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Church afloat fishes for souls on Volga

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2004.11.06 The Times: November 06, 2004 Church afloat fishes for souls on Volga From Jeremy Page in Moscow THE Russian Orthodox Church and an eccentric
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2004
      2004.11.06 The Times:
      November 06, 2004

      Church afloat fishes for souls on Volga

      From Jeremy Page in Moscow
      THE Russian Orthodox Church and an eccentric businessman have launched a
      "church boat" on the River Volga in an attempt to reach hundreds of
      thousands of followers in remote villages along its banks.

      The ship is a replica of a church boat, the Saint Nicholas, which steamed
      up and down Europe's longest river at the start of the last century but was
      destroyed after the Bolshevik Revolution.

      The new boat, the Saint Vladimir, is the latest novel attempt by the
      Russian Orthodox Church to maintain the momentum of a religious revival
      sparked by the Soviet Union's collapse and to fend off other religions and
      spiritual groups.

      Yet, surprisingly, the project was mostly funded by a Roman Catholic
      charity despite a bitter rift between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox
      Church over alleged proselytising by Catholic missionaries.

      The project was also the brainchild of a "new Russian" businessman with a
      passion for sailing, who adopted the Russian Orthodox faith in the 1990s,
      along with many of the post-Soviet elite, including President Putin.

      Vladimir Karetsky, who runs a successful railway cargo company in
      Volgograd, decided to build the boat when he was caught in a fierce storm
      while crossing the Atlantic in a 7m yacht with his 14-year-old son.

      "My son was terrified so I told him that if there was a God we would be
      saved and I would build a church boat to thank Him," he recalled, when
      speaking to The Times.

      When he had completed his voyage from the Black Sea to Toronto, he returned
      to Russia and contacted the Russian Orthodox Church, which he had already
      helped to build one church on land.

      He also contacted a Roman Catholic charity called Aid to the Church in
      Need, which agreed to co-finance the project.

      With its help, Mr Karetsky then bought a 300-tonne, 75m former commando
      ship and had it refitted with living quarters for a priest and a church,
      complete with an iconostasis, altar, bells and three golden onion domes.

      "We didn't count the cost: every penny is for God," said Mr Karetetsky.

      The boat was blessed by Metropolitan German, the head of the Russian
      Orthodox Church in Volgograd, last week and hosted its first baptism on
      Wednesday.

      "It is meant to reach out to people in remote areas where churches can't
      be built for financial or environmental reasons," said Thomas Koetter, a
      spokesman for Aid to Church in Need, which is based in Frankfurt.

      The charity was also involved in the launch of two church barges that are
      towed up and down the Volga in the spring and summer, when the river is not
      frozen.

      The Church claims the travelling barges have been a huge success,
      attracting thousands of believers and new converts. It says they have even
      reported miracles.

      Hundreds of churches in the Volgograd region were destroyed in the last
      century during Soviet anti-religion campaigns and in the Second World War
      when Volgograd - then Stalingrad - was the site of a crucial battle between
      Nazi and Soviet forces.

      The area is now a key battleground between the Russian Orthodox Church,
      other traditional faiths, and a pot pourri of spiritual and quasi-religious
      groups which proliferated after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
      Local priests said groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, often the
      target of criticism from the Orthodox Church, have converted thousands of
      people in remote villages in the region.
      Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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