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Southernmost Russian Orthodox Church – comfort in the cold

Published time: June 18, 2011 05:24
Edited time: June 18, 2011 11:54

It would be natural to imagine that dealing with the fierce climate in Antarctica leaves little time for religion. But as RT found out during a visit to the southernmost continent, that is not the case.

­Perched atop a picturesque, rocky hill overlooking the sea, sits a typical and tiny Russian Orthodox church.  The scene, which looks like it was taken right out of a Siberian picture-book, is in fact one of the views of Russia’s Bellinsghausen Polar Station.

So far, this is the only Russia’s Antarctic station that has a church. This makes the Trinity Church the southernmost Russian Orthodox church on the planet.

“In 2002, they built the temple from the Siberian pine tree in Altai,” says Father Saphrony. “The church was built and it sat there for a little while until the end of 2003. They numbered all the parts, every beam was disassembled, and they transported it to Kaliningrad [in Western Russia]. From there it was shipped all the way here to Antarctica.”

Since February 15, 2004, the church has been officially up and running, with the Orthodox Church providing a staff of two specially-trained monks each year. But given the extreme climate in which they operate, they face extreme challenges as well.

“Because the conditions in Antarctica are unusual, with strong winds, we need to resist the power of the wind with such strong, tight walls and special chains,” Father Saphrony continued. “Sometimes the precipitation here comes at us horizontally, with the wind blowing so that the water is not just coming through the cracks, but also it can climb upwards to leak inside.”

Now, the Trinity Church has become a sort of Antarctica landmark, even becoming somewhat of tourist destination for VIPs and diplomats.

“No matter who visits this church, they always say it is beautiful. It is a remarkable church made out of wood in a Russian architectural tradition,” says Father Saphrony.

More than just a popular attraction for tourists, the building at Bellingshausen Station on King George Island is a gem of the Russian Orthodox faith and a fully functioning facility, even providing extremely rare matrimonial honors for those lucky in love.

“I came here for a long stay, 16 months, and I had no idea that there was a church. In Russia, I was not a frequent visitor to church, but here somehow I started to be,” says Pyotr Fomin, who was married at the Trinity Church. “Before I left Russia, I promised Svetlana that I would bring her here any possible way. I was not sure how, but I promised that I would. While Svetlana was still in Russia, I got the idea: why not to have our wedding in this church?”

Pyotor and Svetlana are one of only two couples to have been married here at Trinity, making their marriage a part of Antarctic history.

“It is a very good feeling, but in reality you don't think that you belong to some exclusive circle, because for me at least, the most important thing is the wedding itself and the location: it’s secondary,” Svetlana told RT. “But I like this church very much. It is very comfortable and you feel very special here.”

The Russian tradition in Antarctica goes back to the very discovery of the continent, and according to Russian Orthodoxy, it is only fitting that there is an official testament to that history.

“This church, just by its presence, speaks volumes,” Father Saphrony explains. “For every person, not just Russian, but even for foreigners, the presence of a church here means a Godly presence in Antarctica.”

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