Russia has consecrated a massive new Orthodox cathedral dedicated to the country's Armed Forces that drew controversy before it was opened due to mosaics of the country's president and Soviet leader Josef Stalin outside Moscow.
The grand ceremony featured Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov and other top officials took place on June 15.
"The cathedral drew controversy during the building stage for initial plans, which were eventually scrapped, to decorate its interior with mosaics depicting President Vladimir Putin and Soviet leader Josef Stalin," The Moscow Times reported.
The cathedral is due to open to the public on June 22.
Located in a military theme park outside Moscow, the cathedral has six golden domes are each dedicated to a different branch of the Armed Forces and its interior is decorated with images of military-related patron saints and depictions of historic battles.
"Ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Armed Forces have become increasingly close since President Vladimir Putin first came to power." reported The Moscow Times.
The cathedral was partially funded by more than 3.6 billion rubles ($41 million) in donations from the public.
Russia's Defense Ministry said, "The Main Cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces shall be built to unite all Orthodox Christians serving in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
"The great Cathedral complex is designed in monumental Russian Revival style. It will be located in the Patriot Park to symbolize spirituality of the Russian Armed Forces that unsheathe the sword only to defend its Fatherland."
Hundreds of members of the Armed Forces were at the ceremony, some wearing World War II-era uniforms, shunning health officials' recommendations to wear face masks and practice physical distancing.
The opening was originally planned for May 9, the 75th anniversary of Victory Day, but was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"Today, as a unified people, in this military cathedral, we remember the feats of our soldiers, and we pray for our fatherland, so that the Lord protects our country from external and internal enemies," Patriarch Kirill announced to the congregation, euronews reported.
After a public outcry the plans to install mosaics of President Vladimir Putin and former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the cathedral were dropped.
The cathedral has six golden domes dedicated to the patron saints of each branch of the Armed Forces of Russia.
A museum at the church complex features exhibitions about the history of Russia's armed forces and the Great Patriotic War as World War II is known in Russia.
The Soviet Union lost an estimated 26 million people including 8.5 million soldiers in World War Two, and remembrance of victory has become fundamental to Russian identity.