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Friday's death of senior Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer has created two vacancies in one of the faith's leading councils.

The 90-year-old Packer, the longest serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was next in line to lead the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His passing Friday came just weeks after his 92-year-old apostolic colleague, L. Tom Perry, lost a battle with cancer.

There's no telling when Mormon authorities will fill the void left by the two apostles, nor who will be chosen — whether the three-member governing First Presidency will wait for the next LDS General Conference in October or name replacements in the intervening months.

The last time the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had a two-man vacancy came in July 2004, with the deaths of apostles David B. Haight and Neal A. Maxwell. Dieter F. Uchtdorf and David A. Bednar were named in October that year as replacements.

The apostles are seated according to their length of service.

Packer was the senior apostle, ordained in 1970. Perry came next in 1974.

Their deaths leave 90-year-old Russell M. Nelson, who was named an apostle in 1984, next in line to lead the Utah-based faith after 87-year-old President Thomas. S. Monson.

When new men (Mormon apostles must be male) are chosen, they will take their places at the bottom of the quorum, right after Neil L. Andersen, who became an apostle in 2009 after Joseph B. Wirthlin died the previous December.

The new apostles don't have to come from within the current top church leadership. Nelson was a heart surgeon, and Dallin H. Oaks, who was ordained an apostle just weeks after Nelson, was a Utah Supreme Court justice.

"Apostles are chosen through inspiration by the president of the church, sustained by the general membership of the church, and ordained by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by the laying on of hands," the church's website explains. "In addition to serving as witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world, as Jesus' apostles did, members of the current Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold the keys of the priesthood — that is, the rights of presidency [for the church]."

All Mormon apostles are seen by members as "prophets, seers and revelators."

They also become full-time executives, running a billion-dollar enterprise. They oversee vast resources, departments and tasks. Unlike most CEOs, though, they give sermons in places as different as Arkansas and Argentina. Twice a year they deliver major General Conference addresses that will be viewed almost as scripture by LDS listeners.

Apostles make momentous decisions about Mormonism's future: when to take one of its rare political positions, build a temple or establish a new policy.

From the moment apostles accept their callings, they step onto an escalator that leads to the top. The man who outlives the apostles named before him will ascend to the LDS Church's highest office.

It's a lifelong commitment, and no one gets out alive.

Twitter: @religiongal