Tributes are being paid to Patriarch Alexiy II, the leader of the 100-million strong Russian Orthodox Church who died on Friday morning. The Church has issued a statement saying the 79-year-old suffered heart failure at his residence near Moscow. It is believed he had been battling cancer for some time and had just returned from treatment in Germany. Alexiy II was a hugely powerful and influential figure who was sometimes criticised for failing to consult the lower echelons of the Church.He did, however, enjoy close contact with the Kremlin. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has cancelled a trip to Italy because of the news. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who openly professes his Orthodox faith, said of the Patriarch: “He was not only a leading figure in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, but also a prominent statesman. He had a great input in the interaction of different faiths.” Certainly the Primate did heal an 80-year-old rift with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. But relations with the Vatican were strained, notably over allegations the Roman Catholic church was seeking to convert Alexiy’s Orthodox flock.