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Russians now in line, to venerate saints’ relics, in place of Lenin

Soviet citizens used to stand in endless lines to venerate Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed remains on Red Square. Now Orthodox believers are standing in round-the-clock lines to venerate saints’ relics.

In the latest example of such religious fervour, over 40 days nearly 2.5 million believers across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus venerated what Orthodox Christians believe to be St John the Baptist’s hand, the Moscow Patriarchate reported after the relic’s 18 July return to Montenegro, its home since 1941.

By tradition, the Apostle Luke took the hand to Antioch. It remained there until the mid-10th century and was transferred to Constantinople until that city fell to the Turks. Crusading knights are then said to have gained possession of the hand, which journeyed over centuries through Rhodes and Malta to the Church of the Icon of our Saviour Not Made by Hands in St Petersburg’s Winter Palace.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, it was spirited out and shuttled around Europe before being given to the King of Yugoslavia. It disappeared in communist Yugoslavia, but was rediscovered in 1993.

On 7 June, the hand arrived from Montenegro’s Cetinje Monastery at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the reconstructed version of the church dynamited by Stalin in 1931. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II called on believers to entreat John the Baptist "as the preacher of repentance to teach us unfeigned repentance and life in Christ".

Believers reported standing in line for up to 17 hours, praying the relic’s power would help them overcome sin and illness. In recent years visits by relics of St Panteleimon, especially revered for healing powers, and the Apostle Andrew, have elicited similar fervour. Top government officials venerated the hand during its journey across Russia. The relic’s Russian stops included Yekaterinburg, where the Imperial Family was murdered in 1918; Togliatti, the Soviet auto centre named after the Italian communist; and, Beslan, site of a bloody school hostage-taking in September 2004. In Vladikavkaz, the regional capital, Muslims venerated the relics as well, the Interfax news agency reported.

(c) Ecumenical News International