St. Nicholas

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 Traveling Relics

When Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Kirill met in Havana, Cuba, in Feburary 2016, it was a most historic meeting. It was the first such meeting since the Great Schism forming the two branches of Christianity in 1054 (the separation of the Eastern Church [Orthodox] from the Western Church [Roman Catholic)]). At this historic meeting Pope Francis gave permission to lend some of the relics (bones) of St. Nicholas to Russia. For the first time Orthodox believers in Russia will be able to venerate one of their most important saints in their own country. Permission was granted because Russians have such great love for Saint Nicholas and making a pilgrimage to Bari to venerate the relics is both difficult and costly.

Saint Nicholas is one of the most revered saints in the Russian Orthodox Church in whose tradition saints' relics are of particular importance. The relics, a rib fragment, will be flown on a chartered plane Sunday, May 21st, 2017. The relics will be carried in a special jeweled reliquary specially created for this purpose. A representative of the Moscow Patriarchate said, "This is an unprecedented event. These relics have never before left Italy."

Special reliquary for bringing St. Nicholas' relic to Russia
Fragment of the 9th left rib, the largest piece that could be retrieved

Dr. Francesco Introna, director of the Institute of Forensic and Insurance Medicine, Bari University, described how the fragment was retrieved. The crypt is below sea level and the bones are under three stone slabs that were installed when they were interred in the 11th century. There are several small holes in the slabs that are used to extract the holy moisture (manna) exuded by the relics and collected during the festival on May 9th. The slabs have only been removed once, in 1953 when the crypt was repaired. So, the fragment needed to be removed through the small holes. 

Dr. Introna said the decision as to what fragment would be retrieved was made on the spot. "We didn't know what specifically we could take out of there," he said. "We made the decision right on the spot. The holes 6 centimeters in diameter provide the only access to the relics. We needed laparoscopic equipment that is used in healthcare now for this job." A professional surgeon helped with the retrieval.

Retrieving the St. Nicholas Relic (12:41)

"Along with it, we had to reach down to the depth of almost one meter—something that never happens during regular laparoscopic surgical procedures," Dr. Introna said. "First we examined the bones with the aid of a microscopic video camera and then selected the rib in a hope it would get through the hole and wouldn't be damaged along the way. This is the biggest relic that we could retrieve."

Transferring the Relic (3:31)

Carrying reliquary
Bringing reliquary up out of the crypt
Reliquary casket with icon
Highly decorative larger casket to hold the reliquary
Bearing the casket
At the airport
Outside airplane
Chartered plane to bring relics to Moscow

Coming to the airport (3:16)
Orthodox clergy at cathedral
Awaiting arrival of the relics at Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow
Patriarch Kirill
Patriarch Kirill at Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow

Boarding, flight, arrival in Moscow (6:08)

Boarding the plane and beginning flight (6.00)

Procession to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow (3:56)

The relics will be taken to Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Patriarch Kirill will bless them in a liturgy that Sunday evening. Thousands of Orthodox believers are expected to come to venerate the relics while they are in Russia. They will be at the cathedral from May 22 until July 12 and at Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg, from July 13-28, 2017. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said, "The bringing of the relics of St. Nicholas to Moscow is a great event for many believers who will come to venerate the great saint."

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow

Photo: Alvesgaspar Wikipedia
Alexander Nevsky Monastery
Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St. Petersburg, Russia

Photo: Andrew Shiva Wikipedia

Relics of St. Nicholas entrusted to Russian Orthodox Church ahead of journey to Moscow (2:10)

Relics of St. Nicholas leave Bari in first leg of 3,000km journey to Moscow (2:52)

Moved for first time in 1000 years, St. Nicholas' relics arrive in Moscow (2:18)

After the conclusion of the visit, when two and a half million Russian believers had venerated the relics, the Vatican's Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, said:

I know that the relics of St. Nicholas were received in Russia with a special spiritual uplift, and that for more than two months an impressive number of clergymen and believers in Moscow and St. Petersburg venerated the relics. There is no doubt that this event and other similar initiatives, which can be called the "ecumenism of the saints", give an opportunity to fully feel what already unites Christians. This was not only an important event in the spiritual life of believers, but also an example for other initiatives that strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation in various fields. 

Russia thrilled to get Saint Nicholas relics from Italy by Chloe Arnold, BBC News, May 20, 2017.
Relics of St. Nicholas to be venerated in Russia,, May 4, 2017.
930 years of waiting: fragment of St Nicholas' relics to arrive to Russia from Italy, TASS, May 21, 2017
Ark bearing popular Saint Nicholas' relics comes to Moscow by Jim Heintz, Associated Press, May 21, 2017, StarTribune
The 20-hour queue: How long will a Russian wait to see a relic? Russia Beyond, May 24, 2017
Russian Orthodox Believers Flock to Cathedral To See Saint's Remains,
byLucien Kim, transcrpit, NPR, July 21, 2017
The Bones of Affection and Unity: St. Nick is Visiting Russia, by Ines Murzaku, National Catholic Reporter, July 24, 2017
Relics of St Nicholas return to Bari after Russian Tour,
Vatican Radio, July 28, 2017
Communion of saints pray for Christian unity, cardinal  tells Russians, by Cindy Wooden, (Catholic News Service), July 28, 2017
2.5 million Russians venerated St. Nicholas' relics; patriarch thanks Pope
, Catholic World News, August 2, 2017
Cardinal Parolin: Dialogue of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to help them feel unity, Tass, August 20, 2017

Photos: courtesy of Father Marcus Vankan and the Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy

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