Head of Russian Orthodox Church Dead
Patriarch Alexiy unified denomination, was suspected of KGB ties
By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2008 12:24 PM CST
A young Orthodox believer lights a candle during a service in memory of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II who died Friday, at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
camera-icon View 4 more images

(Newser) – The iconic leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, who healed an 80-year rift in the church and restored its prominence in Russian society, died today, the Times of London reports. No official cause of death was given for Patriarch Alexiy, but the Kremlin’s first post-Soviet Orthodox leader had been suffering from cancer, diplomats have said. He was 79.

Elected in 1990, Alexiy II benefited from the unabashed support of Russia’s presidents, especially Vladimir Putin.  Many suspect Alexiy, like Putin, had been a KGB agent. The Estonia native helped unify Russia and solidify the church after the fall of Communism, but his relations with the Roman Catholic Church remained cool. Church officials plan to elect a temporary patriarch tomorrow.