Russia's Patriarch Alexy II dies

December 5, 2008 4:40:53 AM PST
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, who presided over a vast post-Soviet revival of faith but was accused of making the church a force for nationalism, died Friday at age 79, the church headquarters said. The Moscow Patriarchate said he died at his residence outside Moscow, but did not give a cause of death. Alexy had long suffered from a heart ailment.

Alexy became leader of the church in 1990, as the officially atheist Soviet Union was loosening its restrictions on religion.

After the Soviet Union collapsed the following year, the church's popularity surged. Church domes that had been stripped of their gold under the Soviets were regilded, churches that had been converted into warehouses or left to rot in neglect were painstakingly restored and hours-long Masses on major religious holidays were broadcast live on national television.

By the time of Alexy's death, the church's flock was estimated at including about two-thirds of Russia's 142 million people, making it the world's largest Orthodox church.

But Alexy often complained that Russia's new religious freedom put the church under severe pressure and he bitterly resented what he said were attempts by other Christian churches to poach adherents among people who should have belonged to the Orthodox church.

These complaints focused on the Roman Catholic Church, and Alexy refused to agree to a papal visit to Russia unless the proselytization issue was resolved.

However, Alexy lived long enough to see another major religious dispute resolved. In 2007, he signed a pact with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the breakaway Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, to bring the churches closer together. The U.S.-based ROCOR had split off in 1927, after the Moscow church's leader declared loyalty to the Communist government.

Alexy successfully lobbied for the 1997 passage of a religion law that places restrictions on the activities of religions other than Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Under his leadership, the church also vehemently opposed schismatic Orthodox churches in neighboring Ukraine, claiming the Ukrainian church should remain under Moscow's control.


Load Comments