Bishop Irinej, left, during a visit by former US ambassador William D. Montgomery to Niš in 2002.
The bishop of Niš, Irinej Gavrilovic, 80, was elected on January 22 to succeed Patriarch Pavle as the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Belgrade-based radio station B92 said.
Gavrilovic, metropolitan Amfilohije and bishop Irinej of Bačka won most votes from the 37 bishops that make up the electoral synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Gavrilovic's name was drawn randomly in what is known as the apostolic vote, B92 said. "Such election procedure was introduced simply to protect the Church against external political influences of the state," B92 quoted local journalist and Church expert Milenko Pešić as saying.
The election procedure has been criticised in the past, since the Serbian Orthodox Church is the only one to employ it, B92 said. There were other controversies surrounding the election of the patriarch, concerning the influence of different lobbies within the Serbian Orthodox Church, but also the role of the state and politics, B92 said.
Irinej was seen as a compromise candidate after a power struggle within the influential church between hard-liners and liberals, the AP said.
According to earlier reports, the new patriarch could be enthroned as early as January 24 at Belgrade's Cathedral Church.
Irinej will replace Patriarch Pavle, who died at the age of 95 on November 15 2009, and is the 45th head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.