NEWSMAKER - Patriarch who saw end of communism dies
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II, who revived the nation's main religion after decades of Soviet atheism and healed an 80-year rift with a branch of the Russian Orthodox church in the West, died on Friday. He was 79.
Enthroned in 1990 a year before the Soviet Union's collapse, Estonian-born Alexiy II was relieved of the state ideological control that weighed on his predecessor in the ancient chambers of Moscow's Danilovsky Monastery.
But the former bishop of Tallinn and Estonia struggled with many of the same problems that worried post-Soviet Russia's politicians -- separatist tendencies, schisms and an influx of competing beliefs from the West.
In one of his biggest achievements, the patriarch signed a pact in May 2007 with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ending an 80-year split begun by White Russians who fled Soviet Russia to set up a rival faction.
Alexiy II made the most of Russia's spiritual vacuum after the long-held Communist beliefs crumbled. But he was also criticised for supporting measures to restrict the freedom of other confessions, including Roman Catholics, to work in Russia.
He stood in the way of a visit to Russia by the Polish-born former leader of the Catholic church, Pope John Paul II.
And although he expressed similar views on same-sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion as Pope Benedict XVI, this never resulted in a meeting.
Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last year, Alexiy II denounced homosexuality as a sin, an illness and "a distortion of the human personality like kleptomania." He also said European civilisation was threatened by a divorce of human rights from Christian ethics.
Alexiy II moved the Orthodox Church closer to the centre of political power, despite repeatedly voicing support for Russia's constitutional separation of church and state.
He was a frequent visitor to the Kremlin, and then Russian President Vladimir Putin was often seen at key church services held at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, demolished by Soviet ruler Josef Stalin and rebuilt in the 1990s.
Many of the Orthodox religious leaders who avoided arrest and torture during repeated Soviet-era clampdowns were later found to be agents working for the KGB security service.
Among researchers who had access to KGB archives, Gleb Yakunin said Alexiy was a KGB agent though the Moscow Patriarchate has always denied this.
Alexiy plunged into politics during the September 1993 crisis, when he tried to negotiate a deal between then-president Boris Yeltsin and his hardline opponents.
The mission collapsed when Yeltsin crushed the opposition and fired with tank guns at their headquarters in the White House parliament building.
Later Alexiy raised his voice against war in Chechnya, where Yeltsin sent troops in 1994 to quell the region's independence drive, but to little avail. During the second campaign, led by Putin, he was silent.
Moving easily in capitalist circles, Alexiy has also not shied away from endorsing the values of the new Russia.
In late 2001, he appeared in a television advertisement for LUKOIL, thanking the oil company for its financial help.
Alexiy Mikhailovich Ridiger was born on February 23, 1929, in the Estonian capital Tallinn, into the family of a Russian Orthodox priest.
He later said his family's many pilgrimages to the then Soviet Union's key religious sites were crucial to moulding his future path.
In 1953 he graduated from the St Petersburg Spiritual Academy as a priest. He served in Estonia and Russia before becoming a monk in 1961, taking the vow of chastity necessary for any orthodox clergyman seeking a top position in the church.
In 1961 he was appointed Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia and in 1986 was consecrated Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod.
In 1990 he became the 15th patriarch to lead the Orthodox Church since the position was established in 1589. The patriarchate was abolished between 1721 and 1917.
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this