Alexei I, Patriarch
ALEXEI I, PATRIARCH
(1877–1970), patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church from January 31, 1945, to April 17, 1970.
Sergei Vladimirovich Simansky took monastic vows in 1902. He served as rector in several seminaries and was subsequently made a bishop. He became metropolitan in Leningrad in 1933 and endured the German siege of that city during World War II. According to eyewitness accounts of his situation in 1937, he anticipated arrest at any moment, for virtually all of his fellow priests had been seized by then. He celebrated the liturgy with the only deacon left in Leningrad, and even that coreligionist soon died. During the siege of the city he lived on the edge of starvation. The members of the cathedral choir were dying around him, and the choirmaster himself died in the middle of a church service. Alexei himself barely had the strength to clear a path to the cathedral through the snow in winter.
Under war-time pressures, Stalin permitted the election of a patriarch, but the one chosen soon died. Alexei was elected in January 1945. He reopened a few seminaries and convents and consecrated some new bishops. Of the parishes that were still functioning at the time, most were in territories that had been recently annexed or reoccupied by the USSR. In fact, one could travel a thousand kilometers on the Trans-Siberian Railroad without passing a single working church. The later anti-religious campaign of communist general secretary Nikita Khrushchev resulted in the closing of almost half of those churches still functioning in the 1950s.
Alexei reached out to Orthodox religious communities abroad. He was active in the World Peace movement, supporting Soviet positions. The Russian Church joined the World Council of Churches, and Alexei cultivated good relations with Western Protestants. He was criticized for his cooperation with the Soviet regime, but no doubt believed that collaboration was necessary for the church's survival.
See also: lenigrad, siege of; patriarchate; russian orthodox church
Davis, Nathaniel. (1995). A Long Walk to Church. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.