Going to the Rails to Revive the Faith in Russia

1,000 Baptisms Result from Orthodox Proselytism

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MOSCOW, SEPT. 5, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A trainload of Orthodox missionaries made use of songs, plays and debates during a monthlong trip of evangelization through Siberia and the Russian Far East.



The train arrived in Moscow last Saturday, after traveling 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) to revive the Orthodox faith, which has been threatened by sects in isolated regions.

"Siberia was the region that suffered most from forced atheism" during the Soviet period, Father Sergui Popov told Agence France-Presse. The priest led the expedition to the East.

"There are few churches in remote regions and some inhabitants have never heard religious songs or had access to religious literature," he emphasized.

Following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and the new legislation´s proclamation of freedom of conscience, "Russians have wanted to find faith in God again, but they have fallen into the trap of sects," the priest lamented.

"Our objective was to show people the beauty of the Orthodox religion," he explained, adding that the missionaries held "very lively discussions with the Pentecostals and the followers of the Russian sect of Vissarion," who claims to be a reincarnation of Christ.

The four-wagon missionary train, one of which was converted into a sumptuous chapel, left Moscow on Aug. 7, linked to a regular passenger train. "This wagon, which we changed into a chapel last October, is a gift from the Railroad Ministry, which has helped us a lot with the project," Father Popov explained.

Some 30 missionaries, including priests, seminarians, choir members and actors, went on the journey, which was blessed by Russian Patriarch Alexy II.

The group visited hospitals, schools, orphanages, residences for the elderly, and prisons. More than 1,000 Russians were baptized during the course of the trip.

"More than 100 people received baptism in the waters of Lake Baikal; it was very spectacular," Russian actress Natalia Piarn said, who traveled with three other actors of her Dialogue Theater.

"We presented two shows, one dedicated to the Second World War, and the other to the life and work of Alexander Pushkin," the actress stressed. "The trip was a harmonious union of culture and spirituality."

This was the third trip of the missionary train since last October, but the two preceding journeys, to the region of Arkhangelsk and Karelia, in the Russian northeast, lasted only 10 days.

"During the Soviet period, religious proselytism was prohibited by law," Father Popov noted. "Before the 1917 Revolution, there already were missionary trains and today we want to resurrect this tradition."