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Patriarch Alexy II: An Epoch Passes Away

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The casket with the body of Patriarch Alexy II is displayed during a farewell ceremony in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, on December 6.

Russian Orthodox Christians are holding memorial services and preparing for the Tuesday funeral of Patriarch Alexy II, the man who led the world’s largest Orthodox Church out of the Soviet era and into a period of remarkable rebirth and growth following decades of persecution and genocidal martyrdom at the hands of atheistic communist regimes.

Carrying mourning bouquets, thousands of people queued in cold drizzle across several blocks of central Moscow to Christ the Saviour Cathedral, where Alexy II will lie in state until his funeral on Tuesday.

“I feel like a bit of my heart has been torn out,” said tearful pensioner Maria Mindova, who had traveled from Ukraine. “No words can express the pain of this loss.”

The Zenit News Service published this touching account of the Patriarch’s passing by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to European Organizations:

In my memory Patriarch Alexy will remain first of all as a loving father, who was always ready to listen, who was supportive and gentle.

Almost half of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including myself, were ordained into episcopate by Patriarch Alexy. We are all deeply indebted to him.

The years of his patriarchate constituted an entire epoch in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was precisely in this time that the resurrection of the Russian Church took place, which continues to this day.

May his memory be eternal.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said Patriarch Alexy’s leadership formed and strengthened cooperation between the country’s Orthodox world and Jewish community, with the Muslim community, and with representatives of other faiths on the questions of social ministry.

“The great man has died and the whole epoch has passed away with him. Patriarch Alexy II’s death is a great loss for the Russian Orthodox Church and for the entire religious community,” FJCR President Alexander Boroda said in his address handed over to Interfax-Religion.

“Jewish tradition says that people who led righteous life don’t die as their deeds go on living. Today Alexy II is not with us anymore. But his outstanding deeds have stayed with us as well as the blessed memory of a person who did so much good for Russia,” he added.The Orthodox Church in America communications office released the following statement:

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Church of Russia announced today that funeral services for His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy of Moscow and All Russia, who fell asleep in the Lord on Friday, December 5, 2008, at 79 years of age, will take place on Tuesday, December 9, 2008, at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Moscow.

The Holy Synod also announced that His Eminence, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, has been elected Patriarchal Locum tenens.

May the memory of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Russia be eternal!

The Russian Church recently offered this account of its growth during the last 20 years:

At the end of the 1980s the Russian Orthodox Church counted 6,000 parishes; currently this number is almost 30,000. Back then there were three institutions of theological education; now there are more than 100. There were 18 monasteries; now there are more than 750. It should be noted that none of these monasteries are empty: some of them have more than 500 monastics (e.g. the Diveevo Convent).

The Russian Orthodox Church does not know of the “crisis of professions” that plagues many Christian Churches in the West. On the contrary, the number of people wishing to enter theological seminaries and academies is significantly higher than the number of students these schools can take in. For example, more than 5,000 students currently study at the St. Tikhon Orthodox University in Moscow.

Because of this, when people speak of the “post-Christian era”, this does not apply at all to the Russian Orthodox Church, which is currently flourishing.

Russia Today has posted what it says it the last interview with Patriarch Alexy here. The news service says today that “Alexy II will be remembered as the first Patriarch of a new Russia. He led the revival of the Russian Orthodox Church after Soviet repression, and united it with congregations abroad after the 90 year split which followed the Bolshevik Revolution.”

Many news accounts also repeat the charge that Patriarch Alexy was a collaborator with the Soviet secret police, something the Russian Church denies. For a another view, see “A Man of Saintly Compromise” by Dimitry Babich on Russia Profile.

When in the years of perestroika the church became “rehabilitated,” Alexy vigorously embraced democracy and the opportunities which it offered to the church. In 1989 he was elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies, the Soviet Union’s first and last democratically-elected parliament. He became a member of the boards of the first Soviet charity organizations. Later, opponents would accuse him of bringing the church too close to the state. But bringing the church and the society closer to each other without having more or less friendly relations with the state was impossible, especially in the years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.

“In fact, the degree of the Russian Orthodox Church’s involvement in state affairs is exaggerated,” said Alexei Makarkin, the vice-president of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “I would rather speak about a kind of cooperation that benefitted both sides. Some church hierarchs made overtures to the state, but the state never shared power with them, using the church for its own agenda.”

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in news and publishing fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Another perspective on Patriarch Alexy II and His Legacy is in my article at:

  • Maltsev writes: God bless Alexy. I would not.

    In whose name would Maltsev bless the Patriarch? In the name of the organizers of the Moscow Gay Parade? Is that the sort of moral authority Maltsev is looking for?

    Maltsev throws around a lot of heavy theological terms here: “serving the Devil” and “godless communist devil” and “outrageous act of blasphemy.” But he also defines the Church as “a symbol of Russia and an integral and important part of its ruling elite.” No, in Truth, the essential definition of the Church is the Body of Christ, something Maltsev seems not to comprehend. Otherwise, how could the Russian Church, and every other believing community that existed under Soviet rule, have survived the most systematic martyrdom — on a scale never before seen in Christianity — by a powerful state advancing a counter-religion of demonic atheistic materialism? Only if indeed the Russian Orthodox Church were the Body of Christ which neither “principlaties nor powers” can ever destroy.

    Maltsev says the Patriarch was “a wholesale trader of his friends and associates to the godless communist devil.” But the only actual “crime” Maltsev produces is that the Patriarch saved an historic Church from destruction. Who are these people that the Patriarch handed over to the “devil”? What are their names? Their families would like to know, as would the rest of us.

    Maltsev says that Patriarch Alexy was an “assistant in the destruction of the church.” That’s an odd occupation for a Patriarch who oversaw the resurrection of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the land of Bolshevism and rampant nihilism. See figures above for growth statistics.

    The truth of this story is that without the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, the Russian Orthodox Church would not be here today and flourishing. To claim, in overheated quasi-theological terms, that its Patriarch was co-worker with the adversary against the Holy Spirit is incoherent and a slander on the true faith of millions of Orthodox believers.

    History, and the Russian people, will judge Patriarch Alexy for the fruits of his work. He now goes to his Lord, who will judge him with the only justice that is true. May he find mercy. And may his memory be eternal.

  • I feel that I am reading Pravda. Mr. Couretas completely lost sense of reality and common decency using the language as he does.

    It is very sad that presumably Christian Mr. Couretas permitted himself to spread lies and slander.

    I would advise anyone interested to read my article and see how far his remarks are from truth.

  • Excerpt from The Independent written by leading Western expert on Russian orthodox Church Dr. Felix Corley:

    “Ridiger’s pedigree and his brilliant studies drew him to the attention of the KGB, which determined religious appointments in the Soviet Union in collaboration with the government’s Council for Religious Affairs (CRA). He was formally recruited in February 1958 “on the basis of patriotic feelings” and given the code name “Drozdov”. The KGB described their new recruit as “punctilious, energetic and personable” and praised him for his “willing attitude” to co-operation. He was earmarked to become Bishop of Tallinn and recommended for international work, a sign of the authorities’ trust.

    Ridiger’s career did indeed take off from there. He was tonsured as a monk at the monastery in Zagorsk in March 1961, taking the name Alexy, and that September was consecrated Bishop of Tallinn (and temporarily of Riga) in Tallinn’s imposing Orthodox cathedral. He was upgraded to Archbishop in 1964 and Metropolitan in 1968.

    But Alexy was destined to play a leading role in the wider Russian Church and abroad. He joined the Church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, and became chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate in 1964, a jobhe held for the next 22 years. This powerful position – impossible withoutthe trust of the Soviet authorities – led to accusations that he was too closely identified with implementing the government’s anti-religious policies. Documents show he fulfilled KGB commands in quelling protests among monks at the Pskov Monastery ofthe Caves.

    The Soviet authorities also viewed Alexy as reliable in foreign work. He became a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in 1961, the year he became a bishop and the year the Russian Orthodox Church joined the WCC. Later he would be heavily involved in the Conference of European Churches, of which he became president in 1972 and chairman in 1987.

    After each trip abroad he reported back fully to the KGB and the CRA, giving them information on events and individuals. In 1974, in a secret assessment, the deputy chairman of the CRA put him in the category of bishops most loyal to the Soviet state. His reporting and implementation of the state’s wishes brought him a secret KGB award in February 1988.”

  • Maltsev concludes: Alexy had a full life, and outlived many of his flock. No surprise! He devoted his life to keep his sheep sheep, and succeeded. R.I.P.!

    Sheep? This is Maltsev’s “decent” characterization of Russian Orthodox believers who are today rebuilding the Church, baptizing their children, and participating again in the sacramental life that had for long been denied them? And then the mocking “R.I.P.” at the end. That’s a gracious touch.

  • I am relieved that Mr. Maltsev finally has found a “leading Western expert” on which to base part of his claims. Just making claims on your own authority about “blasphemy” etc. can be dangerous.

    Is collaboration with the secret police something to be justified or apologized for? No. And particularly inexcusable in a hierarch ordained by the Church to lead his flock and someone who, in imitation of his Lord, must separate the “sheep from the goats.”

    I’m still waiting for the names of the believers that Patriarch Alexy handed over to the “devil.” Accusations that he attended WCC meetings and reported back to the KGB don’t cut it. Ecumenical movements were commonly the means by which church leaders could connect to the outside world while living under the Soviet Terror State. Considering the politics of the WCC, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were reporting back to the KGB themselves.

  • Certainly sheep! To elect a president who was a proud member of the KGB which murdered more faithful than all mass murderers of human history combined! Can anyone imagine a former gestapo officer as a chancellor of Germany? In an outrageous act of blasphemy, Alexy opened and blessed Moscow’s Church of St. Sofia of God’s Wisdom, as the official church of the KGB. People like have stolen my church from me!

  • Isaac Thomas

    Patriarch Alexy II was the real force behind the survival of the church in Russia through the days of Communism and capitalism. He is a figure greater than Pope John Paul II for he lead his people through the toughest moments without any external help.