Patriarch Kirill in 2018 visited Belushya Guba, the main settlement in Novaya Zemlya. He was accompanied by military leaders, among them Head of the Novaya Zemlya test site Aleksandr Tsinitsyn (right) and church representatives like Bishop Iakov (left). Photo:

Moscow Patriarchy launches church building mission at Novaya Zemlya

New churches are to be built at the heavily militarised Arctic archipelago. They will serve Russia’s 12th Main Directorate, the organisation responsible for nuclear munitions.
April 23, 2024


Snow was in the air and an Arctic breeze swirled over Belushya Guba as Bishop Iakov blessed the plate that will serve as foundation stone for a new local church. On site was an assembly of military men in uniform and local civilians. A video shared by the 12th Directorate shows the bishop leading a ceremony and spraying so-called sacred water over the attendees.


Bishop Iakov officially launches construction of new church in Belushya Guba. Photo:


The square in the center of the small military town will be site for a new church with space for at least 150 people. Construction will soon start and progress quickly a local military representative says in a video. Photos show piles of timber ready for shipment from the mainland to the remote archipelago.

Bishop Iakov was brought to the archipelago with a special flight organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The prelate, known as the Russian Orthodox Church’ special envoy on Arctic affairs, had with him an icon of Serfim Sarovsky, the 18th Century saint  that is considered the official protector of the 12th Main Directorate.

The new church will carry the saint’s name, and the icon will decorate its walls.



The existing church in Belushya Guba will be moved to nearby Rogachevo. Photo:


Iakov is reportedly himself the initiator of the construction projects at Novaya Zemlya.

Ahead of Patriach Kirill’s visit to the archipelago in 2018, Bishop Iakov presented the idea to the church leader, state news agency TASS reported. During the visit, the Patriarch announced the plans.

A new and bigger church building is to be erected on the site of an existing chapel, which in turn is to be dismantled and moved to the nearby settlement of Rogachevo. In addition, a new chapel is to be built in Severny, the military town located in the Matochin Strait.


Bishop Iakov shows sketches of the projected new church to Patriarch Kirill. Photo:


Judging from statements made by the Patriarch, many young clergymen might soon be sent to Novaya Zemlya for training and education. It is a place well suited for «testing of their spiritual strength,» Kirill told TASS.

«It is especially for those that want to make a church career, for candidates and archbishops,» he explained.

He also proposed the development of a special program on church service in the Arctic.

Photos from the visit show Patriarch Kirill being guided around in Belushya Guba by military leaders, among them Aleksandr Tsinitsyn, head of the local military base.

Novaya Zemlya is strictly closed military area and test site for nuclear weapons. In the period between the mid-1950s and 1990, a total of 132 nuclear weapon tests were carried out at the archipelago, among them the 50 Mt ‘Tsar Bomba.’

The nuclear testing was organized by the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. Subcritical experiments continue until this day.


Equipment destroyed during nuclear weapon testing in Chernaya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, in the 1960s. Photo: 12th Main Department on VK


Bishop Iakov is instrumental in many of the Russian Orthodox Church initiatives currently unfolding across the Arctic. The prelate was present when a large Orthodox cross in 2023 was erected in Franz Josef Land.

He was also a key person behind the disputed erection of a cross in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Together with representatives of Russian state company Trust Arktikugol, Iakov placed the 7-meter high religious monument on the hillside of Pyramiden, the abandoned coal mining town.


A huge cross was erected in archipelago Franz Josef Land in 2023. Behind the initiative were the Orthodox Church, the Russian Geographical Society and the Russian Armed Forces. Photo: 12th Main Department on VK


The Governor of Svalbard knew nothing about the new cross ahead of its erection. In an interview with the Barents Observer, Governor Lars Fause says the illegitimate action will have a consequence. 

“The Environmental Protection Department will follow up,” Fause said in a comment.

The efforts to erect Orthodox crosses across the Arctic is part of a church project supported by Patriarch Kirill.

Since 2012, the Russian Orthodox has in cooperation with the Russian Armed Forces and the Geographical Society built churches, erected crosses and sanctified sites across major parts of the Arctic.




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