Russian Patriarch Alexy II, who led the Orthodox Church for almost 20 years, died at the age of 79 in his residency near the Russian capital on Friday morning, a Moscow Patriarchy official said. 

The cause of death has not been reported, but the patriarch was known to have suffered from heart disease. 

On Thursday evening, Alexy II held a church service in one of Moscow's central cathedrals to mark a major religious holiday. 

The church's ruling body, the Holy Synod, is due to gather for an urgent meeting in Moscow on Saturday following the patriarch's death. 

Alexy II suffered a severe stroke in 2002. In April 2007, media reports said he was in a Swiss clinic in a serious condition or even dead. Church officials then confirmed the patriarch had undergone medical treatment in Switzerland, but denied the seriousness of his condition.

ViktorYanukovych sent a telegramme, expressing his condolenсes. 


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