Moscow, September 20, Interfax - The number of Russian pilgrims visiting Israel has grown, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said.
"The flow of pilgrims has seriously increased today. I do not know your statistics, but our figures indicate that some 300,000 people visited Israel in the space of one year. The role of the religious factor in relations between our countries and peoples is growing," the patriarch said at a meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Russia Zvi Heifetz in Moscow on Tuesday.
The Holy Land has always had a special place in the minds of Russian Orthodox people, he said.
The 170th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian spiritual mission in Jerusalem will be marked next year, the patriarch said.
The patriarch said that he had always been "a staunch supporter of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Soviet Union."
"I am pleased to say today that we are speaking about friendly relations between the two countries. And the presence of people linked with Russia, its culture and language by birth among citizens of Israel has certainly contributed to it to a large extent. Still I do not know your figures, but, according to our figures, there are around 1.5 million people [in Israel] who freely speak Russian," he said.