The belt is usually kept in a monastery on Mount Athos, Greece, but has been toted round a series of Russian cities over the past few weeks, ending up in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – the vast white and gold post-USSR replacement for an Orthodox cathedral razed under Stalin. Pilgrims are flooding in to kiss the relic, which is believed to have special powers to treat infertility and promote health.
For the Orthodox Church, already enjoying a resurgence and snowballing membership since the USSR fell apart, the public display of faith is an apparent triumph: devotion doesn’t come much plainer than this. Not everyone agrees, though: even among the faithful, the extremity of the response (at least half a million people have turned out in Moscow alone, and another two million elsewhere in Russia) smacks a touch too much of superstition, of a kind of mass hysteria.
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