The solemn celebration was attended by 7,000 faithful, despite restrictions against Covid. In 2004 Pope Wojtyla returned the icon of the Mother of God to the Russian Orthodox Church. The capital of Tatarstan is a place of dialogue between religions.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian Orthodox patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) yesterday consecrated the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Mother of God in Kazan, capital of the republic of Tatarstan, the homeland of the Russian Tatars. The solemn celebration, to which President Vladimir Putin sent a message of good wishes, drew a crowd of over 7,000 faithful. They lined the streets of Kazan despite concerns about the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which shows no sign of abating across the country.
The Patriarch came out of self-isolation on the outskirts of Moscow, where he had been since the beginning of the Covid emergency. He went to Kazan with a programme designed to avoid any risk of contagion for himself and the other concelebrants. The delegation of the Orthodox Church kept its distance from the crowds of faithful, who remained in front of the maxi-screens set up outside the cathedral, to which only 300 people, including the authorities, were admitted.
Kirill had promised to consecrate the church to the Metropolitan of Kazan Feofan (Ašurkov), who died in December 2020 of the coronavirus and had been a close friend and collaborator of his since his youth. The promise was reiterated to the president of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, who has invested three billion roubles (about 40 million euro) in the restoration of the cathedral. Feofan's successor, Metropolitan Kirill (Nakonečnyj), and his predecessor, Metropolitan Anastasij (Metkin), concelebrated with the patriarch.
In his homily, the Patriarch recalled that "today we consecrate the cathedral built on the site where the miraculous icon known throughout the world as Our Lady of Kazan was found". He emphasised that the building was rebuilt with the means and at the behest of the entire people of this city and all of Russia. In a place that seemed hostile to the Orthodox faith," Kirill added, "this monument to the spirit, courage and faith of our people has risen".
The cathedral has been rebuilt as the original, which was blown up in a spectacular and demonstrative manner by Stalin in 1932. The church houses the icon returned to the Russian Church by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Walter Kasper had brought it back to Russia. Pope Wojtyla had received it as a gift in 1993 from the US Catholics, to whom it had come after long vicissitudes, and since then he had prayed every day in front of it in his personal chapel. The wish of the Polish pope was to return it personally, a wish that he was unable to fulfil.
The icon is one of the oldest copies of the original one, lost for centuries. Religious and civil authorities have displayed it on various occasions to invoke the help of the Mother of God in the most dramatic circumstances of Russian history. In the mid 16th century, Tsar Ivan the Terrible did so in the conquest of Kazan, the last Khanate of the Tatars who had occupied Russia for over two centuries.
Having won the battle in 1579, Ivan built the now restored church; its solemn elevation to cathedral took place in 1808, in the magnificent new building. Now the image has been relocated to the corner where it had remained until Soviet times, covered by the silver riza that adorned it until 1904, when the current variant of the icon was also lost.
In 1917, the Bolsheviks closed the church and the adjacent monastery. The Soviet authorities then used it as a tobacco factory and later as a school and other facilities, before it was destroyed to make way for a huge cinema (the Vostok-Kino). The rebirth of the building began in 2004; Patriarch Kirill laid the foundation stone of the reconstruction in 2016.
Tatarstan is a republic with a Muslim majority, but with a great openness to dialogue with other religions. Its historic first president, Mintimer Šaimiev, in office from 1991 to 2010, had on his own initiative rebuilt the great Qol-Şärif mosque inside the city's Kremlin, which dominates Kazan from above. Next to it, Šaimiev had the Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation restored. In 2005, under the walls of the Kazan Kremlin, he assigned land to Catholics to build their own church. Cardinal Angelo Sodano consecrated it in 2008 with the title of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.