(Photo: Soldier holds candle at ceremony for adoption of Christianity, in Stavropol, July 28, 2010/Eduard Korniyenko)
Russia marked its adoption of Christianity in 988 on Wednesday with a new public holiday, the latest show of Kremlin support for the Russian Orthodox Church that has grown increasingly powerful since the fall of Communism.
Rights groups have criticized the new holiday, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, as undermining Russia’s secular constitution and members of the country’s large Muslim minority have complained that it excludes them.
Marking the anniversary Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a liturgy in Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine and mediaeval Kievan Rus, whose leader Prince Vladimir made Christianity the state religion more than 1,000 years ago. Kievan Rus is seen as the precursor of modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
“Facing aggressive atheism and resurgent paganism we remain firm in our belief in God,” Kirill, clad in a flowing gold cloak, told thousands of followers in Kiev’s historic Pecherska Lavra monastery.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Russia’s adoption of Christianity had brought it closer to Europe. “This was an event of colossal significance … Russia made a historical choice,” he said after lighting a candle in Veliky Novgorod’s Saint Sophia Cathedral, considered Russia’s oldest.