A few weeks ago Marcus commented on Russia’s enthusiasm for the coming of what is believed to be the belt of the Virgin Mary. Normally situated at the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, the relic made of camel wool is believed to have the power to boost fertility. The National Post reports yesterday that the Russian people really have come out in force! Braving cold and snow, Moscow residents were willing to stand in a 5km line just to touch the belt:
The Moscow authorities said 400,000 people had waited outside Moscow’s vast Cathedral of Christ the Saviour since The Belt of the Virgin Mary relic arrived on Saturday. Around 82,000 were queuing on Thursday alone…
Faced with the lines, the Russian Orthodox Church extended the relic’s stay in Moscow by three days to Sunday. An intercom announcement on the Moscow metro at the stop nearest to the Cathedral warned people arriving by the subway that the line stretched along the Moscow river for nearly five kilometres and its end was in a distant neighbourhood four metro stops away.
Struggling to contain the throngs of Orthodox believers, the city erected a maze of metal barriers, rerouted traffic on some of the streets, and brought in 1,500 police officers to ensure order.
The Voice of Russia reports that Mr. Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the Council of Trustees of the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, which organized the transportation of the Belt from Athos to Russia comments:
“We did no expect to see such a great number of people willing to pray before the shrine. We saw a lot of pilgrims in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Ussuriysk, Tyumen and other cities. And those were not only orthodox Christians but people of different beliefs. For example, in Saint Petersburg we saw a Muslim woman, who was taken from a hospice to see the shrine. This proves that more and more people are striving for spiritual revival, and they believe in better. Monks who accompanied the shrine from Athos were astonished at such a huge number of believers arriving to pray before the Belt”.
The belt has already visited 14 Russian cities, and Moscow is the last point before it is taken back to Greece. In total, approximately 2 million people in Russia have queued to venerate the holy relic. As Marcus mentioned, according to the Associated Press “the influential Russian Orthodox Church is actively promoting motherhood to help the government curtail a population decline.” If this many people are turning out to have their fertility boosted there is hope for Russia yet!
Perhaps this huge turnout also says something about a changing religious demographic in Russia. For a country which until the 1990s was a state-sanctioned atheistic nation, the people’s spirituality certainly seems to be alive and well.