This a few moments ago from the Associated Press:MOSCOW --- Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia,
who presided over a vast post-Soviet revival of fath and yet waged a constant struggle against the influence of other churches, has died at the age of 79. The Moscow Patriarchate
said that Alexy died at his residence outside Moscow, but refused to specify cause of death. Some sources, however, said that the Patriarch had long suffered from a heart ailment.
Alexy was officially enthroned in 1990, when the then-officially atheist U.S.S.R. had begun to loosen its restrictions on religion. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the following year, the Church's popularity surged. Church domes that had been stripped of gold under the Soviet rule were regilded, others that had been previously converted into warehouse buildings and the like or were left to rot in utter neglection were painstakingly restored to their former glory, while extended-hour services, more than a few of which were presided over by Patriarch Alexy himself, were broadcast live on national television.
By the time of Alexy's death, the Church's flock was estimated to include some two-thirds of Russia's 142 million people, making it the world's largest Orthodox Church.
Yet Alexy was constantly complaining that Russia's new-found religious freedom was putting the Church under intense pressure; as a result, he bitterly resented what he personally considered to be attempts on the part of certain other Christian Churches to poach adherents amongst those whom he believed should have belonged solely to the Orthodox Church.
Centerpiece of Alexy's complaints was the Roman Catholic Church, and Alexy was constantly refusing to agree to a Papal visit unless the issue of proselytization was properly resolved. Stiil, the Vatican praised his many efforts to discuss those problems.
"His personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church despite the many difficulties and tensions which from time to time have emerged was never in doubt," commented Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Offering his own condolences, Pope Benedict XVI praised Alexy, saying: "I am pleased to recall the efforts of the late Patriarch for the rebirth of the Church after the severe ideological oppression which led to the martyrdom of so many witnesses to the Christian faith. I also recall his courageous battles for the defense of both human and Gospel values."
Alexy did live long enough to see still another major religious dispute resolved: In 2007, he signed a pact with the late Metropolitan Laurus
, leader of the breakaway Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
, to bring both Churches closer together. New York City-based ROCOR had split off in 1927, after the Moscow Church's then-reigning Patriarch declared loyalty to the Communist government.
Alexy successfully lobbied for the 1997 passage of a religious law that places restrictions on the activities of religions other than Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. Under his leaadership, the Church also opposed schismatic Orthodox Churches in neighboring Ukraine, claiming that the Ukraininan Church should remain under Moscow's control.
One chief representative of Russia's Muslims, Albir Krangov, Deputy Chair of the Muslim Central Spiritual Administration, saluted Alexy's efforts to restore the religious prominence in post-Soviet Russia. "All the activities of this man were devoted to unifying our country, developing state-religion relations and the dialogues of Russia's traditional faiths," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Krangov as saying.
Making a rare demonstration of the closeness of church-state relations, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev canceled his plans to travel from India to Italy, so that he could attend the Patriarch's funeral, the date of which has yet to be announced. "He was a great citizen of Russia --- a man in whose destiny the entire difficult experiences of our nation's 20th-Century changes are reflected," Medvedev said.
Under Alexy's reign, the Church's influence grew stronger to the point whereby public schools soon instituted mandatory religious courses --- a move that human rights advocates continue to criticize as likely to further increase xenophobia. "The Church strengthened nationalism, without a doubt," said Alexander Verkhovsky of the human rights group SOVA, who also gave the Church under Alexy credit for speaking out against radical and violent nationalists.
Alexei Mikhailovich Ridiger was born February 23rd, 1929, in Tallinn, Estonia. Son of a priest of Russo-German descent, Alexei usually accompanied his parents on pilgrimages to churches and monasteries, eventually aiding his father in ministering to the prisoners of Estonia's Nazi concentration camps. It was during those journeys that Alexy made his decision to devote himself fully to the Church.
Under Soviet rule, that choice was not easy. Lenin and Stalin had long suppressed religion; as a result, thousands upon thousands of churches were either destroyed or had their facilities converted to other uses, notably museums devoted to atheism or, in some cases, plain stables. Many of the ruling priests and their parishioners were persecuted for their beliefs.
That persecution eased somewhat by the end of World War II, when Stalin found out that he could find a way to use the Church as a propaganda tool in his battle against the Nazis. Yet the Soviet authorities never really loosened their grip, penetrating the Church at its highest levels.
Alexy was ordained in 1950, progressed through the Orthodox hierarchy, graduating from St. Petersburg Spiritual Academy in 1953, and was consecrated as Bishop of Tallinn and all Estonia in 1961, and then, in 1986, was further consecrated to the rank of Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod.
London's Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in former Communist countries, has recently cited research suggesting that Alexy's career may have been aided by assistance which he gave the KGB during his priesthood days in Talinn. Church officials continue to deny those allegations.Peace unto you, dearest Alexy. I don't think we're ever going to forget you.........Master Blackwolf