Patriarch Aleksij II will deliver the sacred image tomorrow, right on the occasion of the Feast of the Mother of God. Archpriest Chaplin: "It is not a 'return', the image has a great symbolic value, but it is only a copy."
Moscow (AsiaNews) Aleksij II, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, will deliver to Kazan the historic icon of the Mother of God, donated last year to the Russian Orthodox Church by John Paul II, AsiaNews was told today by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the deputy head of the Department for foreign relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Chaplin points out however that it is not a question of a "return", as "the Patriarch will simply bring to Kazan a copy of the original icon, the great symbolic value of which is nevertheless undisputed."
Aleksij II arrived today in the capital of Tatarstan, a region of the Russian Federation situated in the middle of the Volga basin, to participate in the celebrations for the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Kazan Eparchy. Tomorrow, in the Cathedral of the Annunciation Monastery, he will preside a solemn celebration for the feast of the "apparition of the Mother of God icon," which falls right on July 21. The icon will be taken in procession from the Kremlin (the city's fortress) to the monastery. A special bullet-proof display case is ready to receive the icon, but it is still not clear where it will be located. Alexander Pavlov of the Kazan Eparchy's press office explained that the "icon must be accessible to the faithful, but the Cathedral of the Annunciation (Editor's note: due to restoration works) will be open to the public only at Easter and Christmas." Chaplin pointed out to AsiaNews that "until the completion of restoration works, the icon will be kept in a location yet to be announced." According to the local press, the icon will be displayed for a few days in the Cathedral of the Annunciation which originally housed the imagine and will be later moved temporarily to the Church of Saints Peter and Paul."
Kazan authorities had for some time been asking for the miraculous image's return to the city. Patriarch Aleksij II felt the gesture was "premature", given that conditions in Kazan did not allow for a worthy reception of the icon. During the Soviet period, the Monastery of the Annunciation had been used as a tobacco factory and the Cathedral became the site of a university. "At this point," Chaplin explains, "Kazan authorities have delivered on their promises." Recently, the mayor, Kamil Ischakov, gave instructions for a new plot of land to be assigned to the factory, while restoration to the Cathedral has already begun.
Representatives of other religious confessions will also take part in the celebrations. "There will certainly be figures from the Muslim community, with whom we have good relations of cohabitation; I cannot say if Catholic representatives will be present."
Almost a year has past since the sacred imagine was returned to Russia (Pope John Paul II had donated it to the Russian Orthodox Church last August 28th) and, in view of the latest efforts by the Catholic Church for unity with Moscow, Archpriest Chaplin "does not think that the shared devotion to Our Lady can help improve relations between the two Churches." "The required preliminary condition," he reiterated, "is that the Vatican put an end to proselytism in Russia: this alone can open the doors for a real rapprochement." The Archpriest does recognize, nevertheless, progress in relations and stated, "We are in constant dialogue to put an end to competition in the spheres of influence and to give way to cooperation, but efforts must be bilateral."
For more information on the history of the Kazan icon and John Paul II's gift, see: Our Lady of Kazan: artefact of history and object of faith for the Russian people