10/24/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA

Sacred Belt of the Virgin arrives in Russia, one of the most venerated relics for orthodox

Nina Achmatova
The precious relic, leaves Mount Athos for first time and arrives in St. Petersburg for a tour of the country. The promoters of the initiative: "We hope to help our demographic situation."
Moscow (AsiaNews) - One of the most venerated relics of the Orthodox Christian world has arrived in St. Petersburg: the Sacred Belt of the Holy Virgin has left the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos for the first time for a tour of Russia, which ends in Moscow. This rare 'loan' was granted the "St. Andrew the First called," Foundation led by the head of the State Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. "One of the reasons why we asked Monastery Vatopedi to be able to bring the Sacred Belt to Russia is the demographic situation of our country - Yakunin told the press – We hope this will help stimulate interest in the spiritual revival of our society and family values."

The relic has thus left Greece for the first time, since it was placed in the custody of the monastery on Athos. About 20 monks will accompany him on his journey in the Federation. The father superior of Vatopedi, Archimandrite Yefrem, said that an '"exception" was made for Russia: the monastery had already turned down requests from other country like the United States and Romania. The Sacred Belt will return to Greece on November 23.

Located in the centre of the peninsula of Athos and dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin, the Vatopedi monastery ranks second, after that of the Great Lavra, in the hierarchy of the Athonite monasteries. It has a rich collection of images and relics, including the Sacred belt of the Holy Virgin. The belt was woven from camel hair by Mary herself. The legend tells that, before her Assumption, Mary gave it to the Apostle Thomas. It was later preserved in the Imperial Palace of Constantinople until, in the fourteenth century, a king of Bulgaria seized it. Later, Prince Lazarus of Serbia gave it to Vatopedi.

For years the monks have donated to the faithful small belts modeled on that of the blessed Virgin. They are placed in plastic bags containing prayers and instructions on how to observe fasts. The Orthodox believe that thanks to the intercession of the Virgin these belts help treat female infertility. Since the Sacred Belt is preserved on Mount Athos, where access is permitted only to men, it is a rare opportunity for Russian women to venerate the relic.
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