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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patriarch Denies Ill Health

APRussian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II blessing believers outside Moscow's Pokrovsky Convent on Wednesday.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II appeared in public on Wednesday for the first time since undergoing medical treatment and said his opponents were spreading rumors he had died.

The absence of the 78-year-old patriarch from the funeral last week of former President Boris Yeltsin sparked speculation that Alexy, who was undergoing treatment in Switzerland, was dead.

"There was no truth in those statements," Alexy said at Moscow's Pokrovsky Convent, where he led prayers for a recently canonized Russian saint.

"You can see that I feel healthy, I am serving, I am alive," he said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Alexy, dressed in his distinctive golden canonical dress, looked fit and confident in footage of the mass shown on Vesti-24 television.

He said the rumors of his death might be linked to a ceremony planned later this month to reunite the church with its overseas branch, which broke away after the Revolution.

Officials have not said what treatment Alexy received in Switzerland.

The Russian Orthodox Church has undergone a revival since Alexy became patriarch in 1990, and the reunification with the church abroad, which will be sealed during a May 17 ceremony, is widely seen as the latest milestone in its resurgence. The move is strongly backed by President Vladimir Putin.

The plan, however, has faced opposition from some senior clerics, who accuse Alexy of being too close to the state and not taking a sufficiently tough stance on other Christian faiths or those the critics view as Orthodox schismatics.