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a travelling Orthodox church in Russia: religion on rails

Just before seven in the morning the train reaches Patschelma, a tiny out of the way spot on a branch line some 800 km east of Moscow (and not the much larger place of the same name near Panza). No ordinary train though, this early morning arrival that shudders to a halt on tracks that are scarcely visible through the snow. For this is a church train, a travelling outpost of Russia's Orthodox Church. Some of the older people of the village who gather on the platforms to greet Father Sergej and his assistant Father Igor can remember Patschelma's old church which was closed down in 1938. For years, there were no Orthodox services in this region, but now some communities benefit from occasional visits by this church of the rails.

Half the houses in Patschelma are abandoned, and as in so many villages of the region, the legacy of perestroika is economic decline and desperation. It is the women who keep life going here.

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