1st March 2024. Remember this day. The funeral of Aleksei Navalny in southeast Moscow. I spent some time looking at the BBC coverage of events surrounding the service in the Church of the Icon of Our Lady Quench My Sorrow, and then his burial in Borisovskoye Cemetery.* Several thousands of brave fellow Russians lined the streets for over 1 kilometre despite the near-freezing weather, bearing red roses; there were huge heaps of flowers. They came to honour a wonderful, funny, creative, daring, hope-filled human being who had been so outspoken about government corruption during his life that his enemies had to incarcerate him and finally see to his death.

There was an irony in the location of the funeral since this Russian Orthodox Church and its clergy had made very clear their support for the ‘military operation’ in Ukraine, whilst Aleksei had been an outspoken opponent of the war. However, the Navalny family probably had little choice other than to approach their local church.

Aleksei’s parents, Lyudmila and Anatoliy, sat by his open casket during the funeral, surrounded by many mourners holding candles. His mother had bravely insisted on taking possession of her son’s body in the face of obstruction by the prison authorities. His wife, Yulia, decided not to travel to Russia and so could only send a message of love, thanking Aleksei for “26 years of absolute happiness.” Since the announcement of Navalny’s death on 16th February, she had made several outspoken speeches condemning those responsible for his murder. It was too dangerous also for their two children, Daria and Zakhar to be present: likewise, Aleksei’s brother, Oleg.

In 2020, Navalny had fallen ill on an aeroplane and was initially taken to a Russian hospital. He was then transferred to Germany for specialist treatment and there it was confirmed that he had been poisoned. He spent months in recovery, then conducted his own remarkably successful investigation into those who put the Novichok in his underpants. This extraordinary man decided to return to Russia in 2021 since he was concerned for the fate of his people and wanted to convey to them his lack of fear. He was arrested immediately, put on trial, and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

Aleksei had once been a militant atheist and made fun of organised religion, but at his sentencing he surprised the court when he said that he had become a Christian. He explained what it means to suffer for one’s beliefs, and referred to Jesus’ words, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [or “truth” in the Russian version] shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6) **. In the months since Navalny’s incarceration in an Arctic penal colony, he found inspiration in reading the Bible.

There is a significant symmetry between Aleksei’s final years and the last week of Jesus’ life. Both challenged the corruption and exploitation of the leaders of their respective countries, and both were prepared to make the perilous journey to challenge the centre of power and violence – Moscow and Jerusalem – and consequently both met their deaths. There are, of course, all sorts of differences between these two witnesses to the truth, and I do not wish to detract from Jesus’ unique identity. However, it has been the church’s tradition to remember the stories of the martyrs, and Aleksei has given me a glimpse of Jesus’ reckoning with fear.

Many Russian dissidents continue to be detained and need our support, but here I simply stay with Aleksei. The crowds chanted “Navalny:” the people cried, “We won’t forget you.”

Rest in the peace of Christ, my brother. I will not forget you.


After a career in Christian ministry and teaching theology in higher education, Jeremy Thomson and his wife Kathy, an artist, now live in Pembrokeshire. Most recently he wrote “Interpreting the Old Testament After Christendom” (Cascade, 2021).

Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.


*Associated Press report on 24 April about the Priest who conducted Aleksei’s funeral. Click here.

** Statement by Aleksei, at his trial in 2021: https://www.rightsinrussia.org/navalny-2/