President Vladimir Putin's successor, Dmitry Medvedev, was inaugurated in the Kremlin with pomp, circumstance, and prayers from Patriarch Alexei II of the Russian Orthodox Church - writes Sophia Kishkovsky.
After the main ceremony on 7 May, at a moleben, or prayer service, in a Kremlin cathedral, the Patriarch, who had stood in the front of the hall during the swearing-in, paid tribute to the new president.
"In your faithfulness to your calling and duty, you have always been an example of conscientious and sincere service to Russia," Alexei said, in his nationally broadcast comments. "You have laboured zealously for the good of our multi-national people."
Moscow is rife with speculation about the extent to which Putin will attempt to dominate a Medvedev presidency. The 42-year-old president is a soft-spoken lawyer who won a landslide victory in the 2 March presidential elections and has been Putin's protégé since they worked in the St Petersburg administration in the 1990s. The new president served as chief of staff and first deputy premier during Putin's two presidential terms.
Putin was ever present during the inauguration ceremonies at the Grand Kremlin Palace, where Medvedev took the oath of office in front of 2000 guests with his hand on the Russian Constitution. As promised, on taking office, Medvedev chose Putin as his prime minister, an appointment that was speedily confirmed by an overwhelming vote by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on 8 May.
But Putin appeared to be absent from the Kremlin's Cathedral of the Annunciation service led by Patriarch Alexei. Medvedev has said he was baptised as an adult, in the waning days of the Soviet era. His wife, Svetlana Medvedeva, has been active in charitable programmes of the Russian Orthodox Church in recent years.
The Patriarch presented the Medvedevs with a copy of the Icon of the Vladimir Mother of God, one of the most revered Russian Orthodox icons, credited with protecting Moscow from a Mongol invasion. The couple were shown making the sign of the cross and kissing the icon.
"I want to assure you that those special, trustful relations that have taken shape between the State and the Russian Orthodox Church will be preserved and will develop for the good of our Motherland, for the good of every person living in our country," Medvedev assured the Patriarch.
The close relations between the Russian church and State has faced strong criticism from some quarters. An editorial in Vedomosti, a business newspaper known for its liberal slant, described the emphasis on the Patriarch's role in the inauguration as "an indirect reference to pre-revolutionary times".
Along with the renewed emphasis on the Second World War Victory Day celebration, which is marked on 9 May, it is part of an effort to find positive symbols of national identity in Russian history, the newspaper. Post-Soviet Russia, writes Vedomosti, has no such convincing symbols, so they must be sought in the past.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]