guests, hastily summoned, began to pour in, Moscow's two TV channels were sometimes simultaneously transmitting information about the day's events and, for example, documentary information about the life of the church.32 The culmination of these events was twofold. A great ceremonial celebration took place in the Bolshoi Theatre, a kind of pageant of Russian history, narrated by the great actor Sergei Bondarchuk, attended by the highest dignitaries of church and state, stopping short only of Gorbachev himself, although his wife was there. The choir of the Bolshoi sang the traditional Russian paean Mnogoie leto (Long life) to the church, and the choir of the Moscow Theological Academy responded. The event was televised throughout the Soviet Union. Although some more conservative church opinion felt that the event was vulgar, church-state relations would never be the same again. 33
Gorbachev promised a new law guaranteeing religious liberty to replace Stalin's Law on Religious Associations, which had remained in place over a period of almost sixty years and was appropriate only to a time that had vanished by the end of the Second World War. After a period of consultation, the new law came into force in October 1990. It removed virtually all restrictions on religion, including those on foreign missionaries, and permitted the teaching of religion in schools. As the Russian Orthodox Church emerged from the period of communist domination, it found itself confronted by a huge agenda, affecting every area of its life. The election of the metropolitan of Leningrad, Aleksii (Ridiger), as Patriarch Aleksii II in June 1990 put a new and vigorous man in charge of the church at this time of unprecedented opportunity. He was an Estonian by birth, but with a Russian mother, and was brought up bilingually. He had also had a great deal of international experience, resulting from his work with the Conference of European Churches, eventually as its president. He was also a person who had grown up under the most severe restrictions. As a schoolboy, he had seen his country Estonia, before the Second World War an independent democracy, overrun by the Soviets, by the Nazis and then by the Red Army again. This time the Soviet Union imposed a steel grip on his country. His rise to power as bishop of Tallinn in 1961 can be explained only by his willingness to work within the system. His eventual election as patriarch ensured that a steady hand would be at the helm, but also one richly experienced in dealing with the secular authorities. Those who elected him cannot have imagined that just over a year later he would find himself in a
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