Church leaders offers tribute on death of Patriarch Alexis II

 Church leaders around the world have been paying tribute to Patriarch Alexis II. who died at his residence outside Moscow on Thursday, at the age of 79. The patriarch had led the Russian Orthodox Church since 1990. The church counts the majority of Russia's 142.5 million people among its members.

Pope Benedict sent a telegram of condolence, to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In his message the Holy Father said: "I was profoundly saddened to receive news of the death of His Holiness Alexis II, Patriarch of Moscow and of All the Russias, and with fraternal affection I wish to convey to the Holy Synod and to all the members of the Russian Orthodox Church my most sincere condolences, assuring you of my spiritual closeness at this very sad time. In my prayer I beseech the Lord to welcome into His Kingdom of eternal peace and joy this tireless servant, and to grant consolation and comfort to all those who mourn his passing, Mindful of the common commitment to the path of mutual understanding and co-operation between Orthodox and Catholics, I am pleased to recall the efforts of the late Patriarch for the rebirth of the Church, after the severe ideological oppression which led to the martyrdom of so many witnesses to the Christian faith. I also recall his courageous battle for the defence of human and gospel values, especially in the European continent, and I trust his commitment will bear fruit in peace and genuine progress, human, social and spiritual. At this sad time of loss, as his mortal remains are consigned to the earth in the sure hope of the resurrection, may the memory of this servant of Gospel of Christ be a support for those who are now in sorrow and an encouragement for those who will benefit from his spiritual legacy as leader of the venerable Russian Orthodox Church".

For his part, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has issued a note expressing his own sadness at the death of the patriarch, who "was called to guide the Russian Orthodox Church in a period of great change. ... His leadership has enabled that Church to face the challenges of transition from the Soviet era to the present with renewed interior vitality".

The cardinal recalls his "many meeting with His Holiness, who always made a point of expressing his goodwill towards the Holy Father and his desire to strengthen collaboration with the Catholic Church. His personal commitment to improving relations with the Catholic Church, in spite of the difficulties and tensions which from time to time have emerged, has never been in doubt".

In a statement issued on Friday, officers of the World Council of Churches (WCC), who were meeting in Geneva, expressed their deep sadness at the news. They paid tribute to "a church leader respected by many for his genuine commitment to his church and people, for his pastoral sensitivity, for his courageous stand facing the many challenges of the world."

"The WCC and the ecumenical movement have lost today a leading figure, a powerful voice that knew how and when to be supportive and constructive but also how and when to be vigilant and critical," the letter continues. The WCC officers include the general secretary of the WCC and moderator and co-moderators of the WCC Central Committee.

From the 1960s, Alexy II was seen as one of the most vigorous supporters of the movement for church unity. He played a major role in theological dialogue with Protestant churches in Germany and Finland and held a seat on the WCC Central Committee. But his most important ecumenical contribution was as a senior officer in the Conference of European Churches, beginning in 1964 as a member of its presidium and serving as its president from 1987 until 1992.

Source: VIS/WCC

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