Listen to this BosNewsLife report via Vatican Radio:
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– For the first time in nearly 1,000 years bone fragments of Saint Nicholas, one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most revered figures, have been moved from an Italian church to Russia where huge crowds of Orthodox faithful were expected to visit the relics. The historic move follows talks between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.
After reaching Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, a glass-topped metallic ark bearing the relics was visited by a long stream of Russian pilgrims who bowed and kissed the container.
It was to be taken to Christ the Savior Cathedral, the enormous Moscow church that is a reconstruction of a cathedral dynamited in 1931 by officially atheistic Soviet authorities.
Earlier, the relics of Saint Nicholas were brought into the crypt of the Saint Nicholas Basilica in Bari, Italy, before their 3,000 kilometer-long journey to Moscow. It marks the first time in some 10 centuries that the bone fragments from the man who became the inspiration of the legendary figure of Santa Claus were moved from their resting place.
In Moscow churches rang their bells on Sunday to mark the relics arrival. They were sent to Russia after last year’s agreement between ope Francis and Patriarch Kirill during the first meeting of the heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches.
The 4th-Century Saint Nicholas, one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most respected men, was the Bishop of Myra, now the Turkish city of Demre. After his death, Italian merchants brought his body from Myra, in modern-day Turkey, to Italy.
The relics are to be displaced in Moscow’s Christ the Savior cathedral until mid-June. They are then moved to St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, before being returned to Bari on July 12. Both cities are expecting huge crowds of Orthodox faithful to visit the relics and the Moscow patriarchate has already described it as “an unprecedented event.”
It is also appreciated by Russian President Vladimir Putin who keeps close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. He already visited the St. Nicholas relics in Bari in 2007.