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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Church Train Rolls Out to Far-Flung Faithful

In 1896 Tsar Nicholas II ordered a church to be built on wheels to bring Russian Orthodox Mass to the farthest reaches of Siberia.

More than a hundred years later the second of those evangelical vehicles was born when a light-blue wagon was blessed by Patriarch Alexy II under the metal arched roof of Kievsky Station on a cold Wednesday afternoon.

"We’re very glad that we’ve been allowed to return to this 100-year-old tradition," said Alexy II at the ceremony.

The "church on wheels," he said, would carry the faith to the many small towns and difficult to reach points in the country that do not have access to a Russian Orthodox church or priest.

"We bless this church to help people return to their faith," he said.

Built and paid for by the Railways Ministry, the church is an ordinary carriage transformed. Stained-glass windows replace the ordinary ones. Instead of the destination sign, a prayer in Church Slavonic is written in large letters along both lengths of the carriage.

The church — dedicated to one of the most prominent images of the Virgin Mary that depicts her as a guide — has two large icons of the mother and child attached to each side of the carriage.

Inside the worshiper walks a corridor typical of any carriage into one large room that has been sumptuously decorated in accordance with church norms.

"The carriage is the only thing that shows it isn’t [a church]," said Archpriest Georgy Studyonov, who accompanied Alexy II during the ceremony in the carriage. "Everything else is completely like a real church. Even better than some churches.

"I was astounded. It was all done with love," he said, adding that Alexy II was delighted.

Alexy II said the church was part of the restoration of the spiritual life of the country after 70 years of communism. Some 12,000 churches, he said, have been restored, built or renovated in the past 10 years, and the carriage would help bring people back to church.

The church will be based at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery at Sergiyev Posad outside Moscow when not traveling the country. It’s first mission begins Thursday at 12:33 p.m. when it leaves from Yaroslavl Station and heads for the Arkhangelsk Region. It’s first mass is set for Friday morning.

A typical journey will consist of one day in each town before a night journey to the next village or town.

The church will be manned by, among others, missionaries from the Belgorod seminary, Alexy II said.

The Orthodox Church began missionary work a few years ago to reach out to people in Russia "not in other countries," said the patriarch in a pointed reference to the number of foreign missionaries who have flocked to Russia over the past 10 years.

A second carriage will be used as accommodation for the priests, students and railway workers who will go on the journeys.

The idea for the church came three years ago at the All-Russia Convention for Railway Workers when a priest put it forward, said Viktor Skorik, deputy general director of the Moscow Carriage Building Factory that built the church. There was also recent talk of constructing a similar church in the Far East.

"There was a carriage at the start of the century, then there was a break, and now there is one again," said Skorik. "Today is a return of the memories of the last century."

Trains are not the only way the church has for spreading its faith. Churches have also been built on boats and barges that traverse the rivers Volga and Ob.