“I believe that more than a million people are sure to come, while the total number of believers paying homage to the relics during their display in Moscow and St. Petersburg could even reach several million,” he said.
Lunkin pointed out that he did not see any issue related to ensuring public order during an event involving such a great amount of people.
“Of course, much will depend on the interaction between church organizations, law enforcement agencies and other services. Many police officers have already been deployed to ensure order. On the other hand, there is a strong volunteer movement with the Russian Orthodox Church so I am not concerned in this regard at all,” he added.
According to the religious expert, the faithful take great interest in this event because St. Nicholas the Wonderworker is one of Russia’s most revered saints.
“It is a special saint for the Russian people in every respect. St. Nicholas is still considered as a saint whom people can always address in their hour of need. Many have taken to him as their close one,” Lunkin noted.
He stressed that the agreement with Pope Francis on bringing the relics to Russia, reached by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, Head of the Russian Orthodox Church, indicated that relations between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church were beginning to normalize.
“Relations between the two churches have been improving, there has been a thaw in ties. This also concerns personal relations between the Patriarch and the Pope, otherwise such an event would not have been possible,” the expert added.
Displays of holy relics in Russia
The relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker are not the first ones brought to Russia from overseas.
In 2003, Orthodox Christians in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus had an opportunity to pay homage to the relics of St. Andrew, brought from St. Panteleimon Monastery located in Mount Athos. In Moscow, more than 170,000 believers came to see the relics.
Over 7,000,000 believers in Russian and other CIS countries paid homage to the relics of Yelizaveta the righteous martyr and Varvara the nun, brought from Jerusalem’s Church of Mary Magdalene in 2004.
In 2011, one of the major Christian sacred things, a part of the Cincture of the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary) was delivered to Russia. The relics, which were taken out of the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos for the first time ever, were on display for 39 days, allowing more than 3,000,000 to pay homage.
In 2014, the Gift of the Magi was brought to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Within a month’s time, over a million paid homage to the relics.