Cablegate: Spot Report: Funeral Services for Patriarch

DE RUEHMO #3564/01 3441505
R 091505Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary. On December 9, numerous religious
leaders, government officials, and Orthodox faithful gathered
at Christ the Savior cathedral in central Moscow for the
funeral of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksey II who
died on December 5. Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew
I, in his first visit to Russia since 1993, officiated the
funeral services. Known for his role in resurrecting the
Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) after the fall of Communism,
Aleksey posthumously received high praise for his work in
strengthening the ROC's relations with leaders of other
faiths. Medvedev and Putin topped a long list of Russian
public figures in attendance, and several foreign heads of
state and regional leaders offered a final tribute to the
late Patriarch at the service. The Ambassador attended the
high-profile ceremony that drew several other members of the
diplomatic community. End Summary.

World Orthodox Leaders Attend Funeral

2. (SBU) Russian Patriarch Aleksey II's death on December 5
elicited widespread mourning and praise in advance of his
funeral on December 9 (reftel). The funeral services at
Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, officiated by
Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, attracted Orthodox
leaders from all over the world. Approximately 1000 people
witnessed the ceremony from inside the cathedral, but as many
as 10,000 crowded around the outside the secured church
perimeter. The most notable Orthodox figures present
included Georgian Patriarch Elijah II, Bishop Serafim of
Canada, Patriarch Daniel of Romania, Metropolitan Christopher
of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Head of the Armenian
Apostolic Church Catholicos Garegin II, Metropolitan Georgios
of Paphos (Orthodox Church of Cyprus), Archbishop Anastasios
of Tirana, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. Georgian
Patriarch Elijah II, who called Aleksey "a great friend of
Georgia and of the Georgian Orthodox Church," presided over
Georgian-language religious services at Christ the Savior on
December 8 (Note: Aleksey refused to recognize the South
Ossetian and Abkhazian Orthodox Church's proposed
independence after the war in Georgia, professing the need
for a mutual decision with the Georgian Orthodox Church based
on Church canon). A law enforcement agency spokesman
estimated that 82,000 people visited Christ the Savior
cathedral between Saturday and early Tuesday morning to give
their final tributes to Aleksey II.

3. (SBU) At the conclusion of the funeral service, Russian
Orthodox leaders interred the body of Aleksey II, according
to his will, at one of Moscow's biggest and most popular
churches, Epiphany Cathedral (Bogayavlenskiy Sobor).
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the
Patriarchal Locum Tenens or acting Patriarch, said at the
burial service that "Patriarch Aleksey had left a new church
to the people, different than the one he took over in 1990."
The ROC not only enthroned Aleksey in 1990 at Epiphany
Cathedral, but it also served as the site of numerous
services conducted by Aleksey, reflecting Epiphany's
significance to him. Epiphany became well-known as the site
of the most revered icon in all of Russian Orthodoxy, the
icon of the Virgin Mary of Kazan, which the ROC used to bless
troops in 1612 before a major battle for the liberation of
Moscow. Aleksey's two predecessors, Patriarch Aleksey I and
Patriarch Pimen, were buried at the Trinity-St. Sergius

Government Leaders Remember Aleksey

4. (SBU) Dozens of Russian government leaders, including
Medvedev and Putin, mourned the loss of Russia's highest
religious figure at the midday funeral. In addition to
Russia's two highest leaders, several cabinet ministers,
administration advisors, governors, and mayors came to the
church. Medvedev noted on December 8 that Aleksey "called
for mutual respect, tolerance, and trust among followers of
various creeds and traditions and initiated dialogue between
Churches and nations," and that he "turned the ROC into a
highly respected institution that cooperates fruitfully with
the state." Putin called Aleksey a "pure man" who
contributed to "the establishment of Russian statehood" in a
December 5 statement. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
commented on December 8 that Aleksey was "destined to revive
the Russian Church and to bring millions of our citizens back
to spiritual sources." Communist Party leader Gennadiy
Zyuganov characterized the Patriarch as a person who treated
all people equitably despite their political party
affiliations and thanked him for adopting the law on the
freedom of conscience "that put up a major obstacle to the

MOSCOW 00003564 002 OF 002

onslaughts of sects." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy called Aleksey's death "the
country's biggest loss over the pass forty years,"
specifically appreciating Aleksey's success in reuniting the
ROC with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia

5. (SBU) While the ROC did not issue invitations, several
international leaders traveled to Moscow for the funeral.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka, Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan, and Serbian President Boris Tadic attended
the funeral. Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich
and the president from Georgia's breakaway provinces of South
Ossetia, Eduard Kokoyty, and Abkhazia, Sergey Bagapsh, also
observed the proceedings. The Ambassador joined numerous
representatives from the Moscow diplomatic community at the
cathedral, and spoke with longtime religious freedom advocate
Rabbi Adolph Schneier at the ceremony.

Non-Orthodox Religious Leaders Mourn His Loss

6. (SBU) Numerous religious leaders from outside the
Orthodox community gathered to pay their last respects to
Patriarch Aleksey. Roman Catholic Church (RCC) Roger
Cardinal Etchegaray and Walter Cardinal Kasper represented
the Holy See. Russian Council of Muftis head Ravil Gaynutdin
recognized Aleksey's "defense of truth" and efforts to
separate religion from extremism, terrorism, and crime. He
also noted that Aleksey always supported Muslims, even when
"the West had shown disrespect for them and when 'cartoon
scandals' flared up." Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar
remembered his cooperation with Aleksey at international
religious forums, noting that Aleksey earned the respect of
all who knew him. Russian Union of Evangelical
Christians-Baptists (REUCB) President Yuri Sipko praised the
Patriarch's "massive, unifying role in the creation of peace
and consensus during the travail of Russian society in the


7. (SBU) Patriarch Bartholomew I's role in officiating the
liturgy indicates a possible end to the tensions between
Moscow and Constantinople surrounding Ukrainian President
Yuschenko's desire to move the Ukrainian Autocephalous
Orthodox Church away from the Moscow Patriarchate. The
notable absence of Pope Benedict XVI will not set back
Catholic-Orthodox relations, but does reflect the long road
ahead in building ties of mutual respect and trust between
the two churches, with Aleksey's term marked by an
unwillingness to host the Pope in Moscow. ROC officials told
us on December 9 that the Holy Synod will not meet on
December 10 as originally planned, delaying any election

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