Patriarch Alexy II was born Alexey Mikhailovich Ridiger in Tallinn, Estonia
Alexey II, the Patriarch of Moscow and of All Russia, died on Friday at his residence in Peredelkino outside Moscow. The primate of the Moscow Patriarchate was 79 years old. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad is the interim Patriarch for the next six months until a Holy Synod of hierarchs convenes to select Alexey's successor.
The funeral for Alexey will begin Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 11 a.m., in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. President Dimitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and other Russian dignitaries and national figures will be in attendance. Alexey will be buried Tuesday afternoon at the Bogoyavlensky Monastery (Church of the Epiphany) in Moscow.
Panikhida services praying for the Patriarch are being said in Russian Orthodox Churches all over the world today and tomorrow. In the last forty eight hours, thousands of mourners have filed in to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, while thousands more have lined up outside the church along the Moscow embankment, standing in freezing temperatures to pay their respects. Over 600 churches in and around Moscow rang their bells this weekend to announce the Patriarch's passing, an event unprecedented in the history of post-Soviet Russia.
Click on the extended post to read more.
Metropolitan Laurus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (left) signing the accord of canonical union with the Moscow Patriarchate with Alexey II, May 17, 2007
Alexey's Legacy: The Reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church
Alexey served as Patriarch from 1990 to 2008, during a period when Russia underwent a very painful transition from Soviet Communism to a market economy and democratic elections. Alexei was one of the key church leaders who marked the 1000 year anniversary of Christianity in Russia in 1988, an event critical to its official recognition by the Soviet authorities under President Mikhail Gorbachev. Three years later, the officially atheistic regime which had at various times hounded and at other times (especially during the Second World War) attempted to exploit the Russian Orthodox Church for its own propaganda ceased to exist, and the USSR was no more.
During the 1990s, Alexey led the Church in reclaiming properties seized by the Soviets and made the education of a new generation of priests and lay workers his main priority. Alexey published hundreds of articles in religious and secular journals. Alexey made a point to publically apologize for the compromises the church made with the regime to survive during decades of Soviet persecution. Alexey strongly advocated the recognition and canonization of the new passion bearers, confessors and heiromartyrs of Russia -- Orthodox Christians viewed by the church as witnesses against atheistic Communist persecution, including the late Tsar Nicholas II and his family. The Russian Orthodox Church constructed a church in Yekaterinberg on the site where Red Guards, acting under Vladimir Lenin's orders, shot the royal family in 1918.
Alexei's efforts towards reconciliation paved the way for the historic reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), a group formed by White Russians living abroad after the Bolshevik Revolution devastated the church in the homeland. In May 2007, Alexey embraced Metropolitan Laurus of Jordanville, New York, the spiritual leader of the ROCOR, in a ceremony establishing canonical union at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. When Metropolitan Laurus reposed on March 16, 2008, on the feast day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Great Lent), churches across Russia rang their bells and said panikhidas services in his honor.
Alexey's term was not without controversy. Several individuals accused Alexey of having reported on his fellow churchmen to the KGB before the USSR collapsed, but no evidence ever emerged in support of these claims. Alexey's defenders point out that he championed religious liberty and the freedom of conscience long before Gorbachev's policy of glasnost made such ideas publically tolerated by the Soviet authorities. When Gorbachev was arrested by Communist hardliners attempting a coup in August 1991, the Patriarch denounced the plotters and called for a non-violent resolution to the crisis. The military remained loyal to Gorbachev, and the coup failed.
In October 2007 Alexey drew the ire of gay activists worldwide when he gave a speech at the Council of Europe declaring that the Continent was experiencing a "break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens the European civilization...we can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behavior." When asked by a European parliamentarian from the UK about his opposition to a pride parade Russian gay activists had planned for the city of Moscow, Alexey said that Orthodoxy teaches people to "love sinners despite their sins," but added that, "no one should force me and my brothers and sisters in faith to keep quiet when we call something a sin when it is a sin according to the word of God." The fact that Mayor Yuri Luzhkov refused to grant the gay activists a permit for their parade through Moscow led many of Alexey's secular critics to charge that the Russian Church and State were getting far too close.
Global Reaction to Alexey's Passing
In response to the news of Alexey's passing, Orthodox bishops and patriarchs around the world, from Bulgaria to India, expressed their condolences and recalled their warm relationships with Alexey. The well wishers included the Patriarch of Tblisi, who issued a joint statement with Alexey calling for peace and unity among Orthodox Christians during the August 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, will attend Alexey's funeral on Tuesday.
At the White House in Washington D.C., President George W. Bush's spokeswoman Dana Perino issued a statement which said, "The President's heart is with the community of Russian believers as they continue to rebuild the rich spiritual traditions of Russia...Alexy became Patriarch at a time when Russia was in transition and during his term in office spiritual faith in Russia experienced an astounding revival after years of repression under Communism."
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI declared that, "I was profoundly saddened to hear the news". Benedict said that Alexy II fought for "for human and Gospel values". The President of the Roman Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, issued a statement saying: "He was instrumental in fostering the enormous growth of dioceses, parishes, monasteries and educational institutions which have given new life to a Church sorely tested for so long. I recall my many meetings with His Holiness, who always made a point of expressing his goodwill towards the Holy Father and his desire to strengthen collaboration with the Catholic Church. His personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church, in spite of the difficulties and tensions which from time to time have emerged, has never been in doubt. We join the hierarchy and faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church in commending Patriarch Alexis to our heavenly Father's eternal love, that he may be rewarded for his long and dedicated ministry to the Church he loved."
Crowds of people standing outside Christ the Savior Cathedral to mourn Alexey