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Russian Mourners Pay Respects To Late Patriarch

Orthodox priests bid farewell to Patriarch Aleksy.
(RFE/RL) -- Russian Orthodox believers have joined in worldwide tributes to the deceased patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, as thousands paid their respects at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Aleksy II died on December 5 at the age of 79, after heading the world's biggest Orthodox Church for nearly two decades. He is to be buried on December 9 at Moscow's Bogoyavlensky (Epiphany) Cathedral.

Russian news agencies reported that over 10,000 people have filed past Aleksy's open coffin since the start of his lying in state late on December 6.

The Kremlin has announced that President Dmitry Medvedev issued an instruction canceling all entertainment events and broadcasts on the day of the funeral.

Solemn services were held across Russia and in Orthodox churches abroad for the patriarch. He has led the church since 1990, overseeing its postcommunist revival and working with the Kremlin to make Orthodoxy the de facto state religion. Tributes came from around the world, notably from Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President George W. Bush.

"He was a wonderful person. You know he has such warm eyes and they were radiating something very good. He had such an aura that it made you like a completely new human being, it seemed like a miracle had happened, Naina Yeltsin, the wife of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, told RFE/RL.

"It is simply impossible to appreciate what he has done for Russia. He was a wonderful, warm, spiritual personality."

Other emotional and grieving mourners agreed. One woman said Aleksy will be remembered by the church. "He was a great patriarch, a peacemaker, and I think he will stay in the history of the Orthodox Church," she said.

"It was not possible not to come and not to express great respect in remembrance for him," another woman said.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, has chosen Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad as the interim leader of the faith. Kirill will serve as interim patriarch until a Church Council is held within the next six months to pick Aleksy's successor.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report