Russia's new president Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday vowed to strengthen relations with the Orthodox Church after receiving a blessing from Patriarch Alexy II in a Kremlin cathedral.
"I assure you that the special relationship between the state and the Orthodox Church will be preserved and developed for the good of the homeland," Medvedev told the patriarch at the religious ceremony.
Medvedev crossed himself in front of an icon of the Virgin Mary in images broadcast on state television and told the patriarch that Russia had turned the page on a turbulent history that saw repression of the church.
"The history of our country in the 20th century has been very dramatic. It has been a story of dead people, of broken hopes. Only at the end of the 20th century has Russia taken a new path of development," Medvedev said.
The ceremony took place in the Cathedral of the Annunciation, a 15th century gold-domed church in the Kremlin that was once a private chapel for the Tsars and contains priceless icons.
Administering the blessing, Patriarch Alexy II said: "I congratulate you on such an important event in your life and in the life of this country -- your appointment as President of the Russian Federation."
Russia's first two presidents after the fall of the Soviet Union -- Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin -- both had close links with the Orthodox church despite having been Communist Party faithful.