By BosNewsLife News Center with reports from Moscow
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Russia buried its first post-Soviet Orthodox patriarch, Alexy II, Tuesday, December 9, after a funeral attended by presidents, foreign emissaries and the country’s political elite.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived half way through the elaborate six-hour ceremony, and held candles as they stood near the patriarch’s coffin. Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Orthodox envoys also attended, as did Islamic leaders.
Tens of thousands more mourners waited in the rain outside the cathedral for a glimpse of his coffin.
Black limousines escorted the coffin of Patriarch Alexy II from Christ the Savior Cathedral through Moscow streets. Bells tolled across the city, as the 79-year-old Alexy patriarch laid to rest at the Epiphany Cathedral. He died Friday, December 5, at his residence outside Moscow after a long illness, including reported heart troubles.
The church has chosen Metropolitan Kirill as interim leader, but a new Patriarch must be appointed within the next six months. However church observers said the new head will have big shoes to fill, as Patriarch Alexy II was apparently respected by many Russians. Some 100,000 people saw him lying in state.
Alexy II 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.
Following his death, Russian leaders, media and ordinary citizens remembered the patriarch for his efforts to rebuild Christ the Savior Cathedral six decades after it was destroyed during the rule of dictator Josef Stalin.
Yet, rights groups and researchers also observed that non-Orthodox churches and missionary groups, including even the Salvation Army, faced resistance from authorities, who often cooperated with the Orthodox Church.
He was also accussed of active involvement in the former secret service KGB, which recruted many Orthodox priests during the Soviet-era, according to researchers and Christians. His church has denied the charges.
In what was seen as one of his biggest achievements, the patriarch signed a pact in May 2007 with Metropolitan Laurus, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, ending an 80-year split begun by White Russians who fled Soviet Russia to set up a rival faction.