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Alexei II, Patriarch

ALEXEI II, PATRIARCH

(b. 1929), secular name Alexei Mikhailovich Ridiger, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church (1990).

Born in Tallinn, of Russian and Baltic German extraction, Alexei graduated from the Leningrad Theological Seminary in 1949 and was ordained in 1950. In 1961 he was consecrated bishop of Estonia, and later appointed chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate (1964). In 1986 he became metropolitan of Leningrad, and was elected patriarch on June 7, 1990.

From his election to early 2003, over 13,000 parishes and 460 monasteries were established. A decade after his enthronement, nearly three-quarters of Russians considered themselves members of the church (although only 6% were active churchgoers), and the patriarch enjoyed high approval ratings as the perceived spokesman for Russia';s spiritual traditions.

Alexei, a former USSR people's deputy, envisioned a partnership between church and state to promote morality and the popular welfare. He met regularly with government officials to discuss policy, and signed agreements with ministries detailing plans for church-state cooperation in fields such as education. His archpastoral blessing of Boris Yeltsin after his 1991 election began a relationship between patriarch and president that continued under Vladimir Putin. Alexei saw the church as essential for preserving civil peace in society, and used his position to promote dialogue among various parties, gaining much credibility after trying to mediate the 1993 standoff between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet.

Alexei's leadership was not without controversy. Some have voiced concerns that the church was too concerned with institutional status at the expense of pursuing genuine spiritual revival. Business ventures designed to raise funds for a cash-strapped church were called into question. Alexei was criticized for his role in promoting the 1997 legislation On Religious Freedom which placed limitations on the rights of nontraditional faiths. Allegations surfaced about KGB collaboration (under the codename Drozdov), something he consistently denied. He justified his Soviet-era conduct (one CPSU document described him as "most loyal") as necessary to keep churches from closing down. Defenders note that he was removed as chancellor after appealing to Mikhail Gorbachev to reintroduce religious values into Soviet society.

Alexei was outspoken in his determination to preserve the Moscow Patriarchate as a unified entity, eschewing the creation of independent churches in the former Soviet republics. Although most parishes in Ukraine remained affiliated to Moscow, two other Orthodox jurisdictions competed for the allegiance of the faithful. When the Estonian government turned to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to restore a church administration independent of Moscow's authority, Alexei briefly broke communion with him (1996), but agreed to a settlement creating two jurisdictions in Estonia.

The patriarch worked to preserve a balance between liberal and conservative views within the church. The Jubilee Bishops' Council (2000) ratified a comprehensive social doctrine that laid out positions on many issues ranging from politics (offering a qualified endorsement of democracy) to bioethics. Compromises on other contentious questions (participation in the ecumenical movement, the canonization of Nicholas II, and so forth) were also reached. In the end, the council reaffirmed Alexei's vision that the church should emerge as a leading and influential institution in post-Soviet Russian society.

See also: patriarchate; russian orthodox church

bibliography

Alimov, G., and Charodeyev, G. (1992). "Patriarch Aleksei II: 'I Take Responsibility for All That Happened.'" Religion, State, and Society 20(2):241246.

Bourdeaux, Michael. (1992). "Patriarch Aleksei II: Between the Hammer and the Anvil." Religion, State, and Society 20(2):231236.

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. (1998). The Orthodox Church in the History of Russia. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

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