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Orthodox Flock to Relic in Ukraine

June 29, 2000

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) _ Tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians stood in line in Kiev for hours on Thursday to worship the head of St. Panteleimon, which was brought to Ukraine from a monastery on Greece’s Mt. Athos.

Monastery officials said up to 80,000 people, including President Leonid Kuchma, have already visited the site since the relic arrived last week.

To cope with the crowds, the monastery cave where the saint’s head is on display was kept open around the clock this week.

St. Panteleimon, a martyr revered as a healer by Orthodox Christians, lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Trained as a physician, church tradition says he used both his knowledge and prayer to cure the sick until being tortured and killed in 305.

His remains are kept in the Russian Orthodox Panteleimonovsky Monastery on Mt. Athos, a rugged peninsula in Greece that is home to a number of Orthodox monasteries.

On Thursday, some in the crowd said they had been waiting 14 hours to kiss the casket.

Most of them were elderly women, but the line also included teen-agers and desperate parents holding sick children, who they believed the saint would cure.

``We no longer put any hope in doctors,″ said Yelena, a young woman who brought her paralyzed 4-year-old girl from a village near Kiev.

The believers also included people from neighboring Russia and Belarus, who made the pilgrimage after learning that St. Panteleimon’s head was in Kiev. Ukraine has undergone a major upsurge in religious observance since the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union in 1991.

The relic will stay in Kiev’s Monastery of the Caves until July 9.

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