Voices from Russia

Friday, 5 December 2008

Patriarch Aleksei Mikhailovich Rediger, First Hierarch of the Moscow Patriarchate, Dies in Moscow at the Age of 79


Aleksei Mikhailovich Rediger, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias (1929- 2008), a confessor for Church unity

Patriarch Aleksei Rediger of Moscow and all the Russias, who presided over a vast post-Soviet revival of faith, but, was accused of making the church a force for nationalism, died Friday at age 79, the church headquarters said. The Moscow Patriarchate said he died at his residence outside Moscow, but, did not give a cause of death. Aleksei had long suffered from a heart ailment.

Aleksei became leader of the church in 1990, as the officially-atheist Soviet Union was loosening its restrictions on religion. After the Soviet Union collapsed the following year, the church’s popularity surged. Church domes that had been stripped of their gold under the Soviets were regilded, churches that had been converted into warehouses or left to rot in neglect were painstakingly restored, and hours-long liturgies on major religious holidays were broadcast live on national television. By the time of Aleksei’s death, the church’s flock was estimated to include about two-thirds of Russia’s 142 million people, making it the world’s largest Orthodox church.

But, Aleksei often complained that Russia’s new religious freedom put the church under severe pressure and he bitterly resented what he said were attempts by other Christian churches to poach adherents among people who he said should have belonged to the Orthodox church. These complaints focused on the Roman Catholic Church, and Aleksei refused to agree to a papal visit to Russia unless the proselytisation issue was resolved. “Patriarch Aleksei was tasked with leading the Church at a time of great transformation”, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Monsignor Brian Farrell, told the ANSA news agency. “He was able to carry out this task with a great sense of responsibility and love of the Russian tradition”.

Aleksei lived long enough to see another major religious dispute resolved. In 2007, he signed a pact with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, to bring the churches closer together. The US-based ROCOR had split off in 1927, after the Moscow church’s leader declared loyalty to the Communist government. Aleksei successfully lobbied for the 1997 passage of a religion law that places restrictions on the activities of religions other than Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Under his leadership, the church also vehemently opposed schismatic Orthodox churches in the neighbouring Ukraine, claiming the Ukrainian church should remain under Moscow’s control.

He was born Aleksei Mikhailovich Ridiger on 23 February 1929 in Tallinn, Estonia. The son of a priest, Aleksei often accompanied his parents on pilgrimages to churches and monasteries, and he helped his father minister to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps in Estonia. It was during those visits that Aleksei decided to pursue a religious life. Under Soviet rule, this was not an easy choice. Lenin and Stalin suppressed religion and thousands of churches were destroyed or converted to other uses, such as museums devoted to atheism or, in some cases, stables. Many priests and parishioners were persecuted for their beliefs. The persecution eased somewhat during World War II, when Stalin discovered that the church could be used as a propaganda tool in the fight against the Nazis. But, the Soviet authorities never fully loosened their grip, penetrating the church at the highest levels.

Aleksei was ordained in 1950, progressed through the Orthodox hierarchy, and was consecrated Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia in 1961. The British-based Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in former Communist countries, has cited research suggesting that Aleksei’s career may have been aided by assistance he gave the KGB while a young priest in Tallinn. Orthodox Church officials vehemently denied the allegations.

5 December 2008

James Heintz

Associated Press


Editor’s Note:

I do not agree totally with the tenor of the above article, it shows the lacunae in the author’s knowledge (who is probably a Roman Catholic). However, I must get something up before going to work, and this shall do for the moment. His Holiness was not a KGB agent, and Keston gets an F for suggesting such. The topic of the ROCOR is distorted out of recognition and the Ukrainian topic is put into a Western-press fun-house mirror, obviously showing that the author has been (probably, innocently) exposed to Galician Uniate nationalist propaganda.

Вечная памят, раб божий Алексей!


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