In August Juche 91 (2002), Chairman Kim Jong Il paid a visit to the Russian Far East.
When his train was approaching Khabarovsk, he said he wanted to visit St. Bishop Innokenty of Irkutsk Church, a Russian Orthodox church.
Surprised, the officials accompanying him said, “Only religious believers go there.”
Kim Jong Il responded:
Although I am not a believer, I am going to visit it because religion is also an object of politics. There is nothing wrong with us visiting a church, when the Russians are Orthodox Christians.
We must never be narrow-minded but respect the customs of other nations. If we visit the church, we will better understand the traditions of the Russian people and their thoughts, aspirations and wishes, and feel closer to the 60 million members of the Orthodox Church.
He explained that a politician ought to have a deep knowledge of religion, and told them about the origins of the Russian Orthodox Church and the history of its development.
The Russian Orthodox Church, he said, is recognized as the biggest of the world’s 15 orthodox churches and exerts a considerable influence on state policy in Russia.
At the church, he looked round the area. Suddenly the bells began to ring, deep and solemn.
Everyone looked in the direction from which the sound of the bells was coming.
Pointing to the bell tower, the church superior said that the bell ringers were ringing the bells to welcome Kim Jong Il.
He explained that nobody was entitled to ring the bells apart from graduates of the bell-ringing school, and that those who were now ringing the bells were the best ringers at the church.
It was a strict convention of the Russian Orthodox Church to ring the bells at noon, but the church had broken that convention.
“As the Sun has descended to our church, it is quite natural to ring the bells,” he said, putting his hands on his chest and then spreading his arms upward as if cheering.