Southernmost Church in the World: Where Father Kirilov Celebrates Mass at 25 Degrees Below Zero

Father Sophrony Kirilov at the Southernmost Church in the World Father Sophrony Kirilov at the Southernmost Church in the World
"The Russian workers at the South Pole expect, like every other believer, spiritual support and a Church very devoted to God." With these words Russian Orthodox priest Sophrony Kirilov describes his task. He's a "special envoy" of the Moscow Patriarch on King George Island, as the British call them, or Isla 25 de Mayo, as the Argentines say. The island belongs to the sub-Antarctic archipelago of the South Shetlands. Here Father Kirilov cares for the southernmost church in the world.

The Russian priest is one of a hundred people who spend even the winter in this latitude, although the temperatures can reach minus 25 degrees centigrade. In the summer the average temperature rises only slightly above the zero-degree mark. The island is 95 kilometers long and at its widest point 25 kilometers wide. Overall, it accounts for an area of 1150 square kilometers, in which, after all, 500 people stay there in the summer. The majority lives in the Incorporated in a Chilean settlement Villa Las Estrellas (Star Village). In winter there are all of the 50 people. They have the Catholic Chapel of Mary Queen of Peace in the settlement.

The archipelago was discovered in 1819 by British navigator William Smith. He took possession of it for Britain and gave the largest island the name of the then reigning British King George III. from the House of Hanover.

"In the world there is no peace and quiet. Here, however, it is still "

Trinity Church Iconostasis Trinity Church Iconostasis
Father Kirilov is 38 years old and belongs to a group of Russian priests, they are rotate in Antarctic chaplaincy. It is for the fourth assignment to the Southern Shetlands. A "special place", he says. "In the world there is no peace and quiet. Here, however, it is silent. God loves the silence. It is a privileged moment in the relationship between man and God."

In 2003 at the request of the Patriarch of Moscow, the southernmost church in the world, Holy Trinity Church, was built in the Russian Antarctic.  The research station, for a time was also a depot of the Russian Antarctic fleet, founded in 1968 during the Soviet era. It is named after the seafaring Baltic German Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1778-1852), who served the Russia as an Admiral. Two years later William Smith also discovered islands in the Antarctic.

The church is entirely built of wood, which was specially brought from Russia. In 2004 it was consecrated. Since then, Russian priests also perform their services in Antarctica. In summer, station staff and visitors have to withstand the gale force winds of up to 200 kilometers per hour in order to reach the church. In winter it's cold. Here, especially at the end of the earth, when people enter the church, they are really moved by the beauty and grandeur of icons, reported Father Kirilov.

At night the church is illuminated from below, to be a kind of beacon for ships.

The exhibition: "Thanks be to God. It is always a precious gift for me "

Southernmost Church in the World Southernmost Church in the World
Father Kirilov celebrates Holy Mass in the church: "Thanks be to God. It is always a precious gift for me ". Of course he would wish for more believers. In winter there are but usually only 15 Russians living on the station.

On weekdays Father Kirilov also works as a mason and carpenter. The painted carvings at the entrance to the church come from him. The flower ornaments recall in the long winters, the beauty and diversity of nature. With a pair of skis or a snowmobile he also likes to explore the island.

In addition to the Orthodox Church and the Chilean chapel in the King George Island in Antarctica, there is since 1976 a Catholic chapel, which is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. It is located at the Argentine research station Esperanza (Hope) on the Antarctic Peninsula.

In 2013 a group of scientists of the French / Italian Concordia Research Station Dome, also on the Antarctic mainland, the shrine "Mother of the Eternal Glaciers". It stands at an altitude of 3233 meters.

Life in Antarctica is not easy, says Father Kirilov. Moscow is 16.000 kilometers away. That makes itself felt. "Nevertheless, I know that I have the day I leave when another priest replaces me, I will have nostalgia for this terribly inhospitable land." Why it is so? "Here you can pray to God in peace."

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