Patriarch Kirill stressed at a mass that the Russian president, who returned the icon by decree last month, had taken a "historic decision" at a critical moment "when our homeland is facing immense enemy forces."

"Such events do not happen without divine intervention," said Kirill, 76, who is under sanctions by the U.K. and Canada for his support for the military offensive against Ukraine.

The icon, which depicts three angels sitting at a table, painted by monk and painter Andrei Rublev, canonized in the 1980s, was donated to the famous Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow by Soviet authorities in 1929.

In the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on June 4, 2023, where Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity returned to the Church by decree of Vladimir Putin © Sergey VLASOV / Moscow Patriarchate / AFP was brought

The Russian Church has demanded his return several times since the disappearance of the USSR.

The patriarch stressed that church leaders had prayed for God to "help our homeland," for the Russian army and "also prayed for our Orthodox president, Vladimir Putin."

© 2023 AFP