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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Relic renews Russians' faith
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

Orthodox believers queue to see the relic
Orthodox Christianity is flourishing in the new Russia
For the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is a hugely significant event.

A relic which they believe to be the hand of John the Baptist is on public display in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

It is back in the Russian capital for the first time since the mother of the last tsar, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, fled with it in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

After that it was cared for in Russian emigre communities, before finding a more permanent home in a monastery in Montenegro.

The queue to see the relic stretches for hundreds of metres.

It begins beneath the shining onion domes of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and ends near the banks of the Moscow river, in the heart of the Russian capital.

The believers wait patiently. Some occasionally sing or pray.

Unshakeable faith

"The relic is the right hand of St John the Baptist. The hand that actually baptised our Lord Jesus Christ," says Father Zacchaecus, the Orthodox Church in America's representative in Moscow.

"You see that the hand is intact, you see the skin, although it's dried and darkened, the skin is also intact. The only thing missing are two fingers."

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II bows to the relic
The relic finally returned to Russia from Montenegro
The fact that there are so many people here shows how Russia has changed.

Until the collapse of communism in 1991, the country was officially atheist. Since then, its Orthodox Christian traditions have taken on a new life.

The cathedral itself is the most visible symbol of the transformation - it was completely demolished in the Soviet era, then rebuilt in the 1990s.

It now stands as unshakeable as the faith of those waiting to gaze on the relic.

Cynics might question whether the object in the case is really the hand of a man who lived 2000 years ago.

Those waiting here to see it have no such doubts. "We're here because we are Orthodox believers," one elderly Muscovite told me as she waited her turn to enter the cathedral.


SEE ALSO:
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