Russian Patriarch Observes Virgin's Assumption, Unveils Lost Icon

Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill marked the Virgin Mary's Assumption Day on Saturday with a service in the Kremlin that included the unveiling of an icon of Christ that had been covered for nearly 70 years.

Kirill conducted the liturgy at the historic Dormition Cathedral, built in the 15th century, and congratulated those gathered "on the great holiday – the glory of the Mother of God," according to Itar-Tass News.

The Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God is one of the most notable occasions on the Orthodox calendar, which has eight celebrations in honor of Christ and four in honor of Mary.

According to accounts from early believers, Mary was taken up to heaven by Christ Himself in the presence of all the Lord's disciples, except Thomas.

Since Mary did not die a physical death, the occasion was described as dormition, which means sleep.

"[Mary] lived a very modest and unnoticeable life, by human standards. But by way of her life God summed up some results and marked her death with human and divine glory through departure of both her soul and body from earth to heaven," Kirill said during the service.

Following the liturgy, Kirill and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev walked to the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, or Savior Tower, to restore an icon of Christ that had been hidden during Bolshevik rule.

It is believed that the Bolsheviks had used the icon for target practice with their canons although they allegedly missed every shot.

The Spasskaya tower holds special significance for Russians, who believe that it has miraculous powers to protect the Kremlin from enemy invasion. Customarily, those who pass under the tower remove their hats and cross themselves as a show of respect.

"We must remember those who assisted and helped in the restoration of this icon, including those who in a very difficult hour for this country - a period of godlessness, a period of hard times - risked not only their positions but their lives to save this wonder," Medvedev said during the ceremony, according to Reuters.

"Now that we've gotten the icon back, our country secures an additional defense," he added.

The ceremony is another display of the proximity that the Russian Orthodox Church has had with the country's government – a trend that some Russians have been uneasy about.

In May, Kirill, Medvedev and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I held a meeting to strengthen relationships between Russia and the Orthodox Church.

Bartholomew praised Medvedev for the cooperation saying that he, "rejoice[s] in the good relations and cooperation existing between the state and the Russian Church."

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