MOSCOW, October 16. /TASS/. Russian Orthodox Church believers will be able to venerate common Christian relics and sacred images even after the breakoff of relations between the Moscow and Constantinople Patriarchates, Nikolai Balashov, a deputy chief of Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external Church relations, told TASS on Tuesday.
"Naturally, the severing of contacts and stopping concelebration with the clergy of the Church of Constantinople will inevitably complicate our relations with Athos but we have what we have. The top priority for us is solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine who are now living through really difficult times while the Church of Constantinople, regrettably, seems to be sparing no effort to make their lives even harder and only widen the gap," he said.
"Nevertheless, the Holy Synod’s decision does not deprive us of the possibility to venerate relics or sacred images, wherever they might be kept. Indeed, we do venerate common Christian sacred items that are under the guardianship of Catholics. Enough to mention St. Nicolas’ relics in Italy’s Bari," he said, adding "only a minority of Christian shrines are under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople Patriarchate."
However, he cited the Holy Synod’s decision on October 15 prohibiting Russian Orthodox Church believers from receiving communion and taking part in services of the Church of Constantinople.
Press secretary to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia Alexander Volkov told TASS earlier that Russian Orthodox Church believers will not be able to worship and receive communion at Mount Athos churches and cathedrals because of the severance of relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Mount Athos, Greece, where an Orthodox community of 20 monasteries is located, is one of the most revered places in Orthodox culture and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A special permit is needed to visit Mount Athos. Women are not allowed to visit that site. Orthodox clergy are also required to obtain a permit from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
One of Mount Athos’ places most visited by Russian pilgrims is the Monastery of St. Panteleimon, or Rossikon, which holds the miracle-working icon of St. Panteleimon, the holy relic of St. Panteleimon’ head, part of the relics of righteous Joseph (the Holy Virgin protector), a piece of the holy relics of the Apostle Thomas and a piece of stone from our Lord’s original Tomb, and others.
The severing of relations between the Churches will inevitably affect the St. Panteleimon Monastery, which is often referred to as "Russian" for its historical and liturgical links to the Russian Orthodox Church, despite being in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Vladislav Petrushko, Professor of the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University and expert in Ukrainian church history, told TASS.
The public guardianship board and the fund for the restoration and preservation of the St. Panteleimon Monastery’s cultural and spiritual heritage were set up in 2011, at the initiative of Dmitry Medvedev, who was President of Russia at that time, and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill.