Moscow (AsiaNews) – The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksij II, has died at the age of 79. The Patriarchate did not give a reason for his death but he had been sick for some time.
Aleksij became Patriarch of all Russia in 1990, the first head of the Church elected without the influence of the Russian government.
He was credited with helping restore the freedom and moral authority of the Russian Orthodox Church after decades of repression under communism, but many priests who had been arrested and sent to the gulag accused him of being a spy for the Soviet secret police (KGB).
He was seen as a supporter of Putin’s New Russia.
In relation to the Catholic Church he always refused to meet Pope John Paul II, pointing the finger at alleged “proselytising” by Russian Catholics.
Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism was substantially held back under his leadership.