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Orthodox takes steps to influence Russia.

Alexsei must contend

with tarnished image

OXFORD, England - Perhaps as surprising as the failure of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexsei II to mediate successfully between President Boris Yeltsin and his recalcitrant parliamentarians was the fact that it was tried at all. Friday, Oct 1., the two sides sat down together for the last time - though they did not know this at the time.

They met in the 13th century whitewalled Danilovsky Monastery, a factory in the communist period. Babushkas in headscarfs genuflected and Cossacks in uniform strutted, as the limousines swept into a monastery that was returned to the church in the millennium year, only five years ago.

In the chaos that is Russia today, the Orthodox Church acts as a relatively stable point of reference. Alexsei, now 64, son of minor aristocratic Estonian parents and brought up in a noncommunist country, has a lot to live down.

Orthodox bishops including his predecessor, Patriarch Pimen, were discredited by their links not only with the communist regime but with the KGB which, through the Ministry of Cults, appointed and therefore controlled them.

Patriarch Alexsei has been apologetic enough. In a sermon last Lent he said: The Lord is near at hand. Therefore we must free our consciences from all our sins, from all untruth, from every compromise. We do penance for those among us who, in time of persecution, did not stand fast or were lacking in courage; and especially for those who, God forbid, supported the persecutors who trampled the church underfoot and inflicted unbearable suffering and death upon the church."

He concluded, Now that the tempest of persecution has passed by, we confess our guilt before everyone who suffered because our hearts were not on fire about their fate and because we did not always make the sacrifices God's will demanded of us" Alexei was in part answering the accusations of the Orthodox Church in Exile. It has now returned from the United States, breathing fire, thunder and undeniable accusations of complicity with the godless Marxists.

In the Suzdal diocese, for example, the "red" Bishop Yevlogy is locked in conflict with the "white' Bishop Valentin. This battle least as bitter, if so far less bloody, than tbat between Yeltsin and Parliament.

But if the patriarch's conversion is sincere, what can be said of the ex-communist persecutors of the church now claiming its support?

It seems that Yeltsin just about has the edge. Like other Russian politicians, he cannot afford not to be present in church at Christmas and Easter, clumsily crossing himself and bowing. But anyone who saw him at the funeral of his mother last March," said Maria Vishyna, a churchgoing artist, "could not doubt his sincerity.'

The church to which those locked up in the White House in the end vainly appealed was more nationalistic, anti- Semitic, anti-western and in the end fascist. Nazi salutes were given from the roof of the Town Hall.

Alexsei, who hesitated in the coup of 1991, tried to be evenhanded once again. But the violence he had feared and prayed against took over.

Alexsei still has a role. The church is one of the few Russian institutions in which the majority of the people still have some sort of confidence, shaken though it may be. He would be wise to seek some ecumenical help - though this is not the moment to say so.
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Title Annotation:Patriarch Alexsei II
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Biography
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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