THE PATRIARCH WHO BROUGHT PEACE
"Blessed are they who make peace, for they shall be called the sons of God!” Such was the great importance for all of God's Creation that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ conferred upon the persons and role of the Peacemakers, and upon the virtue of Peacemaking, that in His Sermon on the Mount He stressed the significance of this spiritual feat, this podvig, exalting its heroes to a moral stature of kinship and semblance to His Own—a fulfillment of the promise further elaborated for all Christians by Saint John the Theologian, in his Gospel that we read every Paschal night: "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1:12), through Christ.
Over the course of the past year, our Lord has called to His Kingdom two great Peacemakers of the Russian Church: Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, and now—today—His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia (in other words, of the entire Russian Orthodox world of our time), our Great Sovereign Lord and Father, Alexy II.
For all of us faithful children of Christ's holy Church, who find ourselves suddenly bereaved and fatherless, from the hierarchs to the infants, the departure from this earthly realm of our Most Holy Patriarch constitutes a staggering blow and loss, in this time of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the radiant feast of Christ's Nativity.
Yet, however keenly we might feel the pain of the sudden, jarring, unexpected and grievous impact; even as the heart contracts merely to contemplate the multi-dimensional, all-encompassing implications for all Russian society of this loss; we cannot fail but observe, with prayerful reverence and awe before the unfathomable works of our Provident God, the deeply moving and startling parallels, and even a kind of symmetry, to use a secular term, in the circumstances surrounding the passing away from this mortal vale of both of these great spiritual Fathers of Orthodoxy of our time.
The Lord called away Metropolitan Laurus without pain or suffering, in the blink of an eye, when after the first week of Great Lent, during the night just before the Sunday of Orthodoxy, having spent that final Saturday on earth commemorating the anniversary of the miraculous finding in 1917 of the Sovereign or Reigning Icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, having prayed, as was his habit, he peacefully fell asleep and reposed.
His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, reposed exactly the same way: at the end of the first week of the Nativity fast, having prayed as was his habit, and having spent his last day on earth celebrating the great feast of the Presentation of the Mother of God, which is also the principal feast day of the great Optina Monastery and Hermitage, that during his lifetime had been restored very much as a result of his own spiritual efforts, unceasing prayers and Patriarchal leadership. Just as Metropolitan Laurus, his brother in Christ, his spiritual friend, spiritual collaborator and fellow visionary in the inexpressibly important, exalted mission of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church that a tyranny of militant atheists had shattered and sought to annihilate, His Holiness, our Patriarch, having said his usual monastic prayers as well as the prayers for our Lady's feast, and for the fast period, for the holy Advent—having prayer for all of us, and for all of Christendom, and for all of Russia—simply fell asleep.
Thus, the life and especially the passing away into eternity of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, very much as in the case of Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, just a few months earlier, has been vividly marked by the special protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, as well as by the lenten season of fasting, prayer and repentance, in an intensely focused, conscious prayerful expectation of the two greatest holy days for any Christian: the Feast of our Lord's Glorious Resurrection, and the Feast of Christ's Nativity.
And truly our life today, in this troubled age, in this age of sorrows, calls us all indeed to fast in earnest, and to repent in earnest, and to pray with fervor.
It is very hard for us to lose both our great spiritual fathers and teachers so soon, within months of each other, and only about a year after the decisive, historic events of the reunification of our Church—and in particular, of course, it is especially painful to lose His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow himself, at this time.
More than any other living hierarch, he epitomized the Russian Orthodox Church.
Today, all across Russia, thousands of churches and monasteries, in all the cities and hamlets of that vast land, in great cathedrals as well as unassuming parishes, bells tolled the tocsin, the special lament for the dead. We who live abroad often lack even the capacity to fully comprehend to what an enormous degree even this music of our beloved consecrated church bells that can be heard all over Russia now is itself the direct result of the determined, relentless labours, over a period of decades, of this very selfsame Patriarch, now reposed in the Lord.
Those of us whose lives unfold beyond the borders of Russia should reflect over the complexity of the almost eight decades of life God allotted to His Holiness Patriarch Alexy. He was born and brought up in Estonia by especially pious Russian Orthodox parents who had fled Communism, and as such he had direct personal experience of all the hardships so familiar to us all, as refugees and emigres. He knew the bitter taste of exile. Body and soul, he chose to surrender his whole life to God—an extremely risky decision given his aristocratic ancestry, the family history and the times. In offering his life to God, he also dedicated it wholly to Russia, and to the struggle for Russia's salvation, meaning her liberation from the yoke of godless usurpers, from persecutions and atrocities against believers. Like those of his brothers in Christ who eventually led the triumph of Christ's flock over Christ's ruthless adversaries, Patriarch Alexy understood that the struggle for the liberation of Russia could only take place as a spiritual struggle on a battlefield of prayer: the struggle to restore true Orthodoxy in its fullness. In that context, it is especially notable that, In Constantinople, shortly before his life here earth would draw to a close, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy through the influence of his authority, experience and charisma, called upon all the faithful of the canonical Orthodox communities of our time to intensify our combined efforts on behalf of the unity, wholeness and purity of Orthodoxy and our Church.
Even after such an eventful lifetime as his had been, it was God's will that His Holiness Patriarch Alexy should be the witness, in advanced years, of such terrible tragedies as the atrocities perpetrated in Beslan and Tskhinval. Both times, as always, our Patriarch called upon everyone to respond to these events with intense prayer, with compassion and genuinely Christian, reverent, conscious spiritual effort, to strengthen the eternal and immutable values of the Orthodox Russia handed down to us by our holy fathers.
That we have been able to avoid perhaps even more calamitous catastrophes may be fairly said to be, to a large extent, the result of his moral and spiritual leadership, his example, his actions.
That we have today, at the helm of Russia, an Orthodox government, that we can be thankful to the new government of a liberated and free Russia for their courage and wise policies, for their support of the Church, is entirely the result of the efforts of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy.
In these coming days, when much shall be said that is both essential and remarkable in honor of the memory of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II, the main point on which we would like above all to focus our minds is this: now, as never before, we must all unite in prayer with an earnest appeal to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to His Most Pure Mother, our Heavenly Queen, that the successor of our much-lamented Patriarch Alexy, reposed in our Lord this day, should be in every respect his equal: that he should be heir to his spirit, and to his spiritual heroism, to his leadership, to his prayerful life centered as it was on the Divine Liturgy and on constant prayer, to his compassionate love of his neighbour in keeping with Christ's commandment, to his love for Russia, to his devotion in everything, even unto death, to our Lord Jesus Christ. By his prayers and the prayers of our Metropolitan Laurus of blessed memory, may "the Lord of the Harvest send forth a labourer into His harvest" (Matthew 9:38). Amen.
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America
Secretary of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
December 5, 2008