The death of Russian Patriarch Aleksy II, the man who guided the world’s largest Orthodox Church during Soviet repression and then into a period of recovery and growth, will occasion a time of deep reflection and prayer for Orthodox Christians the world over.
The Zenit News Service has 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 OCA communications office has released the following message:
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 OCA also has a detailed biography of the late Patriarch:
Throughout the period of political, social, and economic reforms in Russia after the fall of the USSR, Patriarch Aleksy constantly emphasized the importance of moral aims over others and the need to minister for the good of society. He paid great attention to building new relationships between the State and the Church in Russia. He believed that the ministry of the Church and the responsibilities of the state to society demanded mutually free cooperation between the Church and state; at the same time, he embraced the principle of separation between the mission of the Church and the functions of the state and of non-interference in the affairs of each other.
Patriarch Aleksy paid a great deal of attention to the revival and development of life within the dioceses and parishes. He highly valued the training of clergy for the Russian Orthodox Church, the religious education of the laity, and the spiritual and moral education of the younger generation. He blessed the establishment of numerous seminaries, theological colleges, and parish schools. Many new dioceses were established during his years of ministry, and many centers of spiritual and Church administrative leadership emerged, especially in remote areas.
Russia Today has posted what it says it the last interview with Patriarch Aleksy here. The news service says today that “Aleksy 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 Aleksy was a collaborator with the Russian secret police, something the Russian Church denies. This will certainly be a much debated issue in the weeks and months ahead as the Church prepares to elect a new Patriarch. For a balanced perspective, 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.”