The Russian Orthodox Church is in mourning today as it copes with the loss of Patriarch Alexy II, who passed away early Friday morning at his residence in Moscow. Pope Benedict has expressed his grief at hearing the news, saying he was “profoundly saddened” to hear of his passing.
The official cause of the 79 year-old Patriarch’s death has not been announced, but he has been suffering from a heart condition for some time.
Upon learning of the death of the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Pope Benedict XVI said that he was “profoundly saddened to receive news of the death of His Holiness Alexy II” and that he wished to convey to all the members of the Russian Orthodox Church “my most sincere condolences, assuring you of my spiritual closeness at this very sad time.”
Alexy II’s tenure as patriarch saw him lead a revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia and abroad. The crowning achievement of this revival was the 2007 reunification of the Church in Russia with splinter Churches that were established overseas during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
Another notable achievement of the Patriarch was a successful program of church restoration that rebuilt churches neglected during the Soviet regime.
Although relations between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Church have been tense at times, Pope Benedict lauded the Patriarch for his “courageous battle for the defense of human and gospel values, especially in the European continent” and added that he trusts his commitment will bear fruit.
Pope Benedict concluded his message by praying that “the memory of this servant of Gospel of Christ be a support for those who are now in sorrow and an encouragement for those who will benefit from his spiritual legacy as leader of the venerable Russian Orthodox Church."
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, also offered his condolences to the Orthodox faithful and expressing his sadness at the death of the patriarch. The cardinal noted that Alexy II "was called to guide the Russian Orthodox Church in a period of great change. ... His leadership has enabled that Church to face the challenges of transition from the Soviet era to the present with renewed interior vitality."
The prelate also recalled that in his numerous meetings with the Patriarch, he “always made a point of expressing his goodwill towards the Holy Father and his desire to strengthen collaboration with the Catholic Church.”
“His personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church, in spite of the difficulties and tensions which from time to time have emerged, has never been in doubt," Cardinal Kasper said.