The restored Orthodox Cathedral of the Myrrh-Bearing Women has been opened in Baku.
When speaking at the opening ceremony, President of Azerbaijan Gheidar Aliyev said that the establishment of "good relations" between the country's faiths - Islam, Judaism and Orthodoxy - could "become an example for many countries." The head of state also said that the cathedral, which was built in 1909 with private money, had enjoyed great popularity among the Russian Orthodox population before it was closed in the 1920s.
The Bishop of Baku and the Caspian, Father Alexander read out a message from Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexei II, calling the cathedral's restoration a symbol of friendship between the peoples of Russia and Azerbaijan, as well as the Orthodox and Islamic faiths.
Gheidar Aliyev awarded Father Alexander with an Order of Honour for his services in bringing the two nations closer together.
In Soviet times, the cathedral was closed, but in 1991, the half-ruined building was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church.
In May 2001, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia consecrated the building during a trip to Azerbaijan and conferred the status of a cathedral in the Baku and Caspian diocese on it.
The cathedral houses an arc containing the relics of one of the most holy people to conquer Baku - the apostle Bartholomew, who, according to historical chronicles, spread the word of Christianity on the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan.
The Vice-President of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress, Aidyn Kurbanov, who is a Muslim married to a Russian and lives in Russia, has led the cathedral's restoration work over the last few years.
Work to restore the cathedral's interior was undertaken as part of the overall effort. A new stone iconostasis was built, as were icon-cases around the building, while new icons were painted and new windows and doors were put in place.
There are currently six parishes in Azerbaijan, five of which have their own consecrated churches and two chapels.
Out of the approximately 150,000 Russians living in Azerbaijan, the majority are Orthodox Christians and periodically go to church.
Moreover, Orthodox churches in the country are also attended by Ukrainians, Georgians, Geeks and Belarussians.