Seen as a champion of Russia’s orthodox church after decades of Soviet atheism, the death of Patriarch Alexiy II has been greeted with profound sadness in Russia. The widow of writer Alexander Soljenitsyna said: ‘‘The Patriarch carried a big burden on his shoulders and gave all these years despite his health problems. He was a worthy leader of the church for many years.’‘Film Director Nikita Mikhalkov said: “ He had a wonderful self-control and courage – a boldness. Just remember his role in 1993. He also had a stunning capacity to serve others, forgetting himself. He knew very clearly the delicate balance between his church role and public service.’‘ Russia’s Holy Synod will announce an interim successor before holding elections for a new patriarch within six months.