(Photo: Facebook/RIA Novosti)
The Russian military has introduced a high-tech air-dropped church along with a unit of priests trained in parachuting and vehicle assembly to serve the army and navy's Orthodox Christian soldiers in the field. The European country claims its airborne-friendly and ready-to-assemble house of worship is the first the world has ever seen, although similar structures have long been in existence.
RIA Novisit, Russian's official news and information agency, shared photos over the weekend on its Facebook page of paratroopers holding exercises near Ryazan, about 124 miles from Moscow. The news agency noted that among the "ordinary paratroopers" were paratrooper priests and their "mobile cathedral."
The paratrooper chaplains are among a preliminary group of about a dozen Russian Orthodox Church priests assigned to the country's Baltic Fleet in an effort to restore full-service chaplaincy to the country's armed forces, according to RIA Novisit. Russia is reportedly planning to assign 400 military chaplains to army and naval units.
A spokesman for the Western Military District told the news agency that the paratrooper priests' primary responsibilities were "to meet the spiritual demands of military personnel and to improve morale and discipline in military units."
Russia Today reports that the mobile church resembles a normal army tent, as seen in the Facebook photo above, and includes an air conditioner and fridge and is maintained by a diesel power source. "The chapel is put on the ground with an airborne platform used to carry armored vehicles and other heavy military equipment," according to the RT.com report.
Other images shared by RIA Novisit show a mobile church flying via multiple parachutes through the sky and a priest ministering to soldiers inside one of these unassuming church tents lined with religious imagery and light bulbs.
Some commenters on the RT.com report compared the mobile church and paratrooping priests to mobile hospital units, with one reader suggesting, "There are mobile hospitals in most armies – these are needed to help cure injuries. There are believers – they need the priests ... to help cure their souls, and most nominally Orthodox people would more likely talk to a priest, than to some psychology medic."
The same reader questioned, however, the necessity of creating or deploying special church structures for priests ministering to religious soldiers in the field. Russians reportedly have been debating the cost of rearmament and increased military spending.
Reportedly two-thirds of Russia's service members are religious, with 83 percent identifying as Orthodox Christians and 17 percent identifying as Muslim or another faith.
Oliver Wainwright of the Guardian compared Russia's mobile churches to the mobile synagogues launched in 2011 by the Israeli Defense Force and Transport for Christ's mobile chapel unit that travels across the U.S. to evangelize truck drivers.