Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II told President Vladimir Putin Friday that Pope John Paul II is not welcome in Russia, reported The Associated Press.
The patriarch repeated that the icon the pontiff had hoped to return to Russia personally is only one of the many copies of a revered 16th-century work.
"For that reason there is no need for the pope himself to bring it," the patriarch reportedly said.
The Vatican icon – known as the Mother of God of Kazan – will be turned over to the Russian Orthodox Church at the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin Aug. 28, Itar-Tass reported.
The Russian Orthodox Church had said last year that the icon is a copy and could "under no circumstances be considered a reason" for a visit by the Pope. An agreement was made for a Vatican delegation to bring it instead. Two cardinals will reportedly give the icon to the Kremlin cathedral at the end of the month.
Pope John Paul had been hoping to return the icon himself and become the first pontiff to visit Russia, but tense relations with the Russian Orthodox Church have prevented such a trip.
The icon, which first appeared in the city of Kazan in 1579, is believed to work miracles. It is attributed with the defeat of Polish invaders from Russia in the early 17th century. It hung in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square and the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg before being taken to the West after the 1917 Revolution, without any real trace.
The Vatican copy was purchased in the 1970s by a Catholic group that later presented it to the Pope.