Putin Hosts Church on Anniversary

By on 20.11.2007

Putin Hosts Church on AnniversaryAt a Kremlin event Monday to commemorate an important anniversary for the Russian Orthodox Church, President Vladimir Putin said he hoped that Orthodox Christians would vote in the upcoming State Duma elections.

Putin, who will head the United Russia party ticket in the Dec. 2 elections, called on religious Russians to come to the polling stations.

"I am confident that Orthodox Christians, like other
citizens, will again do their civic duty," he told more than 150 church
leaders gathered in the gilded Kremlin halls.


The outcome of the elections, which are widely
expected to strengthen United Russia's -- and Putin's -- position in
power, will "directly determine the country's stable development and
the continuity of those positive changes that have already entered our
lives," he added.


Formally, Putin met with church hierachs from Russia,
as well as Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia, to commemorate the 90th
anniversary of the restoration of the Moscow Patriarchate and discuss a
number of church-state issues. Church leaders sought, however, to
dissociate themselves from politics ahead of Monday's meeting.


Vladimir Vigilyansky, a spokesman for the Moscow
Patriarchate, said before the meeting that the leaders came to discuss
issues like state recognition of religious education and current
regulations making priests eligible for mandatory military service.


"The Church distances itself
from political struggle," said Vigilyansky. He conceded, however, that
priests could be calling on their parishioners to vote for a particular
party depending on their own political leanings, adding that he
personally wanted Putin to remain in office for a third term.


After the event, the church officials were positive
about the meeting with Putin and said there was no direct discussion of
how Orthodox believers would or should vote. Varfolomei, Archbishop of
Rovno and Ostrog, in Ukraine, said that during the meeting Patriarch
Alexy II expressed his hope that Putin would continue his role as the
country's leader.


Alexy also called for the establishment of a public
council to oversee issues of morality in the mass media, saying that
many television and radio programs promoted "vicious behavior."


Another church leader, Yevsevy, Archbishop of Pskov
and Velikiye Luki, sidestepped a question about whether politics had
been discussed, saying only that the leaders had talked of the need to
"preserve the unity of the people."


Analysts have said Putin's move makes sense as he is
trying to curry favor with a considerable chunk of electorate: The
Orthodox Church claims some 125 million adherents in Russia.


After the meeting, Putin presented Alexy II with a
fragment of what is considered to be one of the church's most precious
relics -- the clothing believed to have been worn by Christ during or
before the crucifixion. The fragment from the robe, held in a silver
frame adorned with diamonds, has long been part of the Kremlin
collection, but will now be kept at the Christ the Savior Cathedral.


A chief curator of the Kremlin museum, who declined
to give her name because she said she was not authorised to speak to
reporters, said the decision to give the relic to the church was made
not long ago. She added that she was sorry to see it go because the
history of the robe was inseparable from that of the Kremlin.


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