dec. 5 --
coincides with the date of Alexiy's death.
Alexiy, who criticised the Catholic Church for trying to win
over converts, is credited by many Russians for helping to
revive Orthodoxy and boost church attendance in the moral and
spiritual vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Supporters said Alexiy used close ties with the state for
the benefit of the Church, restoring hundreds of almost derelict
Opponents said he allowed the Church to become a minor
partner of the Kremlin under Putin. Alexiy failed to shake off
allegations he had links to the Soviet KGB. The Church has
repeatedly denied that.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)