Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II laid to rest

MOSCOW, December 9 (RIA Novosti) - Patriarch Alexy II was laid to rest on Tuesday in Moscow after a grand funeral ceremony attended by top Orthodox figures, political leaders, and thousands of ordinary people.

Alexy II, who died of heart failure on Friday aged 79, was buried in Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral, where he was enthroned as patriarch in 1990, a year before the demise of the atheist Soviet Union.

The burial ceremony in the cathedral, which included prayers for the dead, was attended by top church clergy from Russia and abroad. Political leaders and other secular figures were not expected at the ceremony in the Epiphany Cathedral, the Moscow Patriarchy said.

When the clergy left the cathedral after the burial, mourners were let inside to bid farewell to the late patriarch.

The funeral service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral earlier in the day, where the patriarch had lain in state since Saturday, was attended by clergy from across the Orthodox Christian world, as well as representatives of the world's major religions.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as well as the leaders of Belarus, Armenia and Serbia, Cabinet ministers, top Kremlin officials, and senior lawmakers also attended the funeral service.

Speaking during the service, the church's acting leader, Metropolitan Kirill, said: "Today his Holiness, standing before the face of God, can say that he left us with a different Church: no longer powerless and weak."

"The Church is with its people... Millions of people have realized that without God and his truth, there can be no human truth," he said.

The huge, gold-domed cathedral near the Kremlin was demolished by the Bolsheviks and rebuilt during Alexy II's leadership, along with hundreds of other churches. Thousands of half-ruined churches and monasteries were reconstructed across the country.

The patriarch's body was taken to the Epiphany Cathedral after the six-hour service in a procession led by Metropolitan Kirill. The 7 km (over 4 miles) journey across the city center, disrupted traffic until late afternoon. The hearse containing the body was given a police escort.

Moscow police said more than 100,000 people paid their last respects to Alexy II between Saturday evening and Tuesday. Mourners waited for hours around the clock to file past the coffin. Tens of thousands took to the streets to see the funeral procession on Tuesday as unseasonal rain hit the Russian capital.

The Patriarchy denied media reports earlier on Tuesday that Kirill, one of the candidates to replace the late leader, had fainted during the liturgy in the Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Kirill, 62, who heads the church's foreign relations department, was helped away during the service, but later returned.

"I am glad to give brotherly comfort to those who rushed to make diagnoses and forecasts. The metropolitan is feeling fine," Patriarchy spokesman Vsevold Chaplin said. "He did not faint. And there is no danger to his life."

The church's national council convenes within the next six months to elect a new leader.

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