Patriarch Alexy II: An Epoch Passes Away
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Patriarch Alexy II: An Epoch Passes Away

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

is a writer and editor based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.