A boat laden with the relics of eight saints from the first millennium of the Church has started a historic ecumenical journey along the Volga River.
The Chapel Boat set off on Monday, September 13th, transporting across Russia the relics of eight saints from the age of the undivided Church.
The ship carrying the relics is called ‘Fr. Werenfried’ after Aid to the Church in Need’s founder, who spearheaded the initiative to convert boats into chapels to allow services to be celebrated in places that have no church.
The relics are a gift from the Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church.
ACN’s Russia expert Peter Humeniuk, who was involved in the organization of the project, said he believes that it will have a profound symbolic impact.
“Since the earliest days of Christianity, the Church has been seen as a ship, an ‘ark of salvation.’”
“On board the vessel, the relics of those saints from the era of the still undivided Church will be a powerful reminder of precisely those times when this image of the Church was first formed and when Christians were still united.”
The relics being carried are those of saints who are important to both Churches. The saints are Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anne, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle, the martyrs Saint Stephen and Saint Lawrence, Saint George, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Cyril, the missionary to the Slav people.
The boat, whose ecumenical journey has received the blessing of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, will travel some 1,900 miles from the mouth of the River Volga to Moscow.
On the way the ship will stop at various towns and cities, including Saratov, Kazan, and Novgorod, as well as many smaller places, to enable as many people as possible to venerate the relics it is carrying.
There will be an Orthodox priest on board at all times to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the boat’s chapel, dedicated to St. Vladimir, who baptized Russia.
The ship’s voyage will include stops in regions that suffered from drought and wildfires in July and August.
The Apostolic Nuncio to the Russian Federation, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, sent a letter expressing his hopes that those in the affected regions will find comfort and consolation through this visit.
[Sunday], September12th, a service was held on the quayside in Kirovskij harbor, Volgograd.
It was led by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan German of Volgograd and Kamyshin.
Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, the first secretary of the Holy See’s Apostolic Nunciature to the Russian Federation, also took part in the service and carried the relics on board the chapel boat.
In order to make its epic journey from the Volga delta to the upper reaches of the river, the chapel boat will first of all travel south, visiting the regions of Kalmykia and Astrakhan.
From there it will travel northwards along the river called “Highway of Russia.”
The chapel boats, which are still in use on the Volga and Don rivers, were called the “flotilla for God” by ACN’s founder Fr. Werenfried van Straaten.