Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church, died of heart failure on December 5, 2008, at the age of 79.
Born in Estonia in 1929 into a pious family of Russian émigrés of German extraction, Aleksei Mikhailovich Ridiger was ordained a priest in 1950, completed his theological studies in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) three years later, and was tonsured in 1961. His subsequent rise through the ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church—allegedly facilitated by a KGB connection, which he always denied—culminated in his election as Patriarch in 1990.
Aleksy II came to the throne just as the Soviet state was beginning to disintegrate. The early years of his tenure were dominated by the tremendous task of restoring the moral authority of the Church in a nation devastated by seven decades of lethal anti-Christian rule.
The scale of that devastation defies imagination. Persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other denominations under the communists is one of the greatest crimes in history. Its death toll was several times greater than that of the holocaust. It had killed more Christians than all other persecutions in all ages put together, with Islam a distant second. In 20 interwar years (1918-38), the number of churches that remained open in Russia was reduced from 54,000 to under 500—less than one percent of the pre-Bolshevik total. ...