A furry belt has resulted in the mass mobilisation of five hundred thousand Russians to Moscow town.
My local daily sojourn has been interrupted with guard checks, blocked off streets and thousands of devotees.
Long lines stream down the river bank, where the masses are herded into small flocks. They allowed to walk in ten meter bursts before stopping for about 5 minutes at a time. On the pilgrimage to the hairy icon, you can purchase a snack, a cup of tea or go to the loo. It is a highly orchestrated, beautifully organised event.
I got caught in a line for about 45 minutes, during which time I saw plates of food purchased and handed around for any hungry bellies. I saw frail, tender hands held and guided to higher ground. I witnessed and caught the sublime patience of the faithful. It was wonderful and chokingly claustrophobic.
This camel-hair belt was worn by Mary before she ascended to Heaven. Those who see and touch the case may have fertility issues healed. In just one day this week over 80,000 stolid, faithful Russians went through Christ the Saviour Church to see and touch the case holding the hairy healer. They are even considering a helicopter tour over the city of the icon so that more can be healed.
What is the most remarkable thing about this icon, is the faith it represents. For a culture deprived of openly practicing religion for such a long time, it is a wonder to witness. Current estimates suggest that 97% of the population are devout Russian Orthodox. To have such faith that you travel long distances on a bus, line up all day in sub zero conditions, to spend just one minute in front of an icon is humbling.
The belt is on it’s way back home to Greece, but it has made the way into the hearts the two million Russians who have seen it and symbolises a deeply spiritual time in this fascinating country.
Zali is an Australian writer and yoga teacher hibernating in Moscow for a few years. She specialises in personal development and holistic weightloss. You can get more of Zali’s articles here.