Moscow Patriarch Alexei II has died

 — Dec. 5, 20085 déc. 2008

[Moscow] Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church has died at his residence in Peredelkino, 40 kilometres from central Moscow, the church’s Moscow Patriarchate has announced.

No cause was given for the death on 5 December of the 79-year-old patriarch.

The previous evening Alexei held a church service in one of Moscow’s central cathedrals to mark a major religious holiday, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported. It said the church’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, was to gather for an urgent meeting in Moscow on 6 December following the death of its leader.

Alexei was elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in June 1990 and he presided over the church during the post-communist and post-Soviet era. This not only saw greater freedom for the Russian Orthodox Church, and the restoration of battered church buildings, but an increase in the church’s status as an institution at the very heart of the nation’s cultural and political life.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who leads the worldwide Anglican Communion, said in a tribute to Alexei, “He was a leader of stature, with abundant experience, determination and courage, who guided his church with a steady hand through a profoundly challenging period of change in Russia’s history.”

From the 1960s, Alexei was seen as being one of the most vigorous supporters of the movement for church unity. He played a major role in theological dialogue with Protestant churches in Germany and Finland, and held a seat on the World Council of Churches‘ main governing body, its central committee. But his most important ecumenical contribution was as a senior officer in the Conference of European Churches, beginning in 1964 as a member of its presidium and serving as its president from 1987 until 1992.

In 1989 he co-chaired the First European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, Switzerland, which was the biggest official gathering of European Anglican, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches since the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.

Alexei Mikhailovich Ridiger was born on 23 February 1929 in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

He was ordained a priest in 1950, and in 1961 was consecrated bishop of Tallinn and Estonia. Within a few years he became archbishop and then metropolitan, serving as deputy chairperson of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations, and as head of the educational committee which supervised the church’s seminaries. From 1964 to 1986 he held the key post of chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate under two patriarchs, Alexei I and Pimen.

Even when he was appointed in 1986 to the Russian Orthodox Church’s third most important see – Leningrad (now St Petersburg) – Alexei continued to administer the Tallinn diocese, which he relinquished only after his election as Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.

In the mid-1990s, his loyalty to Estonia suffered a severe blow when many Orthodox parishes in the newly-independent Baltic republic switched their allegiance from Moscow to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The conflict prompted a temporary break in communion between Alexei and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomeos I.

It was this dispute that led to the suspension in October 2008 by the Russian Orthodox Church of its membership of CEC in a dispute about the non-admittance to the grouping of the Orthodox church in Estonia linked to the Moscow Patriarchate.

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