Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took a "vacation day" on February 8 to meet as a presidential candidate with religious leaders at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, where the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, characterized Putin's time in charge of Russia as a "miracle."
The patriarch told Putin religious leaders wanted to meet with him "as prime minister, but first of all as a candidate for president of our country, who has the best chance" to win the March election.
Kirill directly addressed Putin, saying the last 12 years were a "miracle" for the church and the Russian state. Putin was president from 2000 to 2008 and prime minister since then. Kirill wished Putin "God's help" and a long and happy life.
Besides the Russian Orthodox patriarch, leaders of Russia's Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist communities were in attendance, as well as representatives from the Armenian, Roman Catholic, and other Christian communities.
Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, alluded to the February 4 antigovernment demonstrations in Russia, saying "the fact the [demonstrations] took place on Saturday suggest that it was not a Jewish event." Lazar quipped, "We joked in the synagogue that it would have been better to come for prayer on that day."
The chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, also lent Putin the support of his followers, saying: "Muslims know you. Muslims trust you. Muslims are wishing you success."
The chairman of the North Caucasus Muslim Coordinating Center, Ismail Berdiyev, praised Putin for preserving Russia as a state and criticized those who were protesting against Putin and the government. Berdiyev called antigovernment protesters "the loud-mouthed minority" and said too much attention was being paid to them. Berdiyev claimed Putin enjoyed the overwhelming support of Muslims in the North Caucasus.
For his part, Putin stressed the need for more religious faith in Russia. Putin said the "voice of the church" was not heard often enough on television and he considered it necessary to devote more air time to religious themes.
Putin also said he would give instructions to defense and education officials to work with religious officials to develop "military clergy."
Putin also assured them that the state was "not going to and will not interfere in the affairs of religious organizations."
Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin was taking a one-day holiday from his job as prime minister to spend time as a presidential candidate.