Passengers on Route 666 Find Redemption at Last

To some, it was just a bus. To others, it was a sign of evil.

To Moscow transit officials, Bus 666 was a headache, what with all the letters from passengers, complaints from the church warden, and wise-guy newspaper articles.

So they're changing it as of March 26, to the non-apocalyptic Bus 616, transit officials said Wednesday.

The issue stems from the Bible's Book of Revelation, which tells of a beast who will persecute Christians before the end of the world. "And the number of the beast is six hundred threescore and six," or 666, according to the King James Version. The number therefore has evil - even satanic - connotations for some.

But in 1983, when Bus 666 first prowled its route between the Noviye Cheryomushki and Prospekt Vernadskogo metro stations, city officials rested secure in the official ideology of atheism and couldn't care less about Muscovite religious worries, which people probably wouldn't have dared to express anyway.

But times are different now, and on top of that the bus passes the Trinity Church in Vorontsovo, where parishioners have seen the number as far more than a coincidence.

"Some say it's just a number, but numbers are related to very serious things," said church warden Vitaly Lakshin. "Every Orthodox person should understand it."

Even though Lakshin couldn't recall any inexplicable or evil accidents related to the 666 bus, the Trinity Church parishioners and other passengers have been complaining since 1991 - to little effect. "We have been to the bus park and Mosgortrans [the city public transport authorities] and have written lots of letters," Lakshin said. "We thought it was such a easy problem, but nobody supported us."

The situation changed when he contacted Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper begging for help. The paper published an article, and, miraculously, the power of the printed word worked on Mosgortrans bureaucrats - they found that the number 616 had fallen out of use after that route was eliminated. Perhaps providentially, the new number is also similar to the old one, which is a benefit for passengers used to travelling on the same bus for years and those with bad eyesight, a Mosgortrans spokeswoman said.

Bus 666 is history, but there's still a bus, a trolleybus and a tram numbered 13, called a devil's dozen in Russia. But, says church warden Lakshin, transit officials can rest easy about that.

"Thirteen is not something one should be worried about," he said with a laugh. "It's a lucky number for many."