Archpriest Fyodor Konyukhov stands as an exceptional figure, a unique individual in our time. His relentless pursuit of extreme travels, placing his life in constant jeopardy and allocating a significant portion of his resources to these adventures, puzzles many. Questions arise about why, in his later years and with a large family, he hasn’t secured a permanent residence. Yet, Father Fyodor Konyukhov offers clear, profoundly Christian responses to these inquiries, establishing the principles upon which he constructs his life. His unwavering faith in God, insatiable curiosity, existence on the precipice of mortal danger, and selfless commitment to serving God and humanity form only a partial inventory of the invaluable lessons he imparts.
Lesson 1: Embracing God’s Blessings
Father Feodor Konyukhov, at 71, reflects on his life with a profound understanding that the abundance he’s received from the Lord comes with a purpose. “The Lord has given me much, and it cannot all be given for nothing. I am preparing myself for a time when He will hold me accountable for it,” asserts Father Konyukhov. His journey has been nothing short of extraordinary — a record-breaking world traveller, a researcher, a teacher, a prolific author of over 25 books and creator of more than 3000 paintings and icons. Ordained as a priest in 2010, he’s also a devoted husband, father of three, and a grandfather to six.
For Konyukhov, the path of a seafarer and priest feels predestined, rooted in a family lineage marked by sailors and priests, including five canonized saints. His childhood dreams of following Georgy Sedov’s expedition to the North Pole and later becoming a priest materialized — sailing solo across the Sea of Azov at fifteen, reaching the North Pole at 39, and being ordained at 58. Yet, the call of exploration persisted.
“I write about my feelings and concerns. I paint things that excite me and make me want to express them on canvas,” shares the traveller. His insatiable curiosity propels him to climb Everest, paint its grandeur, and explore every facet of human existence. Konyukhov’s life is a testament to embracing the richness of God’s blessings while caring deeply about every aspect of our shared humanity.
Lesson 2: Finding Purpose in Travels
“I keep testing myself because it is only through suffering that one can see God,” confesses Father Fyodor. In his travels, he embraces asceticism, drawing parallels with ancient Christian ascetics. Solitude, confined conditions, and a readiness for unexpected risks become a spiritual journey, a constant reminder of God and the inevitability of death. His life motto, “Through troubles and strife, I walk this road with God in my life,” underscores his unwavering faith.
Father Fyodor’s survival has often teetered on the edge, yet he entrusts himself to God, and each time, God miraculously preserves His child. During the sensational 11-day hot air balloon circumnavigation in 2016, the traveller endured sleep deprivation and minimal sustenance. Encountering a violent storm, he faced the imminent reality of saying farewell to his family. Yet, miraculously guided through a gap in the storm clouds, his balloon emerged unscathed. Drifting towards the Arctic on the final stretch, the balloon, freezing in sub-zero temperatures, caught a crucial air current, securing Father Fyodor’s safe return and breaking a world record.
Konyukhov’s solo journey to the North Pole in 1990 also unfolded as a testament to divine intervention. Navigating the route for two months in -50⁰C temperatures, he sustained himself solely on food and carried 135 kg of cargo. In a critical moment, he fell through the ice into the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. Praying fervently, he miraculously clung to the edge of the ice floe, pulling himself to safety. In that divine intervention, Konyukhov not only survived but also fulfilled a childhood dream.
Lesson 3: The Power of Prayer
“There is no harder work on earth than praying to God,” shares Father Fyodor, emphasizing the profound significance he attributes to prayer. “If I did not believe in prayer as the last chance, I would perish. In layman’s terms, a believer has one extra chance in life.”
In 1998, during the “Solo Round the Globe” international sailing regatta, Konyukhov’s yacht found itself ensnared in Hurricane Danielle, with wind speeds reaching 130 miles per hour—a perilous situation where survival is usually deemed impossible. Yet, Fyodor clung to his faith and turned to prayer.
The yacht, normally on autopilot, faced navigation failure, compelling Konyukhov to take control. Sustaining such high speeds for an extended period was untenable, and the yacht soon capsized. Waves repeatedly knocked the intrepid traveller overboard, but tethered to the mast, he repeatedly climbed back, clinging to the vessel with his last ounce of strength. In a moment of near unconsciousness, surrounded by a grey veil, Konyukhov suddenly heard an unusual and beautiful angelic singing.
Regaining consciousness, he realized the urgency of seeking refuge inside the yacht. Closing the hatch behind him, the boat inverted, rendering the hatch unopenable. The interior was chaos—120 litres of spilled diesel fuel and water waist-deep. Understanding the impending danger, Konyukhov turned to prayer. Armed with a torch, water bottles, and a metal icon of Nicholas the Wonderworker, he sought refuge in a niche near his bed for better air supply. Enduring the storm’s onslaught for three full days, he prayed fervently as never before. On the third day, when he awoke, the storm had subsided, and the boat lay on its side, allowing the intrepid traveller to pump out the water and resume his journey. Once again, the Lord heard his prayer and spared his life.
Lesson 4: The Duality of Wealth and Poverty
“It seems to me that money never makes one happy and free. A wealthy person becomes dependent on his riches,” echoes Father Fyodor, aligning his perspective with the profound truth found in the Gospel.
The intrepid traveller frequently emphasizes that his expeditions yield no financial gain; instead, they often result in accumulating debts. Throughout his life, Konyukhov sustained himself through his pursuits as a painter, author, and educator. However, the majority of his earnings consistently fed into sponsor funding for his next adventure. “Money is merely a burden. You need it now to buy something (like camels for an expedition…). But if you start capitalizing on it, it immediately overwhelms you. It’s a fine line that is very important to avoid crossing,” Father Fyodor imparts valuable counsel.
His aversion to wealth and fame prompted him to continually diversify the nature of his expeditions, embracing the role of an amateur to maintain a sense of freshness. Rejecting the conventional path of accumulating possessions, he refrained from purchasing a house or a car for his family. Until recent years, Konyukhov and his family resided wherever circumstances led them—be it a studio at the Artists’ Union or a cell at the St. Alexy hermitage.
In a poignant exchange with his wife, the couple contemplated the concepts of wealth and poverty:
“Fedya, we’ll be home tomorrow, we’ll drink coffee and make sandwiches with roasted cheese.”
“Where are you going to roast it?”
“Fedya, we are so poor! We have no washing machine, no cooker, not even a microwave!”
“Poor? We have a caravan, we’ve bought camels, we’ve built a yacht, a hot air balloon, and a rowing boat…. You are right, we don’t have a microwave, and we can’t always have coffee with baked cheese in the morning, but we can hardly consider ourselves poor.”
Lesson 5: The Choice between House and Church
In 2016, Father Fyodor pondered in an interview, “I am 64 years old; I have built nine chapels and two churches, but I have not built a house for myself. It is because I believe that one should give before receiving. So far I have not yet given enough… When I am in the ocean and I know that in a second or two I will stand before God Himself, what am I going to tell him? ‘I have built myself a house…’? So I keep putting it off.”
In recent years, the time to build a home has finally arrived for Father Fyodor Konyukhov, who has conceived an extraordinary project still in progress. “Fyodor Konyukhov’s Village” is nestled within a forest reserve in the Tula region of Russia. Reflecting on his idea, he says, “Jack London built a ‘Ranch of Good Intentions,’ and I have long dreamed of building one for my friends. I have many, and one house would not be enough for them. So I have built a village. Now we have 101 houses, and there will be more.” The village’s 46 streets are named after famous travellers, and it is inhabited by Konyukhov’s friends—travellers, artists, actors, and writers. By 2023, thirty chapels and four churches have been erected in honor of his family’s heavenly patrons and the saints who safeguarded the traveller during his perilous voyages. Before embarking on the village project, since 1992, Father Fyodor had built nineteen chapels and four churches in various parts of Russia, Ukraine, and abroad.
Fyodor Konyukhov’s Village is adorned with over eight hundred birdhouses, a passion he has cherished since childhood. He encourages others to gift him birdhouses and even purchases squirrels to release into the forest, preserving its biosphere reserve status. This idyllic haven serves as a splendid retreat for solitude, prayer, and the rare moments when Father Fyodor finds happiness akin to that experienced during his travels.
The perception of Father Fyodor Konyukhov varies among people, with many finding it challenging to comprehend his pursuits fully. Nevertheless, it is evident that he has accomplished and persists in doing much for his community. The more facets of his character one uncovers, the more prominently the wisdom and inner beauty of this devout Orthodox man become apparent. While Father Fyodor undoubtedly holds other intriguing and valuable perspectives on life, perhaps it would be beneficial for us to grasp at least these.