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Russian Patriarch says icon to be returned is a copy

Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Alexei II has downplayed a recent conciliatory gesture by Pope John Paul II, claiming that an image of Our Lady of Kazan which the Holy Father will return to the Russian Church later his month, is not the revered historic icon, but a copy.

Catholic World News reports that Alexei told the Itar-Tass news agency that the Vatican will be giving the Orthodox Church "one of many copies" of the famous icon of Kazan.

The original icon, painted in the 13th century, is among the most highly valued religious objects in the Orthodox heritage. But Patriarch Alexei argued that the icon now being held at the Vatican was a duplicate of the original, painted sometime in the 18th century.

Vatican art experts have reached a different conclusion, stating positively that the icon is the original image of Our Lady of Kazan. In the past, spokesmen for the Moscow Patriarchate have hinted that the Vatican should never have held the icon, since it was stolen from the Russian Church.

The icon will be handed over to the Moscow Patriarchate on 28 August, the date when the Orthodox world celebrates the Feast of the Assumption. One or more top Vatican officials are expected to travel to Russia for a ceremony on that date.

Last year, Vatican officials had proposed that the Pope might meet with Patriarch Alexei to hand over the icon. The Russian prelate told Itar-Tass that there was no reason for the Pope to be involved in the transfer, since the icon is not the original.

Russian patriarch says renowned icon is a copy (Catholic World News 13/8/04)

Russian Orthodox Leader Snubs Pontiff (The Guardian/Associated Press 13/8/04)
Moscow Patriarch says Pope needs a better excuse for visit (CathNews 22/5/04)
New Kazakhstan Dioceses provoke sharp Russian reaction (20/5/03)
Russian minister claims icon in Vatican is copy (29/4/03)
Pope confirms intention to return Icon of Our Lady of Kazan to Russia (2/4/03)
Icon could hold key to Church dialogue (Catholic Weekly)

16 Aug 2004