Monday, December 8, 2008

Patriarch Alexei II, In Memoriam


by Archbishop Lazar of Canada

Today, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrated a Pannikhida for a remarkable hierarch. The measure of the life of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II is difficult to assess. During the Communist era he lead his Diocese and then his Archdiocese in a manner that he could truly say "by faith we passed through the red sea." The Russian people by the tens of thousands were willing to hazard and even to give up their lives for the name of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. It is doubtful that we Canadians would do the same. This is a people who have proved themselves in the fire and who deserve the respect and reverence of all.

For a hierarch serving in the Soviet era, maintaining the precarious balance between acceptance and destruction by the Soviet authorities took a heavy emotional and physical toll. On the one hand, the sincere desire to maintain and strengthen the faith, and on the other, the need to soothe the government so it would not destroy every church and imprison every priest, took an enormous amount of faith, courage, diplomacy, and the risk of freedom and life.

Following the collapse of the Soviet regime, the rebuilding task was staggering. How did one get the alienated, often half destroyed church property returned, and the sites of those churches that were in ruin? The military was still officered by generals and high ranking men and women who were products of the Soviet era, many of whom were members of the Communist Party. Formidable though it was, Patriarch Alexei, by patient but unyielding labour, and exquisite diplomacy, managed not only to rebuild churches and monasteries, but to re-institute military and hospital chaplaincies, often in the face of strong objections from the generals and admirals. He led in the restoration of prison ministries, the opening of orphanages and alms-houses supported and operated by the Orthodox Church. Seminaries were rebuilt and flooded with students, monasteries, the very heart of Orthodoxy in every nation, were rebuilt, lands returned, and the monasteries have once again become centres of charity outreach.

One must acknowledge all those, both clergy and laity, who participated in all this great spiritual rebirth, but we must especially reverence His Holiness. During the Soviet era, he placed himself in the breach and became a moral martyr in balancing the compromises necessary for the physical survival of the Church with both pastoral care for his flock and loyalty to the Gospel. As Patriarch, he was under even more heavy a burden, and after the fall of Communism, he gave the last of his strength and life to the rebuilding and rebirth of the faith in Russia.

It is a tribute the him, and to the Russian people who have come to Canada and blessed our homeland with the presence of those who have confessed the faith in the face of persecution, prison and at the risk of death for the sake of the Gospel, that we serve a Russian Liturgy in the Monastery once a month. Many of the Russians who are here for the Liturgy on that day saw their fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and other relatives, martyred for the faith, and stood ready to follow in their footsteps. How could we not reverence such people? At the head of all, stood His Holiness, Alexei II, Patriarch and confessor of Moscow and All-Russia.

Glory and honour to him both in this age and in the age to come. Let his memory be from generation to generation.

Archbishop Lazar and synodia.

Further coverage of the repose of His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II can be found on the OCA website:

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