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In late 1917, as militant Bolshevik revolutionaries began their reign of terror, a council of bishops, priests and laity – or sobor – gathered in the cathedral and restored the Patriarchate of Moscow (which had been eliminated by Peter the Great), electing the sainted Metropolitan of Moscow, Tikhon, as Patriarch.

As part of his campaign to build a new nation, a “socialist paradise,” in which God had no role, Josef Stalin ordered the destruction of the cathedral. After several attempts to destroy the edifice failed, the massive structure finally succumbed to dynamite in 1931. Architectural fragments of the structure were later used to build Moscow’s subway.

On the site of the demolished Christ the Redeemer, Stalin proposed the building of a Palace of the Soviets. If constructed, it would have been the tallest building in the world, at that time. It was to be topped by a 300-foot-high statue of Lenin, whose index finger alone measured 18 feet. World War II interrupted any hope of the project’s completion. In the end, it never progressed farther than its foundations. The site lay neglected until 1959, when a large outdoor swimming pool was built there.

The pool was kept at a constant 80 degrees Fahrenheit even in the coldest winter. Steam rising from the pool would keep the bathers’ heads warm and shroud the whole area in mist. Ten years ago the pool was closed and the site was made ready again, for a renewed Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer.

This cathedral is a virtual replica of the first. But whereas the first one took 44 years to build, the new one, thanks to modern construction techniques and seemingly unlimited funds, was built in three. It is said to have cost well in excess of $1 billion.

“The rebuilding of Christ the Redeemer was of particular importance to us at the turn of the new millennium,” said the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II. “It symbolizes both the rebirth of the Orthodox faith and the rebirth of the Russian nation.”

On the other hand, Father Gleb Yakunin, an outspoken Orthodox priest and former Duma deputy, opposed the project from the start.

“Now is not the time to build this cathedral,” he said. “It is wrong to spend so much money on a church when people are so poor.”

The statistics of the new building are as mind-boggling as the original: The cathedral stands 330 feet high, the cupola measures 100 feet in diameter and more than 800,000 square feet of marble and granite were brought from all over Russia or imported from throughout the world.

The white marble iconostasis, an icon screen separating the nave from the sanctuary, is shaped in the form of a chapel and stands four stories high with its own gold cupola 80 feet across and a marble surface of 7,000 square feet.

“Worthwhile things don’t just appear,” said sculptor Zurab Tseratelli, who designed the massive bronze doors at the front of the cathedral.

“This cathedral is the affirmation of the faith that was stolen from the people of Russia. I believe its rebuilding is the wisest decision.”

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Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Architecture Frescoes