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Thousands queue to bid farewell to Russian patriarch
Sun Dec 7, 2008 7:42am EST
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By Vladimir Bomko
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Orthodox Christians flocked to pay tribute to Patriarch Alexiy II on Sunday as he lay in state in a Moscow cathedral, thanking him for the revival of the faith after decades of communist repression. Alexiy II, enthroned in 1990 a year before the demise of the Soviet Union, died of heart failure on Friday. He was 79.
Reviving Russia's main faith, he oversaw the construction of thousands of new churches and raised the prominence of Orthodoxy across the vast nation by building closer ties with the Kremlin.
During his 18 years as leader of the world's largest Orthodox church, Alexiy helped heal an 80-year rift with a rival faction of the church in the West which had been set up by monarchists fleeing the atheist Bolsheviks.
But Alexiy's opponents say he allowed the church to become a minor partner of the Kremlin under former President Vladimir Putin. Alexiy failed to shake off allegations he had links to the Soviet KGB. The church has repeatedly denied it.
Carrying mourning bouquets, thousands of people queued in cold drizzle across several blocks of central Moscow to Christ the Savior Cathedral, where Alexiy II will lie in state until his funeral on Tuesday.
"I feel like a bit of my heart has been torn out," said tearful pensioner Maria Mindova, who had traveled from Ukraine. "No words can express the pain of this loss."
The reconstruction of Christ the Savior Cathedral in the tumultuous 1990s was one of Alexiy's triumphs.
The magnificent 19th century church was first built with popular donations to commemorate Russia's 1812 victory over Napoleon's invasion. It was demolished under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and a swimming pool was built on the site.
Inside the huge, gold-domed, restored cathedral, Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, acting as the interim head of the Russian Orthodox Church, conducted a two-hour service at Alexiy's coffin as patient mourners waited outside.
CHURCH UNITY AFTER COMMUNISM
It was in this cathedral that Alexiy and Metropolitan Laurus, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, signed a unification document in May last year.
"I have relatives abroad ... and we can now receive communion from one and the same chalice, which we were not allowed to do before," said mourner Anastasia Grekova.
Alexiy is to be buried on Tuesday at Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral, where the relics of his patron saint are stored.
The next patriarch has to be chosen within six months. Observers said there were four main possible successors, including Kirill.
Key issues in choosing the new patriarch will be relations with the state and the Catholic church. Kirill is seen as a reformer on both points. Continued...
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