MOSCOW (CNS): An icon held sacred by Pope John Paul II has been returned to Russia, the country of its origin, as a gesture of good will intended to help bridge the longstanding divide between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.
The ornate relic, an 18th century copy of the Mother of God of Kazan, was delivered to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, following a liturgy on August 28 in Assumption Cathedral in the grounds of the Kremlin.
The icon was placed on a pedestal to the right of the altar in the legendary grey limestone church, where Patriarch Alexy marked the feast of the Dormition of Mary, the Byzantine equivalent of Mary’s assumption into heaven.
The Patriarch said that the homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary in both Churches “reminds us of ancient times and undivided Churches”.
Since the early 1990s Russian Orthodox leaders have accused the Vatican of proselytising in Russia and failing to stop what they characterise as discrimination against Orthodoxy by Byzantine Catholics in Western Ukraine.
Pope John Paul sent a message to Patriarch Alexy.
“Despite the division which sadly still persists between Christians, this sacred icon appears as a symbol of the unity of the followers of the only begotten Son of God, the one to whom she herself leads us,” the message said in part.