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Religion Prospers in Mother Russia

Patriarch's influence grows as he tries to mediate between factions of the country's fractious politics

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DURING President Clinton's recent visit to Moscow, a significant event occurred that received inadequate media coverage: the president of the United States met with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II. It was an act that recognized Russian spiritual revival and the significant and still growing role that the Church and Patriarch Alexy are playing in today's Russia.

In late September 1993, the Patriarch cut short his visit to the United States and flew back to Moscow. In the midst of the confrontation between President Boris Yeltsin's government and the dissolved conservative-dominated Parliament, the Patriarch started an unprecedented peacemaking mission, bringing the foes to the negotiation table.

This effort failed to prevent violence. In the aftermath of the bloody outcome in October some Russian observers criticized the Church. Zealous democrats said that the Patriarch - who had blessed Mr. Yeltsin's presidency in 1991 and supported democratic forces during the August putsch that year - should have condemned the Communists and endorsed the democrats in 1993. Meanwhile conservative nationalists, among them some Orthodox laymen, priests, and bishops, wished they had won the Church's favor. The strength and significance of the Church was precisely in its non-partisanship.

Liberal Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta publishes monthly ratings of Russia's top 100 influential public figures. After October, Patriarch Alexy rose from the 53rd to the 10th position on this list.

The Church's serious public role at a national level might be difficult to understand for Americans, whose successful democracy has been built in part on the notion of the separation of church and state and on the political and economic basis of freedom and prosperity.

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