His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah has received news that His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Rus fell asleep in the Lord early on the morning of Friday, December 5, 2008.
Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow was born Alexey Mikhailovich Ridiger on February 23, 1929 in Tallinn, Estonia, into a devout Orthodox Christian family. Every year, his parents went on a pilgrimage with their son to the Convent of the Holy Assumption in Puhtica and to the Holy Assumption Monastery of the Caves in Pskov. In the late 1930s they made two pilgrimages to the Valaam Monastery of the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Lake Ladoga. These pilgrimages largely determined the future Patriarch’s spiritual way of life.
From his early childhood, Alexey Ridiger served the Church under the guidance of his spiritual father, Archpriest Ioann Bogoyavlensky, later Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia. He entered the Leningrad - now St. Petersburg - Theological Seminary, from which he graduated with honors in 1949. While a student at the academy, he was ordained to the diaconate on April 15, 1950, and to the priesthood on April 17. He was appointed rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Johvi, Tallinn diocese. In 1953, he graduated from the Leningrad Theological Academy with honors, receiving the degree of Candidate of Theology.
In 1957, Father Aleksy was appointed rector of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Tallinn and dean of the Tartu district. The same year, he was elevated to the rank of archpriest. In March 1961, he took his monastic vows in the Trinity Cathedral of the Holy Trinity-St.Sergius Lavra. On August 14 of that year, he was nominated Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia and entrusted with the temporary administration of the Riga diocese. He was elevated to the rank of archimandrite in August 1961, and on September 3 of the same year, he was consecrated Bishop of Tallinn and Estonia in the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn. Three years later, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.
In December 1964, Archbishop Aleksy was appointed Chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate and became a permanent member of the Holy Synod. He served as Chancellor until 1986. In February 1968, he was elevated to the rank of Metropolitan. In 1970, Metropolitan Aleksy was among the signatories of the Tomos granting Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America.
In June 1986, he was appointed Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod and entrusted with the administration of the Tallinn diocese.
On June 7, 1990, he was elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, his enthronement being held on June 10.
As a hierarch, Patriarch Aleksy held many positions in the central administration of the Russian Church. He chaired the Education Committee, the Holy Synod Commission on Christian Unity and Interchurch Relations, the Pensions Committee, and the Holy Synod Commission for the Preparation of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of 1971. He also chaired the Local Council’s Procedural and Organizational Group and the Secretariat. He was deputy chairman of the Commission for the Preparation and Execution of the Celebration of the Millennium of the Baptism of Rus and chairman of the Commission’s Organizational Group and Theological Group. He also served as chairman of the Executive Commission for the Transfer of the Danilov Monastery and oversaw the organization and execution of its restoration and the construction of the Spiritual and Administrative Centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. He also chaired the Patriarchal Synodal Bible Commission, served as editor-in-chief of the “Orthodox Encyclopaedia,” chaired the Supervisory and Church Scholarly Council for its publication, chaired the Board of Trustees of the Russian “Reconciliation and Accord” Charity Foundation, and headed the Board of Trustees of the National Military Foundation.
On the international scene, among his numerous endeavors, he served as a member of the delegation of Russian Orthodox Church at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches [WCC] in New Delhi in 1961; a member of the WCC Central Committee from 1961 to 1968; president of the World Conference “Church and Society” in Geneva, Switzerland, 1966; and a member of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order from 1964 to 1968. For more than 25 years, Metropolitan Aleksy was a member of the Conference of European Churches [CEC], for which he served as president for several years. He also served as a member of the Joint Committee of the Conference of European Churches and the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe [CECE] of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a delegate of the World Christian Conference “Life and Peace” in Uppsala, Sweden, in April 1983, and was elected one of its presidents. He chaired the Conference of the Christian Interconfessional Consultative Committee ‘‘Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday and Today and for Ever—Christianity on the Threshold of the Third Millennium” in 1999, and the Interreligious Peace Forum held in Moscow in 2000.
It was under Patriarch Aleksy’s leadership that reconciliation was achieved between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia [ROCOR]. In May 2007, an Act of Canonical Unity was signed by Patriarch Aleksy and His Eminence, Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of ROCOR. The Act brought ROCOR under the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate, thus healing a generations-old wound in the Russian Church.
Patriarch Aleksy was an honourary member of the St. Petersburg and Moscow Theological Academies and the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Greece. He received a Doctor of Theology of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, and honorary doctorates from numerous theologcial schools, including St.Vladimir’s Seminary, St. Tikhon’s Seminary, the Theological Faculty of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, the Tbilisi Theological Academy in Georgia, the Theological Academy in Debrecen of the Reformed Church in Hungary, the General Seminary of the Episcopal Church in the USA, and the Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, Alaska. Among his numerous other awards and distinctions he was also an honorary professor of the Moscow State University, an honorary Doctor of Philology of the St. Petersburg University, and an honorary member of the Public Supervisory Council for the Revival of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. He was awarded the highest award of the Russian Federation, the Order of St. Apostle Andrew the First-Called, the Order “For Services to the Fatherland,” and many orders of the Local Orthodox Churches, state orders of different countries, and awards of public organizations.
Throughout the period of political, social, and economic reforms in Russia after the fall of the USSR, Patriarch Aleksy constantly emphasized the importance of moral aims over others and the need to minister for the good of society. He paid great attention to building new relationships between the State and the Church in Russia. He believed that the ministry of the Church and the responsibilities of the state to society demanded mutually free cooperation between the Church and state; at the same time, he embraced the principle of separation between the mission of the Church and the functions of the state and of non-interference in the affairs of each other.
Patriarch Aleksy paid a great deal of attention to the revival and development of life within the dioceses and parishes. He highly valued the training of clergy for the Russian Orthodox Church, the religious education of the laity, and the spiritual and moral education of the younger generation. He blessed the establishment of numerous seminaries, theological colleges, and parish schools. Many new dioceses were established during his years of ministry, and many centers of spiritual and Church administrative leadership emerged, especially in remote areas.
Patriarch Aleksy worked tirelessly for the building up of Church life, calling upon every member of the Church without exception to participate in it more actively and responsibly on a conciliar basis. He paid great attention to the problems of fraternal cooperation among all Orthodox Churches in common witness to the Truth of Christ to the world. He considered cooperation among different Christian confessions for the sake of addressing the needs of the modern world as a Christian obligation. He constantly appealed for peace and accord in society, as well as benevolent mutual understanding and cooperation, among the followers of different religions and philosophies of life.
Shortly after his election to the patriarchate, Patriarach Aleksy made a fraternal visit to the Orthodox Church in America in 1991. In 1993, he once again visited the US.
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church will be convened in Moscow on Saturday, December 6, 2008, to appoint a Locum tenens of the Patriarchal Throne and to determine the time and place of Patriarch Aleksy’s burial. This information will be posted on the OCA web site as it becomes available.
May the memory of His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II of Moscow and All Rus be eternal!
Note: Biographical information on His Holiness, Patriarch Aleksy II is based on information posted on the web site of the Church or Russia at mospat.ru.