Friday, February 22, 2024

Today on the Christian History Almanac, we remember Patriarch Aleksey II, who may or may not have had ties with the KGB.

It is the 23rd of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


The Patriarch, His Holiness over Moscow and all of Russia may have had ties to the KGB, the infamous secret police in the Soviet Union.

The Patriarch may also have been a hero and central to the Orthodox Church in Russia, reclaiming its place in society after the Cold War.

Whatever his legacy, Patriarch Aleksey II of the Russian Orthodox Church lived and served in a church that saw a Revolution, Hitler, Stalin, and the 40+ year Cold War.

Aleksey was born Aleksey Ridiger on the 23rd of February in 1929 in Estonia. His family had come to Estonia via St. Petersburg and the Baltics. Estonia had become a refuge for Russian Christians during Soviet persecution, and Aleksey’s father served as a priest in the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.  

From a young age, Aleksey would serve in the church as an acolyte and reader. When he was 11, the Soviets occupied Estonia, and Aleksey’s family was to be arrested and sent to Siberia. Being tipped off, the family hid in a barn and escaped forced exile. The following year, 1941, saw the Nazis occupy Estonia, and things were easier for the family. Both Aleksey and his father would minister to prisoners of war.

When the Soviets took back over in 1944, Stalin’s position on the church would change. Needing to rally rural support, he allowed for churches to be reopened (and in an Authoritarian state, they would have to register and be suitably patriotic). Aleksey turned 18 and enrolled at the Leningrad Theological Academy and then Seminary. In 1950, he was married to the daughter of an Estonian priest; the engagement was brief, the marriage lasted less than a year, and the families remained on good terms. It seems likely that this was to keep Aleksey from the draft as if he was married and then ordained. He was ineligible for the draft.

Aleksey would begin to rise in the ranks of orthodox clergy from deacon to priest and served a church in the Estonian town of Jöhvi while completing studies and earning a Ph.D.

He continues his rise as a popular preacher and archpriest, then monk, and then Hieromonk to Archimandrite. He would serve the then Patriarch and serve under the Moscow Patriarchate on the Department of External Church Relations. His ecumenical cosmopolitanism saw Christians from all over the world visit him, and the church would receive positive write-ups in the Western press, something valued by Soviet officials.  

Under Krushschev's hardline anti-Christian propaganda, Aleksey was a central figure in the saving of temples and churches by means of the Western press.

By the 1980s, Aleksey had been made a Metropolitan and saw the ascension of the reforming Mikhail Gorbachev as an opportunity to restructure the churches in the USSR. The letter called for a separation of church and state. It did not sit well with Gorbachev, and Aleksey was removed from his post as chancellor of the Moscow Patriarchate.

He came back in favor of the decision to celebrate the 1000th year of Russian Christianity in 1988. But his critique of Christian nationalism ruffled some feathers. With the death of the Patriarch in 1990, the Orthodox Church met to elect a new patriarch, and for the first time in Soviet history, there was no state involvement. The council called Aleksey to become Aleksey II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. He would oversee a revival of sorts, with thousands of new churches opening, baptisms tripled, and monasteries going from 18 to 121.

But there was a rumor that Aleksey’s rise to the top and subsequent “wins” were arranged by the KGB and that he was a tool of the state to crush other religious movements (in other words, he gets to be the only game in town if he can help the state squash the others). With the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of archives, there does seem to have been a covert relationship with the priest. His defenders claim that to have any position in the state church was to have entangled and sometimes secret engagements.  

His supporters have also pointed to his longevity under various regimes and pointed out the growth of the church. He was the first Patriarch independently elected in the U.S.S.R and had been critical enough of the state to draw the ire of Gorbachev.

As the first post-Soviet Patriarch, he spent considerable time abroad, mending church relations when possible, including reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, many of whom were exiled by the Bolsheviks.

Aleksey served until his death in December of 2008. His funeral was broadcast on Russian TV, and a religious broadcast in the former Soviet Union seems the perfect encapsulation for Aleksey II, Russian Christian and Patriarch over Moscow and All Russia. Born on this day in 1929, he was 79 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from Romans 4:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man with the beard of an orthodox Patriarch- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who thought an Archimandrite was afraid of spiders… I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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