2008-04-09 12:00:00

A new stage of Russian exploration of the Arctic to be anticipated with the Divine Liturgy

Archbishop Ignaty of Petropavlovsk and Kamchatka, who was the first to conduct the Divine Liturgy at the North Pole, shared his impressions with Interfax-Religion correspondent Yelena Zhosul.


- The North Pole has at all times attracted people. Nansen tried to reach it, but failed. Robert Peary sacrificed 20 years of his life on this Arctic ice altar, and could not reach the Pole. So many people - scientists, researchers, military men - have been trying to get to the world's most northern spot by all means, overcoming thinkable and unthinkable challenges which were sometimes hazardous to life, and could even result in death for some venturers.

What kind of huge and powerful drive is rooted in the souls of these people, and what kind of mighty mechanism encourages them to face these perils? Certainly, there should be a lot of answers to this question. Some dream of becoming famous, others are driven by research interests; some aspire to self-knowledge and self-esteem, and others are encouraged by the inherent deep call of the North, "the white silence", according to Jack London. There may also be people who follow their mercantile interests... I can testify that no one in our team had any of the above motives. What were our motives? What commitment made us make this trip to the North Pole?

The main commitment of a priest is his commitment to God. The main service of the Orthodox Church is the Divine Liturgy. It is conducted in the Far East, in the city of apostles Peter and Paul (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky - IF), and in the faraway West, and at the southernmost location of our planet, Antarctica, which houses a recently erected church and a community of monks "fighting a good fight". But this saving divine sacrament has never before been conducted at the North Pole. How does the Book of Psalms praise the Apostles' acts? "Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world." The Divine Liturgy should also reach the northernmost spot of our planet. And the word of God should many a time sound at this northern location. And many a time should the Holy Communion announce to the world the great Commandments of Christ, the great feat of Christ which he committed through crucifix and great sufferings for the sake of each and everyone of us, His Holy Resurrection, and the road to Eternal Life open to every individual. This is worth any effort and labour. All the more so, a priest should be a priest everywhere. It is a priest's oath he gives in ordainment, rather than just pompous words.

We believe that the Holy Spirit shall descend upon this floating continent. God's Grace shall descend here, upon this place where brave and courageous Russian people we met during our expedition work and serve, and devotedly guard the borders of our Motherland.

A new large-scale stage of Russian Arctic exploration is under way now, after a long break caused by the perestroika and the hardships of the reconstruction period. But let us remember the words of Christ: "For without me ye can do nothing". It means, that it is impossible to commence any effort without a prayer to God, otherwise, it will bring no good results. Such results may be important for our mortal life, but they will be lost to our spiritual life. Therefore, to commence a new research of the "white silence", Russian scientists needed to raise their prayer, the most effective prayer of Russian Orthodoxy - the Divine Liturgy.

I would like to draw special attention, that this expedition became possible through the support of the Russian Aviation Department of the Federal Security Service and personal involvement of its head, Nikolay Fedorovich Gavrilov, Hero of Russia, a wonderful man, a warrior, and a committed Christian. This is yet another evidence of favourable cooperation of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Army. There was a time when Russian Orthodoxy, Russian priests blessed warriors for the battle for faith, their people and Motherland. And now, Russian warriors help our priests to reach almost inaccessible locations to bring the word of God "to the end of the world".
Of cause, I had no chance before to serve the Divine Liturgy in such environment. We put up our church tent in cold strong wind, in the snow, and the shining sunlight. It was twenty five degrees below, and we had to serve in our full vestments, sing, and hold metal bowls. But deep in our hearts we believed that everything would work out well. It was very cold at first, our hands were frozen. But when it came to the cherubimic hymn, and we approached the main event of the liturgy - the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, even the slightest feeling of cold disappeared. We felt that way to the end of the Divine Liturgy.

For the first time in history, we performed five sacraments of the Orthodox Church at the very top of our planet - baptism, unction, repentance, ordination, and Eucharist. What a blessing of God! What a great joy to break new ground. But we were not striving for this. We only fulfilled the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch.