They have come to pray for the health of loved ones. They have come to ask for help to pass a tough exam or just to get by in hard times. But mostly, they have come to be part of a once-in-a-millennium spiritual event: Saint Nicholas has come to town.
This mass act of devotion provides a snapshot of how important the Orthodox Church has become to Russians’ contemporary sense of identity.
Lines to see the saint Russians call “the miracle worker” have stretched up to five miles from the giant, onion-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral, a reconstruction of a cathedral demolished by the Soviets in 1931.
Some waited to ask for a miracle from Saint Nicholas, whose life inspired the legend of Santa Claus. But for many, the arrival of the relics, on loan for the first time from the Italian city where they rested for 930 years, is in itself a miracle worth witnessing.
“It’s important to be close to the grace of Saint Nicholas,” said Denis Knyazyev, 32, who drove four hours from his home west of Moscow to stand in line for Saint Nicholas last week. “All saints are special, but this is the one most dear to us.”