Russians pay last respects to Orthodox Patriarch
AFP - Monday, December 8
MOSCOW (AFP) - - Russians paid respects Sunday to late patriarch Alexy II as his likely successor stamped his authority on commemorations and experts said reconciliation with Rome remained far off.
Thousands of people stood in a queue that snaked around Christ the Saviour cathedral, waiting to file past the robed body of the patriarch as he lay in state, a veil obscuring his bearded features.
Paying tribute to her late husband, Alexy II's wife Nadezhda said "personalities like Alexy only come once every 100 years".
Amid round-the-clock commemorations in the vast cathedral built under Alexy and former president Boris Yeltsin, the man named interim leader of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Kirill, called for Russians to unite.
"We should all respond to the Saviour's call to maintain unity, fraternity and jointly defend the beauty and strength of our Church, so that God's strength is given to all our people," he said.
President Dmitry Medvedev called the 79-year-old patriarch who died on Friday a "leading humanitarian" and ordered the cancellation of entertainment events and broadcasts on the day of the funeral on Tuesday, the Kremlin said.
Among those queueing to view the body, many with flowers and bouquets, some were sceptical about Saturday's vote by a closed council of archbishops which selected Kirill as "guardian of the throne" of the patriarch.
The selection of the powerful head of the Church's foreign relations department was seen as likely to lead to his confirmation as patriarch by a general synod of the Church within six months.
"Alexy for me was like a relation. I deeply respected him. Kirill I view with caution," said Nina Kaufman.
"He has a different sphere of activity. His role is a political one and he has his place. But for this position one needs other attributes," she said.
Others, however, said they welcome the temporary leader's appointment.
"Kirill is a worthy successor. He was not named 'guardian of the throne' by accident," said Olga Smirnova.
Scorn was poured on the selection process by contributors to an independent religious affairs website, www.portal-credo.ru, with one likening the process to the appointment of Soviet leaders attending their predecessors' funerals.
"In the 'Metropolitbureau,' everything is proceeding according to a design that was worked out and tested by the also highly vertical Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union," ran the comment.
Religious affairs experts also struggled to weigh up the choice of interim leader to replace Alexy, who led the Russian Orthodox Church's post-Communist revival.
Sergei Filatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said Kirill's public statements in recent years have increasingly been tinged with nationalism.
"All his principle political statements have been to the effect that we must construct a fundamentally Orthodox civilisation and state, that the Church must do everything to help construct such a state," he said.
"It's difficult to imagine he'll be sympathetic to Catholicism," he added.
The two churches have long been deeply split, their differences symbolised in the figure of the late Polish-born pope John Paul II and played out in territorial squabbles.
However, current Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged fellow Catholics gathered in St Peter's Square in Rome to pray for Alexy II.
"We come together with our Orthodox brothers in prayer to commend his soul to the goodness of the Lord," he said.
Meanwhile a biographical profile of Kirill on Credo.Ru said both his father and grandfather had been imprisoned for their religious belief in the Soviet era.
But despite this family history of persecution, the website added that Kirill, like much of the Church leadership, had been hand-in-glove with the KGB secret police during his wide-ranging foreign travels on behalf of the Church.
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Mourners file past the casket holding the body of Patriarch Alexy II at the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. Russians are queued in their thousands to pay their respects at the coffin of first post-Soviet Orthodox patriarch Alexy II, who died on Friday aged 79.
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