«Did you see God when you went up there?»
This question - often sarcastically posed, sometimes
with sincerity, and for others quite naggingly - is
repeatedly asked of the members of space missions
after their return to Earth. American astronauts had
given a reply to that question - and their words were
stamped in History - that... they had seen His
footprints. Russian cosmonauts on the contrary
would not tolerate or make any such quips on matters
like these. In the atheist Soviet Union where
religion was "the opium of the people", God didn't
exist. Until the 80's. Today, in Vladimir Putin's Russia, conditions are different. Russian
cosmonauts admit they have their own confessor,
with whom they communicate at any given moment, even
when they are in Space, just before embarking on
their space walk.
Job Talats, these fearless cosmonauts, students of
the great school that the Space myth Yuri Gagarin
created, are people who have their own personal
fears and their own questions. They too wonder
"how God created the Universe".
Pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration at the
Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Zvezdnogo
Gorodoka (=Star Town) near Moscow, he often visits
the Cosmodrome of Baikonur - the Russian Cape
Canaveral in neighbouring Kazakhstan - from where
space missions are launched. There he
spiritually prepares the cosmonauts prior to their
long journey and always waits for them on their
return, so that they can all offer thanks to God - as he
said - together.
a man is in Space, he can see the true majesty of
the Universe and thus come even closer to its
he stated during his communication with the
newspaper "VIMA" from Baikonur, where a little
earlier he had performed the Blessing of the Waters
- given that the Patriarchate of Russia celebrates
the Feast of the Epiphany with the old calendar.
«I saw God's footprints»
The Abbot invokes the American astronaut Frank
Borman - the first man to have seen the moon at
close range - who at a certain moment, after a
prolonged silence inside the spaceship, uttered:
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was invisible and unformed...»
It was the first verse of Genesis, the first Book of
the Holy Bible. Many of the crewmembers
couldn't hold back their tears at that moment...
When Borman returned to Earth, someone had asked him:
"Did you see God when you were up in Space?" and he
replied: "No, I didn't see God, but I did see the
traces of His presence...", father Talats said.
"traces" that Frank Borman saw at the commencement
of the "Odyssey" of acquaintance with the Universe
now seem to also be confessed by his Russian
colleagues, the Abbot pointed out.
«The cosmonauts call me before they exit the
spaceship to walk in Space, asking for my prayers
and blessings. Yuri Lonchakov, a spaceship
commander, had read the entire Bible during the entire
length of his flight. During the last hours of
their flight we kept in touch regularly, discussing
theological matters such as how God created the
world, why He created it that way, how the Saints
comprehended the nature of the Universe.... Ïleg Skripinchko,
while still in orbit, rang up to congratulate us on
the visit by the Patriarch Kirill to the church in
the Space Centre. Moreover, Fyodor Yurchikhin of
Greek descent who had recently returned from a
6-month orbit around the Earth, had with him some
holy relics of Saints Theodore the Army Commander
and Theodore the Overseer».
Holy Water before the flight
Father Job would visit the cosmonauts with whom he
had discussions and would bless every kind of
technical equipment, long before a church was
established inside the Space Centre. Later, «with
the help of God, we acquired our own church»
he said, and continued: «These
last few years a whole new tradition has surfaced.
All the crewmembers of spacecraft visit the Holy
Trinity church before launching, in order to venerate the
holy relics of Saint Sergius and to participate in a
brief supplication in the church of Saint Nikhon.
Afterwards, I bless them with holy water and I give
to each one of them a tiny, pocket-size Gospel and
icons of Christ and the Theotokos, which they take
with them on their flights. Four days before
takeoff, I go to Baikonur to confess them and to
offer them Holy Communion. We discuss spiritual
matters, we read the Gospel together and we talk
about various important issues. When the men return
to Earth, I am there to welcome them back, with a
thanksgiving supplication to God».
Fear and bravery
«And of course they feel fear, just like any normal,
living person in the face of a danger than can
threaten his life» says
Abbot Job, when describing the feelings of the
As for what they think about, when they are outside,
in the Universe?
is still hostile for mankind. Just imagine that in
the sunlight the temperature is +180 degrees
Celsius, and in the dark it is -150. If a man
were to suddenly find himself without a space suit,
certain death would await him. Their bravery
lies in the fact that they can overcome fear, by
actually feeling it. The majority - with the help of
God - overcome their fear and, by becoming aware of
His mercy, they pray and they proceed to do what
they have to do. When they are out there, they apply
themselves to their work and perhaps don't think too
much about whether they are afraid or not. They
prepare themselves for that moment, years before.
For someone to become a cosmonaut, he must prepare
himself for ten years and he is therefore familiar
with what awaits him. Their preparation is very good».
Is that enough? «We in Russia also have a
saying: “Have your hopes in God, but do something
yourself too”. When a person performs his duties
correctly and with faith in God, then every
difficulty - internal and external - is overcome,
because only God can support, give hope, and
admonish man so that he does what is right in
fr. Talats said.
Sins in Space
Can people be saved from their sins in Space, or
do they succumb to them there also? Father Job had
no difficulty in answering the question.
«You cannot escape from yourself.
of disadvantages and weaknesses - which leads you to
the development of sins - occurs independently of
where man is. The Fathers of the Church say that if
we don't rid ourselves of sinfulness and passions,
then we will take all of them along with us in the
eternal life. An envious person will remain
envious in the afterlife also, but his life there
will be intolerable. So, human weaknesses exist, both
on Earth as well as in Space. Evil thoughts
will also arise in cosmonauts just as in every
person, and there will be complaints and anger, just
like in every living person. They are not robots.
They are intelligent, talented and multi-faceted,
but also human, which is why they seek God's help».
«My God, why did I return?»
According to Father Job, each cosmonaut acquires
(and brings with him on his return) his own
experiences. «You cannot explain it. You
can't explain who feels what, because people acquire
many and varying experiences. One cosmonaut, Valery
Oliagov, had remained in Space - if I'm not mistaken
- for a year and three months; in other words, he is
something like a champion. During his stay in Space
he celebrated Pascha. He made his own Easter dessert
and he chanted "Christ is Risen", but afterwards,
when he returned here, he was faced with all the
And when he began to relive the moments and see
them, he said half-seriously half-jokingly:
"My God, why did I return?"».