Thousands of Russians line up to see “Holy Belt of the Virgin” — UPDATED

Thousands of Russians line up to see “Holy Belt of the Virgin” — UPDATED November 22, 2011

From our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Church, some news out of Moscow:

The Holy Belt of Virgin, one of the most venerated relics of the Orthodox Christian world, has arrived in the Russian capital after a tour of the country which began Oct. 24 from St. Petersburg. Over 50 thousand faithful went to the at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the first two days of exposure (19 to 20 November), where it is on display until Nov. 27. Thelucjey ones waited six hours before entering. Others expected to wait 18 hours beneath the first hints of autumn snowfall in Moscow.

The security measures deployed are at the highest levels, because the exposure of the relic coincides with the celebrations for the birthday of Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill, November 20. Already the night of November 18, the authorities had placed metal detectors at every entrance to the large square which leads to the cathedral, a symbol of post-Soviet Russia’s religious revival. For two days the traffic around Christ the Saviour was paralyzed and a queue of people waited on sidewalks adjacent to the church, preventing the passage of pedestrians.

So what, exactly, is the “Holy Belt of the Virgin”?  An explanation:

The belt was woven from camel hair by Mary herself. The legend tells that, before her Assumption, Mary gave it to the Apostle Thomas. It was later preserved in the Imperial Palace of Constantinople until, in the fourteenth century, a king of Bulgaria seized it. Later, Prince Lazarus of Serbia gave it to Vatopedi.

For years the monks have donated to the faithful small belts modeled on that of the blessed Virgin. They are placed in plastic bags containing prayers and instructions on how to observe fasts. The Orthodox believe that thanks to the intercession of the Virgin these belts help treat female infertility.

UPDATE: A reader notes something worth remembering:

The Orthodox do not revere Mary’s Assumption into Heaven as such, rather they refer to it as the Dormition, the falling asleep of the Virgin. At her death, Jesus received her soul and takes it into heaven. In Orthodox iconography, Jesus is at the BVM’s deathbed, receiving her soul that is in the form of a child. The apostles come from the ends of the earth to mourn her falling asleep. Orthodox do believe that Mary’s soul and body have already experienced the Resurrection. One of the points of contention between the Orthodox and the Catholics are the different nuances regarding Mary’s end on earth. As you know, this did not become Catholic dogma until 1950.

Below, a video of the veneration.

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29 responses to “Thousands of Russians line up to see “Holy Belt of the Virgin” — UPDATED”

  1. Obviously, Gail, you you do not have any experience with the powerful tradition of the veneration of relics.

  2. While I do believe in veneration or the Relics of the Saints, and know they are necessary for consecration of the altar (in the altar stone), I cannot believe in this one. There are no known relics with absolute certainty from either St. Joseph, Mary, or Jesus for that matter, and even the Shroud of Turin thanks to Carbon dating put its only as far back as 5th Century AD. The closest we have is possibly (and likely according to the legend or sign) is that St. Peter’s bones are buried in the tombs in the Vatican in Rome. They did find bones there at that site.
    Also, Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven according to the EX CATHEDRA doctrine of the Assumption. Wouldn’t she have taken her clothes with her at moment X when it happened?

  3. YCRCM:

    Re: relics of Christ. There are relics scattered around the world that are purported to be nails and wood from the cross, along with thorns from the crown, as well. A basilica in Rome (Mary Major?) also contains what may (or may not) be part of the manger from Bethlehem. None of them, of course, can be verified.

    Dcn. G.

  4. Barbara,
    It is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The original was demolished on orders from Stalin and the site originally planned for some sort of Palace of the Soviets. Eventually the location became a public swimming pool. After the fall of Communism the Russian Orthodox Church rebuilt the cathedral with great emphasis on reconstructing it as it was before the Revolution. There is a video of its demolition that was made on Stalin’s orders to commemorate the sacrilege.

    During Stalin’s reign of terror the Church suffered the worst persecution in the history of Christendom. Every single bishop in 1917 was either murdered outright or died in one of the Communist concentration camps. More then 90% of the monastics of of the Russian Church were “liquidated.” And the number of martyrs among the diocesan clergy and the laity are not known but they certainly number in the many millions. They are still finding mass graves all over Russia.

  5. The Shroud of Turin hasn’t been definatively disproven. The sample taken for the carbon testing was from an area that was known to have been damaged and repaired. The scientist who was in charge of the testing and originally felt it was fake is now calling for more testing since it has been shown that the area sampled was repaired, which would throw off the testing. He was very adamant that the Shroud was fake based on the test results, and is now fighting against time to be allowed to retest it, as he is dying of cancer. I would love to see the Shroud get retested but in the end it doesn’t really matter. I do believe it is authentic. But in the end it doesn’t matter as it is a private matter, not part of the deposit of faith required for salvation.

  6. Deacon Steve,
    Whether the Shroud is the actual burial cloth of Christ is immaterial. If it is then it is a holy relic of of Our Lord and Savior. If it is not then it is a holy icon in tradition off the “Acheiropoieta” or icons not made by human hands. In either case it is thing of great sanctity.

  7. It never fails to amaze me that people actually think this item and others such as pieces of Christ’s cross, or the bone, hair, piece of cloth, etc. from a saint are actually what is claimed. Guess it enhances their belief to see something tangible that is supposed to be part of their religions far, far past.

  8. It was a beautiful and fitting symbol of the rebirth of Russia for the former People’s Palace (the pool) to be replaced with a magnificently reconstructed cathedral celebrating Christ in triumph. Years of official atheism resulted in the demoralization of Russian society, as we can see in statistical data about everything there from alcoholism to abortion. But the Russians seem to be seeking out signs of what they once called Holy Russia, like the Orthodox crosses so many of them wear. For many years I have been mailing out free pro-life bumper stickers, and these days most of them go to Russia and the former Soviet states. Occasionally Orthodox priests write me to ask for them, but even more often, I get requests from Russian college students. Hopefully, the faith that is reawakening there will have all the virtues of Orthodoxy in the tsarist days without the faults that led so many of the people to turn against it after the Revolution.

  9. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that the belt has been going around Russia since October, and that millions have venerated it in the various cities where it has been brought.

  10. Young RC. . .
    “. . . . and know they are necessary for consecration of the altar (in the altar stone), . . . . . ”

    Do check with your local diocesan authorities, but it is my understanding that this practice was stopped many years ago — maybe Canada is different.

  11. The veneration of relics is one of those areas of mystery in which “truth” and “fact” are not synonymous. It is not some magical power inherent in the object that matters—that would be idolatry—but the power of association by which it stimulates faith and devotion in those who cherish it. If you have ever kept a souvenir or put a family photo on your desktop (wooden or virtual) or smiled nostalgically when hearing the first song you ever danced to with someone you loved, you understand. If not, I am sorry for you.

    With regard to the “belt,” it is more traditionally known as the girdle of the Theotokos (“God-bearer,” the Orthodox title of honor for Mary). In Orthodox tradition, Mary was given three days’ notice of her death by the Angel Gabriel. She called the apostles to her bedside from around the world. Only Thomas, in a parallel of the Gospel story, failed to arrive on time. However, he was granted a vision of Mary being assumed into heaven, and she tossed him her girdle as a memento.

    The story is of course apocryphal. But it speaks volumes of our human need for the physical–to, as the Depeche Mode song says, “reach out and touch faith.” The Feast of Mary’s Dormition (“falling asleep”) is much older in the East than our western doctrine of the Assumption. Although Orthodox teaching says that Mary died a natural death before being bodily assumed into heaven as the first to inherit the promise of resurrection in Christ, both the Dormition and the Assumption celebrate the joyous reunion of body and soul for which we have all been longing since Eden fell.

  12. I would offer a point of consideration to those for whom veneration of relics – and most other mystical observations for that matter – is “nuts,” or otherwise inexplicable or delusional. Many Americans have a distorted understanding of what “mythology” means, and certainly of the nature of religious mythology, and distinguishing the Sacred from the Profane. Too often we assume “Myth = Lie/False/Mistaken.” But this is missing the power of myth in our lives. A more useful definition would be along the lines of “Myth = Truths; Some of which actually happened.” In many ways, this is also a useful way of viewing sacred texts, including the bible. Sacred texts contain profound truths. And some of the things written in them actually happened. Other insights are metaphorical and/or illustrated by allegory. I would suggest viewing the veneration of relics in this way. They represent something Sacred, and how this impacts the Experience of the Inner Person is of far, far more importance than whether or not the “claims” are “historically” accurate. Thinking in this head-centered way misses the heart-centered truth contained within the mystical experience. Seen in this light we can appreciate that rituals, veneration of relics, and similar experiences are often ways we attempt to enter the spiritual/psychological “state” of experiencing the Sacred/Holy/Divine. The outer trappings are there to help us enter the desired state of experiencing the Sacred/Divine, but they are not the “point” in and of themselves. Bringing oneself closer to the presence of the Divine is the point. And this is an ineffable experience, not logical nor suited to critical examination of the intellect, but rather a very heart-based kind of experience which one “verifies” by feeling the experience is true. And this means the “truth” of the experience is within the person. So, as with mythology, mystical experiences are “true” while some of what they incorporate may even be historically accurate and/or provable by the scientific method.

  13. 1. There are pieces of fabric around which are tens of thousands of years old. A two-thousand year old piece of camelhair weave is not impossible, even without miraculous relic stuff being involved.

    2. The belt/girdle is normally kept ON FREAKIN’ MT ATHOS IN GREECE. You can’t just drop by. If you are a woman, you can’t even set foot on Mt Athos, because the whole place is supposed to be holy like an altar.

    3. The belt/girdle is supposed to have miraculous powers for infertile women, but infertile women usually have to make do with 4th class relics touched to the girdle/belt, and brought back by male pilgrims from Mt. Athos.

    4. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and a great grace for the infertile. With all the women in Russia who became infertile through abortion, you can imagine that many of them are really truly desperate for grace and miraculous comfort.

  14. 5. Americans line up for hours in the dark and cold for stupid smartphones and movies. At least lining up to venerate a relic makes some sense.

  15. * Except for those of our fellow Americans who just line up as an excuse to enjoy partying as a crowd. These people also make some sense, albeit I wouldn’t want to do it in these middle-aged days.

  16. Pagansister,
    Catholicism is a sensual religion full of touch, smells, sights, tastes, and sounds.

    I assume Orthodoxy is as well.

    Grace is all around us.
    It’s not as if you encounter God by leaving the material behind.

    Perhaps the material and the spiritual are not intrinsically opposed to one another.

  17. S. . . . banshee”
    “With all the women in Russia who became infertile through abortion,”
    You know, somehow I missed that you are also an experienced OB-GYN. I seriously doubt that anyone with lesser credentials than that could possibly assert this fact with any degree of credibility.

  18. There have been several reports and studies on the impact of abortions and infertility..

    “The percentage of infertile, married couples rose to 13% in the first decade of the 21st century, partially due to poorly performed abortions. According to expert Murray Feshbach 10-20% of women who have abortions in Russia are made infertile, according to the 2002 census.”

    Fleshback served as Chief of the USSR Population, Employment and Research and Development Branch of the Foreign Demographic Analysis Division (now the Center for International Research) of the US Bureau of the Census. Since his retirement from the US Government in 1981, he has been a Research Professor at Georgetown University and a Fellow of the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was also the first appointed Sovietologist-in-Residence in the Office of the Secretary General of NATO (1986-1987).

    There are new studies coming out that will show a large growth in infertility in women in the USA as well due to abortions which have not been carried out properly (or at too young of age or too often) and also due to growing problems with various sexually related disease. These are expected to hit some time next year.

  19. Ad exactly. Whether it is the true burial shroud is mainly irrelevant. The scientist in me doesn’t see the testing done as definitive proof that it is not authentic, because of the large number of things that can throw off the carbon dating. In my mind what makes it authentic is that no one can offer any explanation of how the image got onto the cloth. It is a wonderful connection of the spiritual and physical regardless of its origin. If it is art then it is a masterpiece. If it is authentic it is yet another amazing physical link to the resurrection of our Lord.

  20. More to the point, the USSR and today’s Russia are not known for being universally bastions of good medicine. Sure, they have good honest skilled doctors… but they also have many literal hacks. It’s well known that Russia’s women have suffered big time from this, and from various Communist era unfun gynecological and abortion practices.

    It’s fairly routine in today’s Russian literature, nonfiction and fiction alike, to run across women who are infertile because they had Something Bad Happen during their abortion, or increasingly bad amounts of scarring happened during their series of abortions. (Multiple abortions as a contraceptive method have been very common in Russia, even after the Pill. Surgery is free, after all.) Things are getting better there, maybe, but that’s no comfort if it’s already happened to you.

    This is not some ideologically influenced piece of arcane supposed information. This is general knowledge. And if you’re pro-choice, I would think you would be more interested to find out what countries you don’t want to be exercising your options in.

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