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Cablegate: Death of Patriarch Aleksey Ii

VZCZCXRO9592
OO RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHSK RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3522/01 3401344
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 051344Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1001
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003522

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SCUL RS
SUBJECT: DEATH OF PATRIARCH ALEKSEY II

1. (SBU) Summary: Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) Patriarch
Aleksey II, 79, died December 5 of heart failure. A
temporary leader of the Church will be named on December 6,
and a funeral is expected as early as December 7, but perhaps
December 8 or 9. As a result, President Medvedev canceled a
planned December 6 trip to Italy. According to Church
guidelines, a new Patriarch must be selected within six
months according to rules established by the temporary head.
Condolences have poured in from Russian political and
religious leaders, and the Ambassador issued a statement on
the Embassy website. Metropolitan Kirill is reported to be
the front-runner to become the next Patriarch, given his
extensive public role with the ROC. Putin and Medvedev
cultivated ties with the ROC, and observers do not expect the
selection of the first post-Soviet Patriarch to disrupt the
trajectory of closer Church-state ties. End Summary.

2. (U) Action Request: See para 9.

Patriarch Aleksey II Dies at Age 79
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) On December 5, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia
Aleksey II died at age 79 at his residence in Peredelkino,
outside of Moscow. Aleksey had led the Russian Orthodox
Church since June 1990. ROC officials reported the cause of
death as heart failure, and the Patriarch had suffered from
chronic diseases and a stroke in Fall 2002. Nonetheless, the
death came as a surprise, since Aleksey had led a service in
the Kremlin on November 30 and appeared in good health during
his recent meeting with the Ambassador on October 21. Father
Zacchaeus, of the Orthodox St. Catherine's Church in Moscow,
told us that "we are all surprised," as he had served with
Aleksey in a service on December 2 and there was no
indication then that the Patriarch was in pain.

Funeral Arrangements
--------------------

4. (SBU) The most likely venue for the funeral is Christ the
Savior Cathedral in Moscow. Traditionally, according to
Father Zacchaeus, the funeral is held on the third day
following the death, but since that will be a Sunday there is
speculation that it may be December 8 or 9. Church officials
revealed that Aleksey requested to be buried in Moscow's
Bogoyavlenskiy Cathedral (also known as Elokhovskiy Church,
which served as cathedral of the Patriarch from 1938-1991).

5. (SBU) President Medvedev's office confirmed that the
president canceled his planned December 6 visit to Italy,
indicating that he will attend the funeral. Funeral
attendees likely will include major Christian leaders,
possibly including Patriarch Bartholomew from Istanbul and
the Archbishop of Canterbury. Vatican representation at the
funeral could prove historic; if Pope Benedict chooses to
attend (and if the ROC assents), it would mark the first ever
papal visit to Russia.

Kirill May Have Inside Track to Become Next Patriarch
--------------------------------------------- --------

6. (SBU) According to an ROC representative, the Church's
Holy Synod will meet on December 6 to select the Church's
interim leader ("mestoblyustitelya"), who then will establish
the process for selecting a new Patriarch. Maksim
Shchevchenko of the Public Chamber told us the most likely
candidate for interim leader is Metropolitan Juvenale, the
Synod's eldest member. The Church's bylaws stipulate that
the next Patriarch must be selected within six months (May
2009). In addition, the new Patriarch must be at least 40
years old and have a "higher theological education and
experience in diocesan administration." The new Patriarch
will assume the rank officially at a ceremony (intronizatsii)
a few days after his election.

7. (SBU) In November, Anatoliy Krasikov of the Institute of
Europe and a scholar on the ROC, predicted that the next
Patriarch would be Metropolitan Kirill. Kirill currently
serves as the Church's head of external relations and has
traveled extensively throughout South America and Africa in
the past two months. Krasikov interpreted Kirill's wide
travels as an attempt to make the Church an arm of Russian
foreign policy, particularly with Aleksey's visit to Cuba in
advance of President Medvedev's recent stop there. Other
than Aleksey, Kirill has been the only ROC leader widely
shown in the Russian media.

Condolences Pouring In
----------------------


MOSCOW 00003522 002 OF 002


8. (SBU) Messages of condolence have already poured in.
Premier Putin called Aleksey's passing "a tragic, sad event
and a great loss," and President Medvedev issued a statement
from India that the death is a "great grief for the country."
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev expressed "shock"
at Aleksey's passing, while Federation Council Chairman
Sergey Mironov called Aleksey "a person of the highest
intellect" who had united the Russian church. Council of
Muftis leader Damir Gizatullin called Aleksey "one of the
brightest representatives of Orthodoxy" who had organized
inter-faith dialogue in Russia and abroad.

Action
------

9. (U) Action Request: The Embassy has posted the following
statement on its website, and Post suggests that the
Department and White House also issue statements of
condolence.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Patriarch
Aleksey II. The Patriarch inspired the people of Russia by
the example of his devotion and tireless work. He will be
remembered around the world for his leadership of the
religious revival in Russia after the fall of Communism. I
will personally remember him as a man of courage, wisdom,
warmth, and deep faith.

John Beyrle, Ambassador of the United States of America"

(End Text)

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) Putin and Medvedev have studiously cultivated their
relations with the Church by attending services and
soliciting its blessings. Few observers believe that the
selection of Russia's first post-Soviet Patriarch will
disrupt the trajectory of closer ROC-state ties. End comment.
BEYRLE

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