by His All Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
At the Funeral Service of the Late Patriarch Alexei of Moscow
December 9, 2008
"As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race …" (2 Tim. 4.6-7)
Like a sharp arrow, the heart of the Orthodox Church worldwide was pierced in recent days by the announcement of the unexpected repose of the venerable Primate of our sister Autocephalous Church in Russia, our beloved brother and concelebrant Alexei. Therefore, we open our occasional farewell address with the timely words of the heavenly Apostle Paul to Timothy inasmuch as we are absolutely convinced of the unbroken continuity in the martyric confession, perpetual expression and dynamic faith that are manifest from time to time in virtuous individuals, who follow St. Paul's example in their life. Of course, there is never an absolute identification between St. Paul and these individuals. Nevertheless, we are able to draw this intimation because, in all places, indomitable fighters boldly bear the cross of the same "good fight," continuing in this way the same ministry and mission through the centuries.
And as a fighter, our late brother is a deserving recipient of these words as well as of the crown that awaits him. For, he journeyed with dignity and humility along the difficult path of his supreme yoke and highly responsible ministry as Primate. Yet we, in full recognition of his pioneering contribution to the revival and establishment of his flock, replete with wounds – a flock among which the providential care of our Lord as Shepherd of shepherds appointed to be its inspired leader – are able to attribute to him the words of the Apostle Paul as an expression of gratitude to God for offering in the person of this worthy Hierarch an imitable example for His struggling people.
The late Patriarch Alexei skillfully administered his Church and was able to lead the Orthodox Church of Russia out of the limited boundaries of its internal turns. As a simple Hierarch, prior to being elevated to the leading bastion of the Patriarchal See, he encountered the stubborn and fanatical opposition of inimical authority. This consolidated in his heart the conviction with regard to the endless and unyielding struggle, as well as expectation of the evidence of resurrection that derives from the power of the cross. Indeed, the blessed hope of this martyric expectation and anticipation was achieved in the days of his inspired tenure as Patriarch, when that deplorable spectacle experienced over numerous years by his martyric predecessors at last disappeared, so that – in order to quote our own great predecessor, St. Gregory the Theologian – "Jerusalem was erased and the honorable and golden sons of Sion were led in captivity, while thousands fell and the earth was covered with their blood and corpses."
Today, as we gather around the venerable body of the Patriarch, in the midst of a mourning Church, we profess and proclaim: "How awesome are the works of the Lord!" In the abundance of his strength, His enemies were revealed to be liars; we have seen His works, and we know that He is far more powerful that the sons of men; for His eyes have looked upon this blood-stained flock, and those who embittered the Lord's people were unable to realize their complete destruction; instead, the Lord of all power granted life to their souls and led them to a place of refreshment; the ineffably loving Lord protected them from the wiles of the evil ones; God showed mercy upon His people and gave them a Patriarch who was great in achievements and bold in crises so that, through the unquenchable strength of the Patriarch's boundless love and longsuffering tolerance, God might preserve the integrity of this bruised vineyard and grant support to its shaken conscience of the Church.
He was truly distinguished as a reviver and brilliant illuminator of the faith in word and deed, working toward excellent cooperation with the sister Orthodox Churches throughout the world.
He looked toward the First among the Thrones, the Church of Constantinople, as a womb of regeneration of the superb people that he selflessly shepherded. Whenever clouds arise in the harmonious relations of the two churches, those relations are restored by the heavenly breath of love and the hierarchical order based on the sacred canons.
He was extremely appreciative of the missionary witness ascribed at times by the Mother Church of Constantinople to this sacred and glorious land of Russia, recognizing it as a principal cause and fundamental contributor to the revival achieved here.
It is in the same spirit that the Mother Church, too, always communicated with him. We often followed and studied the life of this greatly numerous Church took shape during his inspired tenure. Our impressions were filled with surprise after surprise; the organization of the Church was perfect, disciplined and fruitful; there were extraordinarily beautiful Churches and splendid Monasteries with thousands of monks and nuns; there were Theological Academies, Holy Seminaries and in general everything for which any well cultivated Orthodox Church must take pride; we have seen them all and duly admired them. The existing spiritual bond between us and this deeply fertile Church ever increased, adding the refreshing heavenly taste of authentic experience to the vibrant global community in our time.
This sacred bond was also enhanced by the ardent and active late Patriarch, with whom we had the inexpressible joy recently of celebrating in common both in Kiev of the Ukraine and in the Queen of Cities. Nothing alarming was forewarning us of his sudden repose, which was painful for the entire Church. However, the ways of the Lord are different; the tireless Patriarch Alexei reached the end of his human life, as the Lord sets this for us all. He concluded his brilliant ecclesiastical journey, "having fought the good fight" as a soldier of Christ in the position he was appointed.
As those of us, who are left behind, consider the results of his fellowship with us as well as his inspired leadership of this eminent Church of Russia, let us ask ourselves if it is proper for sorrow to prevail overwhelmingly in the present gathering. When the Church sees off one of its distinguished members – indeed, one who is also an exceptionally fruitful Primate, who admittedly retained spiritual vigilance over his people to his last breath – then pain is transformed into joyful mourning and sadness over loss becomes joyful sorrow, filled with peace.
The Lord's word, on which the late Patriarch based his whole life and manifold ministry, offers an entirely different dimension to today's event: "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11.25-26). Amen.