Way Down South

There is an interesting dichotomy in Orthodoxy that would have been impossible to predict in the earliest days of the Church. With the spread of Christianity to lands in the southern hemisphere that were largely unknown at the time of Christ, we have feasts that we associate with spring – Easter – and winter – Christmas – celebrated at the same time in places like Australia where Easter takes place in late fall and Christmas in summer. Although seasons in the southern hemisphere are completely opposite our own, when you are near Antarctica, it is always cold and winterly. The southernmost Orthodox church in the world, and one of the southernmost churches period, is Trinity Church on King George Island about 75 miles off the coast of Antarctica. It was founded to service the local Russian research station, but it also has a missionary purpose and is staffed full-time by a priest who is also a hieromonk. The church has received converts and even conducts some services in Spanish for Latin American visitors. The priest is known to bless the local penguin population during Epiphany services. Weddings have been performed there, and new converts are baptized in the Southern Ocean, a very chilly and wintry proposition indeed.

King George Island, where the above-mentioned church is located, was named by the British after King George III, regnant during the Revolutionary War and thus the king who lost the 13 colonies. Argentina, which lays claim to this British Island, names it after the 25th of May, which is Argentine Independence Day. Chile also claims the island but merely calls it by the Spanish translation of the British name. The Russians, who do not claim it, call it Vaterloo – Waterloo. It has historically been known as Waterloo Island. I can find no reason why, but I suspect the fact that Waterloo, the battle where the Brits defeated Napoleon and the French, has become known as a synonym for the end, is the reason – the island is literally at the end of the earth. Waterloo comes from a Flemish -the Dutch language of Flanders – word meaning “wet forest clearing” – you can easily see the word water there. More interesting than the etymology of Waterloo is the role it played in Winston Churchill wreaking havoc from beyond the grave. Churchill stipulated in his will that his funeral would be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Traditionally, a British Prime Minister would be buried out of Westminster Abbey. Also, St. Paul’s was not Churchill’s parish. So why did he decide to have his funeral there? He knew that dignitaries from other countries would attend his funeral, and in fact at that point in history it was the biggest state funeral of all time. Churchill appreciated the friendly rivalry Britain had with France and knew French representatives would be at his funeral. By having it at St. Paul’s he knew the funeral procession would pass by Waterloo Station, and that the French in attendance would be forced to be reminded of their humiliating defeat at the hands of Britain.


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