Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Russia bids farewell to patriarch


Funeral of Patriarch Alexiy II

Russia has bid farewell to the head of Russian Orthodox Church, Alexiy II, at a grand funeral ceremony in Moscow.

Senior Orthodox leaders from around the world and top Russian government officials attended the service at the giant Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

A hearse then carried Alexiy II's coffin towards the city's Epiphany Cathedral for burial.

Alexiy II, who had presided over a revival of the Church's influence in Russia, died last week aged 79.

He had led the Church since 1990 - the last days of the Soviet Union.

Huge respect

The patriarch's body was on display in an open coffin surrounded by flowers and flickering candles at the Cathdral of Christ the Saviour, near the Kremlin.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II in Moscow, 12 September 2008

Senior clergy from across the Orthodox Christian world - along with representatives of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other churches - attended the ceremony which lasted more than five hours.

The ceremony was led by a high-profile bishop, Kirill, who has been elected the Church's temporary leader, and paid fulsome tribute to Alexiy.

"He inherited a church that was weakened by decades of repression.... Now he is leaving behind a church that is strong," he said.

Russia's political leaders were prominent among the mourners. Both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin approached the coffin to pay their final respects.

The deep, sonorous chants of the traditional Divine Liturgy rang out through the cathedral before the standing congregration of black-clad mourners and black-hooded Orthodox nuns.

Mourners visit the coffin inside the cathedral on 8 December
Some 80,000 mourners visited the coffin inside the cathedral

Russian media broadcast the funeral ceremony live and cancelled entertainment programmes at the request of President Medvedev.

Traffic jams were reported across the city centre, where some streets were closed off in connection with the funeral, and the city authorities called on workers to take the metro to work instead.

Moscow police say 80,000 people filed past Alexiy II's open coffin between Saturday evening and Tuesday morning.

The numbers speak of the huge respect and authority which he commanded, the BBC's James Rodgers reports from Moscow.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a striking symbol of the Russian Church's resurgence under Alexiy II's leadership, our correspondent notes.

It was blown up by the atheist Soviet authorities in the 1930s, then rebuilt in the 1990s after the collapse of Communism.

Did you attend the service? What affect will the death of Alexiy II have on the Russian Orthodox Church?

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