08/01/2017, 12.09
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The relics of Saint Nicholas return to Bari, on the anniversary of Stalin's 'Great Terror'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

In two months, 2.5 million pilgrims visited the relic, with queues taking up to 12 hours, in rain, wind and high temperatures. Patriarch Kirill thanks Pope Francis: the rib of Saint Nicholas more effective than diplomacy. Stalin exploited the Orthodox Church for its "cult of personality". The "slaughter" of gulags and "shared memory".

Moscow (AsiaNews) - On July 28, bidding farewell to the sacred relic of St. Nicholas as it left Russia to return to the cathedral of Bari, Russian patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) remarked that the visit of the relics of the saint was particularly providential, in the centenary year of the great revolutionary torment (the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917). During the homily in the solemn liturgy in the church of the Holy Trinity of the Lavra St. Aleksandr Nevskij, from where the reliquary containing the saint's rib left, the patriarch stressed that "nobody had prepared such an event for centenary".

Within two months 2,5 million pilgrims have seen the relic, and as Kirill stated, "the important thing is not their number, but the fact that modern men in a modern country have not only wanted to honor a relic but they have endured up to 12 hours of queues, even under the wind and rain, without complaint.”

On July 28, the departure of the relic also coincided with the commemoration day of the Russian Baptism of Kiev, which in 988 began the Christian history of the Eastern Slavic peoples. The patriarch, who holds the title "Patriarch of all the Russians", wanted to pray "for our people and countries that are part of the pastoral mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. Let us pray for Ukraine, so that we can end the intestinal conflict, so that the rancor and hatred will abandon the life of the blessed Ukrainian people."

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church also wanted to thank Pope Francis, for making the visit of the relics to Moscow and St. Petersburg possible. According to his words, the presence of the sacred relic "has done more for the reconciliation of the East and the West than any diplomacy".

In fact, in this context, diplomacy is a consequence rather than a premise of the great event that has been celebrated. As already announced for weeks, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, will travel to Moscow on an official visit in August, where a meeting with President Putin is also scheduled. In recent interviews, the cardinal recalled the long history of Vatican attempts to maintain a constructive relationship with Russia and the various regimes that followed.

Leaving aside the delicate Ostpolitik of the Holy See with the Soviets in the second half of last century, Parolin recalled the episode when the same Tsar Nicola I went to visit Rome in 1845. On that occasion, the Russian monarch was in Italy for family reasons (his wife was being cared for in Sicily), and wanted to see Gregory XVI begging him not to give in to the liberal temptations that were then wounding Europe, and would explode with the revolutions of 1848. The Tsar feared for the future of the principle of autocracy and of his sacred justification, and the figure of the pope seemed to him indispensable. Even today, states are in a crisis of identity in the globalized world, and the new "holy Russia" seeks in the Vatican an authoritative ally against the moral degradation of contemporary society.

Stalin and the cult of personality

Other sad anniversaries are aligned to the memory of the revolutionary tragedy, and warn not to overlook the possible consequences of the dramatic relations between the throne and the altar, that have plagued Russia in the last century. By the end of July 1927, exactly 90 years ago, the last Russian metropolis left in freedom after the first wave of persecution signed a declaration of loyalty to the Soviet regime. Nizhny Novgorod's metropolitan Sergij (Stragorodskij) was the last in the list of "patriarchal lieutenants", and was also awaiting possible imprisonment. After the death of patriarch Tikhon (Bellavin), elected during the Council in 1917 after 200 years of patriarchal institution's suspension, the Russian church seemed destined to disappear into the hell of the Gulag. Sergiy, who in 1944 Stalin made a patriarch, decided to submit, despite the protests of all other bishops in jail, and since then the Russian Church has been trying to survive in the service of an atheist regime.

Stalin himself did not just exploit the patriotic spirit of Russian Christianity, which served him to resist the Nazi invasion, but he used the Church to give an aura of sacredness to his personal power. What the historians called the "cult of personality" was merely a re-elaboration of the dream of divinization of autocrats, which has been presented in various guises since Julius Cesare's time. Bolstered by the support of religion and ideology, right at the end of July 1937 the Georgian dictator gave rise to the "purges" that formed the Great Terror of 1937-38, when the camp became that arcipelago denounced then by dissidents, the "Slaughter house"where tens of millions of people ended up. Even to this date, 80 years later, the "shared memory" must become an indispensable foundation for building a new century together, where hatred and rancor are defeated, as suggested by Patriarch Kirill.

Photo 2: The Sandormokh memorial star (Carelia), in the Solovki forests where mass shooting took place. Among those killed were numerous Orthodox and Catholic bishops and priests. The script reads: Men, do not kill each other.

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Card. Parolin's intense program for Russian trip
19/08/2017 11:01
Card. Parolin in Moscow: Ostpolitik conquers distrust
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