December 5, 2008

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II Dies

By Jim Heintz
Associated Press
December 5, 2008

MOSCOW – Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, who presided over a vast post-Soviet revival of faith but struggled against the influence of other churches, died Friday at age 79.

The Moscow Patriarchate said he died at his residence outside Moscow, but did not give a cause of death. Alexy had long suffered from a heart ailment.

Alexy 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 services on major religious holidays were broadcast live on national television.

By the time of Alexy'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 Alexy 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.......

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