Russians queue to worship Greek 'fertility' relic
Tens of thousands of Russians Saturday queued outside Moscow's cathedral to see one of the most treasured Orthodox relics as it neared the end of a month-long tour of the country.
The relic on loan from Greece, which believers venerate as the belt of the Virgin Mary, is believed to have miraculous powers to boost fertility, as Russia struggles to reverse a population decline.
Russian news agencies said some 30,000 pilgrims had been bussed into the capital from outlying regions, to wait for hours in snow and sleet outside the Christ the Saviour cathedral for the chance to get inside.
The church doors remained closed as President Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana was given privileged access inside, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.
The relic, visiting Russia for the first time in its history, has toured the country since arriving in Saint Petersburg on October 20 from its home on Mount Athos in Greece
Stops have included the northern city of Norilsk, the Pacific port of Vladivostok and the western exclave city of Kaliningrad.
Clerics said they hoped the relic would help more Russian women become mothers as the influential Russian Orthodox Church is actively promoting motherhood to help the government curtail the population decline.
The country's latest census released earlier this year shows that the country's population has shrunk by another 2.2 million people since 2002 and now stands at 142.9 million.
"It's a serious problem and an important topic for our country," the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said last month.
© 2011 AFP