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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 September, 2004, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Prayers, incense and tears
By Daniel Mann
BBC News Online

The Russian Orthodox Church in London
The Russian Orthodox Church has become a source of comfort
As the small Russian town of Beslan began the painful task of burying those who died in the school siege, many were also gathering in west London for a special service at the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Cathedral of the Dormition and All Saints in Knightsbridge has held many services for the numerous tragedies which have befallen Russia over the years.

But Father John, the cathedral's dean since 1979, told BBC News Online that although Sunday's service was very moving, many still felt "hopeless" about Beslan's tragedy and "how people can do such things".

It is a view shared by one of his parishioners, Ivan Leonidov, from Belgorod in southern Russia, a PhD law student who has lived in London for the past four years.

"It was an absolutely abhorrent event," said Mr Leonidov.

"I don't think there have been any parallels in Russian history. It can be appropriately called Russia's September 11. With so many children involved, with so many hundreds of innocent lives lost, it makes the grief enormous."

Solemn

Inside the cathedral, around 300 people gathered to hear the special 20-minute service which followed the usual Sunday prayers.

Father John, the Dean of the Russian Orthodox Church
It all seems such a throwback to primitive times when you saw those kids being carried out nearly naked
Father John, Dean of the Russian Orthodox Church

Under a hazy cloud of aromatic incense, they lit dozens of candles for the siege's many victims.

As the clergy begun reading from their prayer books, the worshippers moved to the centre of the cathedral.

Men, women and children stood in solemn prayer and making the sign of the cross, with many faces lit by an orange glow from the candles they clasped.

Some elderly women, heads covered, stood calm and dignified as the choir sung hymns and the liturgy was read, while others struggled to wipe away their tears as they crossed themselves.

'Primitive'

After the service Father John said his faith had been tested with so many people feeling such despair, shock and grief over the deaths of so many - particularly Russian children.

It was awful of course but we will overcome because God is with us
Erena, Moscow resident

"I suppose as a priest I'm supposed to say forgive and that's what Christ said, of course. But it's a fact that in Russia many families have only one child, so it's quite likely that for many of these families it was the only child.

"It all seems such a throwback to primitive times when you saw those kids being carried out nearly naked, dehydrated and starving. It makes you wonder whether we have made any progress."

Ivan Leonidov said: "There are no words to express the sorrow and today's service was marked by the enormous sense of tragedy.

"When so many lives have been lost it is beyond comprehension, but I think maybe the service will help some people to overcome their grief and anger."

'We will overcome'

Before leaving the cathedral, some of the congregation kissed religious icons and said a short prayer, while many put money inside the donations box.

Ivan Leonidov, a Russian law student
It can be appropriately called Russia's September 11
Ivan Leonidov, Russian law student

One young lady bowed and made the sign of the cross as she left the cathedral, then burst into tears and fell into the arms of another woman.

After holding one another tightly for a few minutes, they slowly walked away from the cathedral.

But despite the grief, Erena, a Muscovite visiting London, was adamant that Russia would be able to move on from the horrific events of Beslan.

"Yes, our lives are difficult and such things will happen again in the future. It was awful of course but we will overcome because God is with us. We want to see our Russia strong and healthy."


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