SERGIYEV POSAD, Moscow Region -- Patriarch Alexy II on Thursday blessed two giant church bells made to replace a pair that were torn down from a tower at one of the country's holiest sites and destroyed 72 years ago under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
The bells -- each with President Vladimir Putin's name cast on its side in relief -- are to be hoisted up next month into the bell tower outside the Cathedral of the Assumption at Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery in Sergiyev Posad, about 55 kilometers northeast of Moscow.
In addition to Putin, the bells bear the names of Alexy, the abbot of the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery and its financial manager in old Russian-style lettering along the base, said Hierodeacon Yakov, a monk at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery.
He said Putin was mentioned because the bells were cast under his rule -- a tradition he said goes back centuries when the name of the ruling tsar was engraved on church bells.
Yakov also said it was done to thank Putin for creating a "favorable atmosphere" for religion and the church.
Putin is a practicing Orthodox Christian and embraced a new national anthem that celebrates Russia as a "holy country" that is "protected by God" -- although the tune is the same as the Soviet-era anthem that once praised the atheist Communist Party.
Dressed in a deep green velvet robe laced with golden thread and a a matching crown-like miter, Alexy chanted a blessing and sprinkled the bells with holy water from a big silver cup outside the church as thousands of believers packed into the sun-drenched square looked on.
"In 1930, these bells were cast down ... and broken, and it seemed they would never be restored and placed in the bell tower of Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery again," Alexy said. "But by the grace of God they have been restored, and today we bless these two bells."
The bells -- one weighing 27 tons and the other more than 35 tons -- were modeled after two that were destroyed as Stalin's campaign against religion raged. Church bells were smashed in cities and towns across the Soviet Union, and churches that were not torn down were used as breweries, factories, secret police facilities and for other purposes.
Yakov said the bells cost more than $2.2 million to make, all of it donated, much of it from the Nuclear Power Ministry. A list of donors posted outside the Assumption Church -- underneath photos of the broken bells -- includes six nuclear power plants as well as oil companies and banks.
The bells were poured at ZiL, the factory that made the limousines Stalin and other Soviet leaders rode in.
Church and ZiL officials said they are planning a third, even bigger bell to replace one that weighed more than 60 tons.
The two bells are to be raised by a 250-ton crane in late August.
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