Christians have attended an open-air service outside Moscow marking another step forward in improved relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
Around 10,000 people gathered at the site of a former secret police base where thousands of people were executed under Soviet dictator Stalin for the service, conducted by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II.
The liturgy at Butovo was also attended by the head of the New York-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, who is on the first such visit since his church split from the Russian Orthodox Church after the Bolshevik Revolution.
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The two religious leaders laid the foundation stone for a brick church to be erected on the site in what Interfax news agency described as a “symbol of the unified building” of the Russian church.
Russian TV said the event was “profoundly symbolic and constitutes the first steps towards the effective rapprochement of the two churches”.
The Moscow Patriarchate has long called for reunification with the exile church which was formed in 1920 by Russian emigres who escaped Bolshevik rule.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Metropolitan Laurus in New York last September and invited him to Russia on Patriarch Alexy’s behalf.
A statement by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia said recent transformations in church life in Russia inspired hope that the visit would “promote the establishment of normal relations” between the two.
For almost 60 years ties between the churches were almost nonexistent. A gradual thawing that began in the late 1980s has been slow.
“Butovo became a symbol of Russia’s sufferings, our national Golgotha,” Patriarch Alexy said after the service, in a reference to the hill outside Jerusalem where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified.
Around 30,000 people were executed at Butovo during the Stalinist era.
“Here and now, we feel especially keenly the pain of the separation of the Russian people caused by the revolution and the bloody civil war,” the patriarch added.
“Here we are regaining confidence that this wound will be healed by the sun of God’s truth.”
– BBC Monitoring , based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.