BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The ruling body of the Russian Orthodox Church on Saturday, December 6, elected Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as the interim leader of the country’s main denomination following the death on Friday, December 5, of Patriarch Alexy II, the patriarchate said.
Kirill was chosen by a ‘Holy Synod’ of 12 senior clergy, media reports said, in an attempt to fill a vacuum left behind by the death of Alexy, whose name is also spelled as Alexiy. Kirill was to serve as “interim patriarch” until a larger Church Council is held within the next six months to pick Alexy’s successor.
The previous patriarch, who oversaw the revival of Christianity after the collapse of the atheist Soviet Union, died Friday, December 5, at the age of 79. No reason was given for his death, but Alexy was known to suffer of heart disease. Alexy was praised by politicians, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, however independent researchers also criticized his alleged links with the former KGB secret service. The Russian Orhodox Church has always denied his active involvement in the KGB, which played a role in the persecution of active Christians.
Non-Orthodox groups and churches also complained of discrimination under Alexy’s rule. Yet his supporters point out he supervised the restoration of churches that were left to rot, or confiscated, under Communist rule. In addition, he played a role in ensuring millions of Russians were confronted with Christianity as a religion, administering hours-long Masses broadcast live on Russian television.
Alexy’s body was to be taken Saturday, December 6, to the huge Christ the Savior Cathedral for three days of public viewing and funeral Tuesday, December 9. Burial is to be at Epiphany Cathedral, the patriarch’s choice for interment.
When Alexy became head of the church in 1990, the 19th-century Epiphany Cathedral of sea-green towers topped by onion domes, was the patriarchal seat. The seat had been moved there after the closure of churches in the Kremlin and the destruction of larger cathedrals in Moscow, including the original Christ the Savior cathedral. That church was blown up in 1931 to make way for a planned Palace of Soviets that was never built.
Christ the Savior was reconstructed on the original site in the 1990s and became the patriarchal seat. Last year, it hosted the ceremony marking one of Alexy’s proudest achievements — signing of a pact bringing the church and the schismatic Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia closer. (With reporting from Russia. This is a developing story, stay with BosNewsLife for regular updates).