Moscow, May 21, 2017
A piece of the relics of the great St. Nicholas the Wonderworker are to arrive in Russia today from the St. Nichoals Catholic Cathedral in Bari, Italy, where his relics have been kept since 1087. The relic will be ceremoniously greeted in Moscow by the ringing of the bells in the city's more than 600 churches, reports RIA-Novosti.
This is a unique event, as previously reported, in that for the 930 years that his relics have been kept at the Catholic basilica in Bari, Italy, they have never left the city. Every year, hundreds of Russian pilgrims and Orthodox believers from around the world travel to Bari to venerate the honorable relics of the great bishop and wonderworking saint. Thanks to the upcoming visitation of his relics, even more faithful will have the opportunity to venerate them.
Medical examiners have removed the great hierarch's ninth rib, located right near the heart, from his reliquary under the altar in the crypt chapel of the Italian basilica. The area of the physical heart is especially important in Orthodox Tradition as the location of the spiritual heart, which is able to commune with God.
“On the morning of May 21, a host of hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church will serve the Divine Liturgy over the relics of the saint, as is tradition, as so many of our pilgrims go to Bari on St. Nicholas’ day. Then we will sign the act of the temporary transfer of a part of his relics to Russia with the archbishop of Bari, Francesco Kakucci,” Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the head of the Department for External Church Relations, told journalists.
After signing the document, the relics will be placed in a special ark, weighing about 40 pounds and covered in gold leaf, made in Russian Church workshops. The reliquary will proceed in a solemn motorcade through the city of Bari to the airport, to be flown to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, accompanied by Met. Hilarion. The relics will be greeted by Patriarch Kirill and Moscow clergy at the Vigil for St. Nicholas at Christ the Savior Cathedral.
All of the churches of the capital will ring their bells beginning at 6:00 PM to herald the great event in a display of the people's deep love for St. Nicholas. Ringing will begin with the Kremlin’s rarely used Ivan the Great bell tower.
St. Nicholas’ rib will remain in Christ the Savior Cathedral from May 21 to July 12, and will then be taken to the St. Alexander Nevsy Lavra in St. Petersburg from July 13 to 28.
News of the bringing of St. Nicholas’ relics to Russia has caused great excitement among the faithful, and officials are expecting as many or more pilgrims than in past years when relics have been specially brought to Russia. In 2011, more than 3 million Russians venerated the Belt of the Theotokos in 16 cities, brought from Mt. Athos’ Vatopedi Monastery. The wait to venerate the sacred object grew as long as 26 hours. Over a million people throughout Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus venerated the Gifts of the Magi in December 2014, brought from St. Paul’s Monastery on Mt. Athos.