A “chapel boat” containing relics of eight saints has begun a cruise along the Volga River. The relics are a gift from the Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church and could have a deeply symbolic impact, one expert says.
The relics are from Sts. John the Baptist, Anne, Bartholomew the Apostle, martyrs Stephen and Lawrence, George, John Chrysostom and Cyril. All the saints lived before the Great Schism split the eastern and western Churches.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports that the ship carrying the relics is called “Fr. Werenfried” after the ACN founder who created the mission to convert boats into chapels. Fr. Werenfried van Straaten called them the “flotilla for God.” The boats allow services to be celebrated in places without churches.
Peter Humeniuk, ACN’s Russia expert, helped organized the project.
“Since the earliest days of Christianity, the Church has been seen as a ship, an ‘ark of salvation’,” he told ACN. “And 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.”
On Sunday, Sept. 12, Russian Orthodox Metropolitan German of Volgograd and Kamyshin led a service on the quayside of Kirovkij harbor in Volgograd. Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, the first secretary of the apostolic nunciature to the Russian Federation, also took part in the service and carried the relics onto the boat.
The boat has received the blessing of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and will travel about 1,900 miles from the mouth of the Volga to Moscow. The ship will stop at various towns and cities, including Saratov, Kazan and Novgorod, to allow as many people as possible to venerate the relics.
An Orthodox priest will be onboard at all times to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in the boat’s chapel, which is dedicated to St. Vladimir.
Stops include areas afflicted by drought and wildfires this summer. Archbishop Antonio Mennini, apostolic nuncio to the Russian Federation, has sent a letter expressing his hope that those affected by the disasters will find comfort and consolation through the boat’s visit.