The belt of the Blessed Virgin Mary completed its 15-city tour of Russia, drawing three million people—including some who say they experienced miraculous healings of infertility and cancer.
Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia held a farewell ceremony at Vnukovo International Airport on Nov. 28, saying that the relic inspired “genuine faith.”
“As long as this faith is living in our hearts, Russia will live on too,” he said, according to news agency Voice of Russia.
“The trials of the twentieth century drained Orthodox faith of its vigor and deprived society of an important part of its everyday life,” Patriarch Kirill said.
He added that the “tragedies of the past century diminished individual talent to an extent that many thought that Russia would never scramble back to its feet again.”
The relic, which normally resides in a Greek Orthodox monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece, arrived in St. Petersburg on Oct. 20. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin greeted its arrival in person.
According to legend, the Virgin Mary herself made the belt out of camel hair and wore it while she was expecting the birth of Jesus Christ.
In Moscow alone, 800,000 people went to view and venerate the relic at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, rebuilt in 1997 at the site where its historic predecessor was destroyed by Soviet authorities in 1931. A motorcade carrying the relic to the airport circled Moscow’s outer ring highway, Agence France Presse reported.
“Such a forceful movement of people towards the holy cannot be explained with any human arguments,” Patriarch Kirill said. “So many people were cured! I constantly hear about the wonderful miracles that occurred in our land at this time.”
The Virgin’s Belt is believed to cure infertility and other ailments, and the vast majority of the relic’s visitors were women. Archimandrite Ephraim, a monk who accompanied the relic, said that twenty women have said they are now pregnant after venerating the relic.
One employee of Christ the Savior Cathedral said the belt cured one man whose cancer was so advanced that doctors refused to operate, Interfax reported.
Orthodox commentator Fr. Andrei Kurayev told Voice of Russia that few people understood why they were lining up to see the belt.
He predicted an increase of public interest in religious life and called for the Orthodox Church to continue religious education.
Some controversy erupted over reports that prominent persons were given special passes to bypass the crowds. President Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana was given privileged access inside the Moscow cathedral while thousands waited outside.