Russian Patriarch Alexei reportedly spied for KGB

May 08, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MOSCOW -- To the outside world he has been known as Alexei II, the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and its tens of millions of believers.

But to the KGB, he was "Drozdov," the code name the Soviet secret police gave to an agent who served them well for more than a quarter-century, according to church dissidents and some lawmakers.

"Drozdov" surfaces often in KGB reports about high-level agents inside the Russian Orthodox Church, they say.

In October 1969, KGB archives show that "Drozdov" went to England for a meeting of the European Conference of Churches, bringing back information "about certain persons of interest to the KGB."

In 1983, a KGB officer reported that "agents 'Drozdov' and 'Rock' did some educational work among the monks at the Pskov-Pechoy monastery."

In February 1988, Col. V. I. Timoshevsky of the KGB reported to his superiors, "We have prepared the text of the order on awarding agent 'Drozdov' with an honorary citation, to be signed by the KGB chairman."

Revelations about the church's KGB links will not surprise prelates and members of the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia who have long claimed that the "Red Church" was simply a tool of the KGB. But the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church had not been widely linked here with the KGB.

Allegations that Alexei II is "Drozdov" surfaced in the Russian pressthis week. And the controversy over whether to publicly name the prelate as an agent is bringing on a crisis that could cause a split in the secretive, wealthy and powerful Russian Orthodox Church.

Reformers contend that the church is now merely a ritualistic shell headed by 110 bishops and a seven-member ruling synod who were nearly all co-opted by the KGB.

"It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the entire top church leadership was KGB," said the Rev. Gleb Yakunin, a Russian legislator who spent five years in jail for his religious activities.

Over the last several months, a commission of the Russian Parliament has gained access to some KGB archives on the church, and a handful of Russian journalists have publicly identified members of the church's ruling synod as KGB agents, by comparing their code names with calendars of the men's activities as priests.

But Alexei II remained untouched. Members of the parliamentary commission had told the patriarch that they would not name him as an agent if he began cleaning house in the church and acknowledging the breadth of cooperation between the church and the KGB.

"So far, we have kept the silence because we wanted to give the patriarch a chance," said Alexander Nezhny, a journalist.

But the silence was broken when Mr. Nezhny published an article in this week's edition of the magazine Ogonyok, identifying the patriarch as an agent.

Efforts to talk with the patriarch were unsuccessful.

Bishop Alexander of Kostroma and Galich, the head of the church commission looking into ties with the KGB, said the charges are irresponsible.

"I haven't seen a single original document that would give us a reason to affirm anything," said the bishop, whose commission began working last month.

"The patriarchy is digging its own grave," said Father Yakunin. "The youth and the intelligentsia won't go to that church. Many priests are already leaving it now. . . . There will surely be splits in the church."

Alexei II, the six other permanent members of the ruling synod and most of the church's bishops climbed their way up the church hierarchy under Stalin, Khrushchev or Brezhnev.

"In every confession," said Mr. Nezhny, "you had to sell part of your soul to the devil to reach the top."

According to reports in the Russian press, virtually all the current members of the church's ruling synod worked closely with the KGB, informing on fellow members of the priesthood, painting a rosy picture of Soviet religious life on trips abroad and doing the secret police's bidding in numerous other ways.

"The Moscow patriarchy was set up by the KGB and . . . this structure is our enemy," says the Rev. Georgi Edelstein, who for years has attacked the church hierarchy for its KGB ties. "Each of these bishops went so far in the system because he was one of the worst, because he could betray you and me and his fellow bishops any day."

Patriarch Alexei, who was born Alexei Ridiger in Estonia in 1923, entered the priesthood in 1950 while Stalin ruled the Soviet Union. He rose to the rank of metropolitan, the second-highest title in the church, and in the 1960s became business manager of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Several years ago, the magazine Glasnost disclosed confidential reports that Patriarch Alexei had informed on his fellow church officials to the KGB-controlled Council for Religious Affairs in the late 1960s. The government reports showed that the KGB was especially interested in gathering compromising material on one Metropolitan Pimen, who later became patriarch.

Metropolitan Alexei seemed only too happy to oblige.

In June 1990, a church council elected Metropolitan Alexei patriarch of all Russia.

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