MOSCOW – Wanted: One missing Russian church. Last seen in July. Reward for its return.
Orthodox officials in a central Russian region say an abandoned church building that was to be put back into use has been stolen by local villagers.
Orthodox priest Vitaly of the Ivanovo-Voskresenskaya diocese says officials last saw the two-story Church of Resurrection intact in late July. Sometime in early October, however, people from the nearby village of Komarovo, northeast of Moscow, dismantled the building, he said.
Villagers apparently sold it to a local businessman, one ruble (about 4 cents) per brick, Vitaly said. Orthodox priests use only one name.
"Of course, this is blasphemy," he told The Associated Press. "These people have to realize they committed a grave sin."
Vitaly said police were investigating the theft.
The 200-year-old building, which no longer had its icons and other religious valuables, was a school for disabled children during the Soviet era before it was closed down in 1998 and turned over to the church.
Vitaly said the diocese was thinking of reopening it for services.
The Orthodox church has experienced a major resurgence in Russia and has restored or built thousands of churches.
In poorer, rural regions, vandals or petty thieves regularly steal gilded icons or donations from churches and sell them for alcohol or drugs.