Tens of thousands of Russians lined up outside the Christ the Savior Cathedral on Saturday for a chance to kiss a relic of the Virgin Mary brought from no other than Archimandrite Ephraim, a famous for his scandals Greek monk who accompanied the relic from the Vatopedi monastery.
More than 2 million Russians have seen the relic in the past few weeks in cities including Norilsk, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, said the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, which arranged the tour. The Belt of the Virgin Mary attracted a million people in Moscow alone, inspiring them to queue in a five-kilometre line for up to 26 hours in hope of touching the relic and receiving a miracle. The cathedral, Russia’s biggest and most important church, will now close for three days of cleaning, it said on its website.
Ephraims’ plea for help
Ephraim, who met with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday and asked the Russian PM to help Greek people who suffer from the country’s latest tragedy, is not an ordinary monk and Vatopedi is no ordinary monastery. In fact, some would argue that Ephraim is one of the reasons tens of thousands of Greeks line up not to kiss some of his holly relics but to pay the endless new taxes Papandreou and now Papademos government have added. He is the central protagonist of the Vatopedi scandal that brought down the Karamanlis government in 2009 as believers and non-believers were scandalized alike to see him enjoying the protection of his political friends of the then government.
A parliamentary committee saw involvement of five ex-ministers into exchange of real estate between the state and Ephraim who managed to get a deal to receive valuable public property on behalf of his monastery in return for land of much lower value. The deal has been made through dubious property deeds from Byzantine and Ottoman times. Former ministers and Ephraim were accused of being moral responsible for money laundering but as it usually happens in Greece no one went to jail and the scandal is well forgotten.
Poutin goes Christian
The Cincture of the Virgin Mary that Efraim brought to Russia is believed by the faithful to be the belt worn by the Madonna and it is said to promote fertility. However, it seems that right now it only serves to give birth to Putin’s votes. Putin, whose United Russia party hopes to maintain domination of the State Duma in the elections on Dec. 4, has long courted the Orthodox Church in order to gain sympathy and of course …votes. A former KGB spy who wasn’t exactly known for his devotion in Christian beliefs, he now portrays himself as a devout Christian. The foundation that brought the relic in Russia is chaired by the head of Russia’s state railways and long-time Putin associate and friend Vladimir Yakunin who stated that the relic’s arrival shortly before the parliamentary elections was …coincidental. “It is absolutely not related. We wanted it to come in the summer, but the entire process took a long time,” the foundation’s spokesman said.
The arrival of the belt, with its reputed health benefits, promote the government’s efforts to boost Russia’s population, which has declined to 142 million since the Soviet Union broke up, threatening a demographic crisis. The Russian Orthodox Church has -as expected- backed the campaign. “In general I think Orthodox believers will vote for the party that is closest to the Orthodox Church,” said a Russian woman, who arrived Saturday morning from Bryansk. “That party is United Russia.” Russia’s Orthodox Church has enjoyed an incredible increase of power in recent years, as millions of Russians began to practice religion in the 1990s after decades of state-dictated atheism in the Soviet Union.
Ephrem does business (again)
One thing monk Ephrem knows well is business so it’s only normal that he would find a way to exploit financially this relic hysteria. As any hot-shot manager would do, he spotted the market gap and produced the needed product in no-time. The product is no other than relic replicas that would satisfy the spiritual needs of Russian believers. As expected, the replicas sold out within days. But he didn’t stop there. He promised he would write a book on the relic and the miracles associated with it. No wonder why the Greek media say that Ephraim would be ideal for being Greece’s PM right now. He’s the only one that can actually enforce development and production and as it turns out his public relation skills are far greater than Papandreou or Samaras’.