How sinful does a city have to be to make priests arm themselves with holy water and take to the skies? Whatever that threshold is, the Russian city of Tver apparently crossed it. If you had been in Tver this past Wednesday and looked up, you would have seen Russian priests hanging out of a rickety airplane, dumping holy water out of an over-sized gold chalice. Not a single part of that last sentence is comic exaggeration.
The airborne holy war against sin was undertaken on Russia's "sobriety day," an unofficial holiday with roots stretching back to imperial Russia. According to local news outlet Tvernews, this isn't the first time Russian Orthodox priests have taken to the skies. It's become tradition in Tver for the priests to fly over the city on sobriety day and pray to combat "drunkenness" and "fornication." This is, however, the first time they brought out the heavy artillery.
The plane was laden with priests, 70 liters of holy water, and holy relics from Tver, including a portrait of John the Baptist and the "Inexhaustible Chalice" that delivered the payload. A priest wearing a harness that kept him from falling from the plane leaned out the open door and doused the city with holy water while another chanted prayers.
Far from being a publicity stunt or spectacle for spectacle's sake, the Tver clergy takes this act very seriously. Russia has an enormous problem with alcoholism, one that the government and church is trying—moderately successfully—to combat. The organizer of the dousing, Father Alexander Goryachev, says that their efforts have resulted in "miraculous" recoveries from alcoholism. He says:
"Together with the 'Inexhaustible Chalice' icon, we have been flying over Tver since 2006, this is a city relic. If you want to - believe it or not - but one day, when he saw a plane flying, the husband told his wife that he would [quit drinking]....And now two couples came with us who were reunited due to the deliverance of the man from drunkenness in Tver."
Father Alexander believes that all diseases can be cured by spiritual means, as they all have a spiritual cause. He says:
"Any disease is from a virus, and a virus is a demon. Therefore, any disease is primarily a spiritual disease."
While that statement is completely and unequivocally false, alcoholism is a real and very serious problem. So if their airborne assault helped anyone, then that's awesome. It's still absolutely hilarious. And that's fine with Father Alexander. While he takes his work seriously, he says it doesn't bother him in the slightest that people might laugh:
"Laugh - laughter prolongs life. Just what is laughter [for]? Is it that we are trying to help people get rid of diseases? In what we advocate - stop use alcohol, drugs, stop fornication - does it cause laughter? Let them laugh - and we will do our job."
While I certainly will laugh, I'll also readily acknowledge that a bearded old man hanging out of an airplane fighting for his neighbors' immortal souls with divine magic is also really cool.