Sunset at the North Pole
Archbishop Ignaty of Petropavlovsk and Kamchatka, who was the first to serve 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 the Arctic ice altar, and could not reach the Pole. So many people, scientists, researchers, military men, have tried to reach the world’s most northern spot by all means, overcoming all kinds of challenges, both foreseen and unexpected, at serious risk to their lives, and some adventurers died in the attempt.
What overwhelming and powerful drive was rooted in the souls of these people, and what kind of mighty mechanism encouraged them to face these perils? Certainly, there are many answers to this question. Some dreamt of being famous, others were driven by the quest for scientific knowledge, some aspired to self-knowledge and self-esteem, and others were enraptured by the inherent deep call of the North, “the white silence”, in the words of Jack London. There may also be people who followed their lust for profits… I can testify that no one in our team had any of the above motives. What were our motives? What drove us to make this trip to the North Pole?
The main commitment of a priest is his service to God. The main service of the Orthodox Church is the Divine Liturgy. It is celebrated in the Far East in the city of the Apostles Peter and Paul (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky: Interfax), in the distant West, and at the southernmost point of our planet, Antarctica, which recently saw the building of a church and the foundation of a monastic community “fighting the good fight”. However, this salvific and holy sacrament was never before served at the North Pole.
How does the Psalter praise the exploits of the Apostles? Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the earth. The Divine Liturgy should also reach the northernmost point of our world. Again and again, the words of the Lord should sound many times at the most northern spot on our planet. Repeatedly, the Holy Eucharist must proclaim to the world the great Commandments of Christ, about the great exploit of Christ, which He, after being crucified and undergoing terrible trials for the sake of each and every one of us, about His Holy Resurrection, and how the road to Eternal Life is now open to every person. This task is worth any effort and labour. All the more so, a priest should be a servant wherever he goes. These are lofty words, yet, they are nothing but the oath that a man takes at his ordination to the clergy.
We believe that the Holy Spirit must descend upon this icy floating continent. God’s Grace shall descend here, upon the places where the 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 hiatus caused by perestroika and the hardships of the reconstruction period. But, let us remember the words of Christ, For without me, ye can do nothing. This 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, before we commence a new exploration of the “white silence”, Russian scientists needed to raise a prayer, the most effective prayer of Russian Orthodoxy, the Divine Liturgy.
I would like to draw special attention to the fact that this expedition was only possible through the support of the Aviation Department of the Federal Security Service and the personal involvement of its head, Nikolai Fedorovich Gavrilov, Hero of Russia, a wonderful man, an excellent warrior, and a deeply-believing Christian. This is yet another instance of the fruitful cooperation between the Orthodox Church and the Russian forces. There was a time when Russian Orthodox priests blessed our warriors to do battle for our Faith, our People, and our Motherland. Now, Russian soldiers help our priests to reach almost inaccessible locations to bring the word of God “to the ends of the earth”.
Of course, I had no chance before to serve the Divine Liturgy in such an environment. We put up our church tent in cold strong wind, in the snow, under the bright northern sun. It was -25 degrees Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit), and we had to serve in our full vestments, sing, and hold holy chalices. But, deep in our souls we believed firmly that everything would work out well. It was very cold at first, our hands were frozen. But, when we came to the Hymn of the Cherubim, and we approached the main event of the liturgy, the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, even the slightest sensation 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, confession, ordination, and the Eucharist. What a blessing of God! What a great joy to break new ground. But, we were not striving for this. We only carried out the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei.
7 April 2008