The leader of Russia’s Orthodox church, Primate Alexiy II has died.
A spokesman for the church said the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia passed away this morning at his Peredelkino residence outside Moscow.
It is thought the 79-year-old died of cancer but the church has maintained its tradition of no comment on the Primate’s health.
Alexiy II was a powerful and influential figure with close links to the Kremlin.
President Dimitry Medvedev, speaking during an official trip to India, said: “While wholeheartedly carrying out his pastoral duties, the Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia held himself responsible not only for the Church, but also for the whole of Russia. We all deeply mourn his passing.”
Medvedev’s cancelled a visit to Italy tomorrow because of the news and is returning straight to Moscow instead.
The Holy Synod will meet on Saturday to announce funeral details and also to pick an interim successor to Alexiy II. Church leaders and followers will hold elections for a new patriarch within six months.