- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

MOSCOW — Church bells pealed as leaders of the Russian Orthodox faith signed a pact yesterday healing a 80-year schism between the church in Russia and an offshoot set up abroad after the Bolshevik Revolution.

After a choir sang hymns, Moscow Patriarch Alexy II, leader of the main Russian Orthodox Church, led the ceremony with a sermon praising the end of the formal division.

“Joy illuminates our hearts,” Alexy said, addressing worshippers in the vast Christ the Savior Cathedral. “A historic event awaited for long, long years has occurred. The unity of the Russian church is restored.”

Alexy later signed the reunion agreement with Metropolitan Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Worshippers wept and incense wafted up into the cathedral’s soaring cupola.

President Vladimir Putin joined the celebration, broadcast live on television. Alexy thanked him for helping end the split by meeting with leaders of the church abroad.

“They saw in you a man devoted to Russia, and it was very important to them after decades of repression,” Alexy said. The patriarch presented Mr. Putin with a set of icons.

In remarks reflecting centuries of pre-Soviet tradition of a close relationship between the dominant Orthodox church and Russia’s rulers, Mr. Putin told the congregation that the agreement was “a nationwide event of an historic scale and of vast moral importance.”

“The church division resulted from a deep political split of the Russian society,” and ending the rift was a step toward healing society’s divisions, he said.

Worshippers and white-robed clergy packed the Christ the Savior Cathedral, symbolic of Russia’s rejection of its communist past, when atheism was state doctrine and many believers were arrested and imprisoned.

The ornate white cathedral, with its shimmering gold domes on the Moscow River, is a replica built in the 1990s to replace the original, which was blown up in 1931 under orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The church abroad split from the Moscow Patriarchate three years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution amid the country’s civil war, and cut all ties in 1927 after the leader of the church in Russia, Patriarch Sergiy, declared loyalty to the communist government.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the two churches began discussions of reunification. The Moscow Patriarchate last year disavowed Sergiy’s declaration, setting the stage for yesterday’s reconciliation.

Metropolitan Laurus has said that the reunion pact — called the Canonical Communion Act — does not mark a merger, and that his branch would maintain administrative control over its 400-plus parishes worldwide.

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