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Leader who helped ease a church schism dies

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JORDANVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — Metropolitan Laurus, who played a key role in healing an 80-year schism between the Russian Orthodox Church and an offshoot set up abroad following the Bolshevik Revolution, has died. He was 80.

Laurus, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was found dead Sunday in his residence at the Holy Trinity Monastery in rural Jordanville, N.Y., about 60 miles northwest of Albany, according to the Synod of Bishops in Moscow. He had been feeling ill for several days.

In May 2007, Laurus and Moscow Patriarch Alexy II signed a reunification pact at a lavish, nationally televised ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin and a throng of worshippers in Moscow's vast Christ the Savior Cathedral.

The rift in the church came after the 1917 revolution. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia cut all ties in 1927 after Moscow Patriarch Sergiy declared loyalty to the Communist government. Reunification talks began after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Laurus said that the reunion pact didn't mark a merger and that his branch would maintain administrative control over its 400-plus parishes worldwide. The New York-based church reports 480,000 U.S. members.