Patriarch's resignation "no done deal"

BELGRADE -- Media reports are saying that there is no agreement among the SPC bishops on the authenticity of the patriarch's withdrawal request.

Last week, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) officially announced that His Holiness Patriarch Pavle had requested to be relieved of his duties.

A meeting of the Holy Assembly scheduled for Nov.11 is set to debate the request of the 94-year-old head of the Serbian Church.

Blic daily writes today that Bishop of Šabac Lavrentije said it is possible that the patriarch had written the resignation at an earlier date, since the current state of his health prevented him from doing it recently.

Other bishops are doubting the very authenticity of the document, suspicious that the signature was forged.

The Patriarchate seat in Belgrade is saying all this is "political games", with sources telling the newspaper they are convinced "the position to accept the patriarch's request will be accepted", and that a new head of the SPC will be elected during the next Assembly.

On the other hand, another Belgrade daily, Večernje Novosti, writes that the Nov. 11 gathering will probably not turn to be an electoral one.

The paper's sources with the SPC said that the bishops can't even agree on the basic question – should a new patriarch be appointed while the current one is still alive.

This report suggests that the Assembly will likely decide that while the patriarch's will should be taken into account, he should remain at the helm of the Church at least formally, because of the respect that he enjoys.

The bishops' failure to see eye to eye on the issue is additionally worsened by the secrecy of the patriarch's request, continued media speculation on the date it was signed, while the Holy Synod refuses to officially address the public.

The elite Belgrade military clinic VMA that is treating Pavle is regularly issuing releases on his condition, saying that the patriarch is conscious and alert, Blic reported yesterday.

But, Bishop Lavrentije, who has often visited Pavle and for a while even stayed with him in hospital, claims otherwise.

"The condition of his health is such that he cannot communicate or write. It's a matter of weeks, therefore I do not think we should hurry to elect a new patriarch, since Patriarch Pavle, even ailing, is not interfering with the Church's activities. When the Lord calls him to his side, we will elect a new patriarch. What's this rush for?," Lavrentije wondered in an interview.

Večernje Novosti today remind that "it is no secret" that bishops from the top ranks of the SPC are engaged in an ongoing silent power struggle.