Thousands of Russians lined up on Sunday to pay their last respects to late Orthodox leader, Alexy II, as he lay in state at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Mourners, many carrying bouquets, queued up over several streets in spite of the cold drizzle to bid farewell to the Orthodox patriarch who died of heart failure on Friday. He was 79.
U.S. President George W. Bush offered his condolences to the people and to the members of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"The President's heart is with the community of Russian believers as they continue to rebuild the rich spiritual traditions of Russia," she said Friday.
Alexy II was appointed leader of the Russian Church in 1990 and is credited with restoring the Church as a central moral and spiritual force in society after years of repression under the Soviet Union. During his 18 years at the helm of the world’s largest Orthodox church, he oversaw the construction of thousands of new churches across Russia.
The patriarch had to fight off frequent accusations, however, that he used to work for the KGB as well as criticism that the Church had become too closely aligned to the Kremlin under his leadership.
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kalingrad has been appointed interim leader of the Russian Orthodox Church until a new leader is chosen in the next six months.
Alexy II will lie in state at Christ the Savior until his funeral at Moscow’s Epiphany Cathedral on Tuesday.