MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of people lined up for hours in Moscow on Monday to venerate the relics of Saint Nicholas, believed by Orthodox Christians to have miraculous powers, after his remains were sent to Russia on loan from their permanent home in Italy.
The remains of Saint Nicholas had never previously left the Italian city of Bari in the 930 years since they were brought there. After arriving by plane on Sunday, they were installed in Moscow's gold-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral, and put on public display.
The loan was agreed during last year's historic meeting between Russian Patriarch Kirill and Roman Catholic Pope Francis. It was the first time a pontiff and head of the Russian Orthodox church had met since the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity split apart nearly 1,000 years ago.
The line of people queuing to see the relics stretched for several kilometers from the cathedral along the embankment of the Moskva river.
"I want to touch the relics, to ask for health for my children, for my relatives," said one woman in the queue, who gave her name as Natalia and said she was from Ukraine. "I want health and peace on earth. Nothing else."
Saint Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century in what is modern-day Turkey, is one of the most revered saints in Russian Orthodoxy. Numerous churches and cathedrals bear his name in Russia, and Nikolai is a popular name in the country.
Russia's Orthodox Church and its clergy suffered bloody purges and it was separated from the state after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
After the Soviet Union's demise in 1991, the church has experienced a revival. Although Russia is still formally a secular nation, state media often show Russian Orthodox priests blessing new nuclear submarines and space rocket launches.
Reporting by Mikhail Antonov and Valery Stepchenkov,; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Ed Osmond