Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Death of Patriarch Alexei 11

The Russian Patriarch, Alexei 11 has died in Moscow. He was 79 and was Patriarch for 18 years. He witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the struggle to restore Russia as a powerful, centralized state where there is freedom of expression and worship.

Alexei was a supporter of Vladimir Putin who seemed to be approaching something of the status of royalty at one point because of the Church's recognition and support. The promise of freedom and peace has not been fully realised. In particular Alexei was deeply suspicious of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia, and there have been serious disagreements with other Orthodox communities. Recently, in this last year, he threatened schism with Greece over the invitation extended to the Greek Patriarch from the Ukranian Orthodox Church which has been struggling for independence from Moscow. It was Patriarch Bartholomew who encouraged all the Orthodox Patriachs to come together and express their unity, agreeing to work together as brothers.

Although Alexei has not had a good press with regard to ecumenical matters, he was instrumental in healing the serious rift with The "Orthodox Church Outside Russia" (its actual title) which, until recently, had not accepted Alexei as the true Patriarch of Russia.

Alexei avoided statements which might conflict with the Kremilin. He even spoke out against the independence of Kosovo and publicly endorsed the rule of Putin. It seems there was a relationship of mutual support, and Putin and the government greatly benefitted from the Patriarch's encouragement.

Part of the background to the split with the OCOR was the suggestion that Alexei had worked as a KGB agent. This has been vigorously denied by the patriarchy. There have been other accusations made against some Orthodox bishops and clergy from the era of the Cold War. Those were certainly very difficult and brutal days when some churches were destroyed and church properties were confiscated. It is true that many of the priests who survived the purge of the clergy were recruited as secret agents.

Alexei's funeral will take place this weekend (6th/7th December) at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral. This had been flattened by Stalin and later rebuilt as a symbol of the resurgence of the Church. The Patriarch's body will be laid to rest in Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral.

May he rest in peace, and may God grant a worthy succesor.

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