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Two million Russians venerate Marian relic believed to boost fertility

The belt of the Mother of God, believed by the Orthodox to have been worn by the Virgin Mary, has been brought to Russia from Mount Athos

By on Monday, 28 November 2011

Mother of God's belt comes to Moscow

Mother of God's belt comes to Moscow

I was chatting to a friend the other day (as one does). She has two sons and remarked that she always wanted more but knew it would be irresponsible “because of over-population”. I gave her a short, kindly lecture on the increasing “under-population” of the developed world and she listened open-mouthed. She simply had never heard the other side of the argument; the over-population brigade had got to her first and she had unthinkingly absorbed their pessimistic propaganda.

Our conversation was on my mind this morning when I read in John Smeaton’s blog that the most recent headlines of The Freethinker (“The voice of atheism since 1881″) state: “Mother of God’s Belt comes to Russia to help reverse the population decline.” It seems that this holy relic, believed by the Orthodox to have been worn by the Virgin Mary and to have the power to boost fertility, has been brought to Russia from Mount Athos where it has been preserved for centuries, to be venerated by its dwindling population.

Before sceptical people point out that venerating a belt allegedly worn by the Virgin Mary in order to become pregnant displays the worst kind of medieval Christian superstition, I will add that whether the relic is authentic or not is not quite the point: it is a vivid and reverent reminder of the supernatural, telling the faithful that this world, its woes and social ills, is not all there is: and who can say that new life might not spring from heartfelt prayer in its presence?

The real miracle almost, given the 70-year history of Soviet Communism, when divorce was an easy option, abortions were freely available, the family unit was constantly undermined and the churches were persecuted, is that so far 800,000 people have visited Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to venerate the relic. Vladimir Putin even turned up to receive it at St Petersburg airport. He may not be a nice guy but he knows his country is in a demographic mess and is prepared to try anything to reverse the situation. Approximately two million people all over Russia have queued to see the relic. In Moscow 25 ambulances have been on hand and free meals and teas have been provided for the patient queues.

Demographer Nichols Eberstadt has written an article in the Foreign Affairs Magazine in which he remarks that “Perhaps of all the painful developments in Russian society since the Soviet collapse, the most surprising – and dismaying – is the country’s demographic decline.” This crisis is occurring in peace time, with “catastrophic” mortality levels. Obviously a religious relic alone cannot change things; healthcare, housing, employment are all involved. But it can provide the inspiration to change the climate of despair that makes people choose not to have children and the spur for individuals to think of creative solutions.

The Shrewsbury diocese will soon venerate the incorrupt heart of the Cure of Ars; Russia, too, has picked up the thread. We need a religious revival and so do they.

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Isn’t it relevant if the belt is fake? Do we really want to link the Faith with uncritical thinking, superstitious devotions and pious lies?

    It’s great that they want more kids, and that they should pray for it. But carbon-test the belt and let’s find out the truth (certainly, the Russian Orthodox Church would be much less willing to do it than the Vatican; much of their authority depends on the kind of pious mystifications that the Catholic Church has thankfully outgrown). The faithful deserve it.

  • theroadmaster

    Pope Benedict has often spoken and wrote of the need for Science to  guide Faith from falling into the trap of guileless superstition and for Religion to help Science aspire to being more than a soulless materialist ideology. The case of the Marian belt and the claims for it’s curative qualities in relation to fertility problems, evokes in the minds of today’s secularized, western citizen, a stereotypical medievalism which Chaucer parodied in his time.  But our inherent need for a tangible reminder of the metaphysical realities beyond our limited vision, often makes itself felt in times of national crisis.  Whatever reservations some may have about such devotional outpouring, popular piety has been a part of Christianity, both in the West and East since time immemorial.  If properly channeled, it can be a very potent sign of a peoples’ search for the Divine Creator of our universe.

  • Anonymous

    Population control is not either or. It is doing the best thing in each situation. More developed countries facing population decline may need to try and promote larger families, whereas in countries were food resources are not meeting the demands of demands of families, and children are being malnourished then trying to reduce the amount of children families have is obviously the answer. 

    Those who do not accept Church teaching would look to contraception, but I don’t see what is wrong with promoting abstinence at the very least, in order for children to be provided for properly in their education and having enough food. 

    As this would benefit families and children, I can hardly see how the Church CANNOT encourage smaller families, where they are too large to provide for. 

  • Anonymous

    “We need a religious revival and so do they.”

    ## Maybe preaching the Gospel, which is the power of God to salvation, would be more effective. And less liable to give rise to practices all too similar to some in paganism. Even the appearance of sub-Christian practices should be avoided.

    The danger with venerating relics is that venerating a belt or a heart is not externally different from veneration of  the spear of Romulus or the footprint of Buddha. Venerating material objects is as compatible with paganism or atheism as with Christianity. Christian preaching by contrast puts the Gospel & the character of God before the hearers. The Gospel calls for repentance & interior conversion – it is directly related to the mission of the Church, which is not entitled to be different from that of Christ, Who preached the Kingship of God, and repentance: two things that are inseparable. Catechesis is not enough, if it is no more than information about a dead guy who lived 2,000 years ago. As someone said, “The tree of knowledge is not the tree of life”.

    External practices, however valuable, are subsidiary to repentance & interior conversion. Being catechised is compatible with not being converted – unavoidably, because so much catechesis is about Christ, so is in the third person; rather than being an encounter with Him: something only He can bring about. To know in one’s head the proposition that Christ is risen, is not the same as experiencing the power of the Resurrection in one’s own life. But if we are converted, and the more we are converted, that gives a Christian context & character to our external practices – including the veneration of relics.

  • Cassandra

    It may be much too fragile for Carbon Dating, which in itself is not that reliable. You are also very wrong about the Orthodox Church’s dependency on “pious mystification”. Your comments show bias and prejudice. Try reading the “Way of A Pilgrim” and the “Pilgrim continues his Way” translated R.M.French and also “The Orthodox Church” , by Timothy Ware/Kallistos..

  • Maryam

    I think the Church has been encouraging Natural Family Planning.

  • Tiddles the Cat

    I’m heartened by Russia’s return to Christ and His Mother, that more churches are opening in Russia yet churches are closing in the West.

    Can you imagine David Cameron or Nick Clegg formally meeting a priest carrying sacred relic at Heathrow Airport? No, nor do I. They’re too up themselves to do that, even if it may be for the nation.

    Whatever Vladimir Putin’s faults, I bet nobody dares to call him ‘feeble minded’ or subject him to personal abuse when he did this!

    Whether the relic is The Holy Belt, the Heart of the Cure of Ars or indeed any sacred relic is a focus for veneration and contemplation. Artists, for example, look at many things to provide inspiration for their next work - so relics should be viewed in a similar way.

    The old penny catechism states that relics should not be worshipped (worship is for God Alone) as they can ‘neither see us, hear us nor help us.’ 

  • Joel Pinheiro

    Really, I don’t deny all the positive things about Orthodoxy, nor its deep spirituality. I just think it badly needs the kind of rational filter that the Catholic Church went through over the centuries.