Alexius II, Patriarch

Alexius II, Patriarch
   Religious leader. Alexius II, also known as Aleksey II, was the 15th Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus and the Metropolitan of Tallinn, making him the effective leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Elected Patriarch of Moscow in 1990, he became the first Russian patriarch of the post-Soviet period.
   Born Aleksey Mikhailovich Ridiger, Alexius II was a descendant of a Baltic German family, with his ancestors adopting Orthodoxy during the reign of Catherine the Great. Aleksey’s father became a refugee after the October Revolution of 1917 and settled his family in Estonia, where he became a priest in 1940. During the late Stalin era, Aleksey entered theological education; he was subsequently ordained a deacon. After serving as the highest-ranking member of the Orthodox Church in Estonia, he became the Metropolitan of Leningrad in 1986. In 1990, he was the first Patriarch in Soviet history to be chosen without government pressure. Upon his election, Alexius became a vocal advocate of the rights of the Orthodox Church, addressing to Mikhail Gorbachev a letter proposing reforms to statechurch relations. In 1989, he was elected a people’s deputy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and was involved in a number of cases undermining the role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
   During his administration, Boris Yeltsin developed a working relationship with the religious leader to buttress his own popularity. Under Alexius’s leadership, a large number of martyrs and confessors who suffered under Communism were glorified, including Tsar Nicholas II and his family. In 2005, Alexius became the first laureate of the State Prize of the Russian Federation for humanitarian work. His work was highly praised by Russian presidents, particularly Vladimir Putin. President Dmitry Medvyedev capitalized on the patriarch’s death by turning his burial into a mass spectacle, aimed at instilling a sense of national unity. Alexius II had difficult relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, particularly over property rights in Ukraine, which resulted from the abrupt dissolution of the Soviet Union. Other major controversies included his alleged links to the KGB, his reception of Hamas leaders from the Gaza Strip in 2006, and his strong opposition to homosexuality and nontraditional relations and gender identities in Russia. After his death on 5 December 2008, he was succeeded by Patriarch Kirill I.
   See also Romanovs.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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