...and who better to invite to go along on a difficult journey?
“Almost every cosmonaut brings with him into space his personal icons,” said Gennady Padalka, who commanded the 10th expedition aboard the international space station in 2004. In addition, a copy of the famous icon of “St. Mary of Kazan” is displayed on a panel in the Russian segment of the station. It was placed there in 2000 by the very first long-term crew.
This remarkable religious surge will be celebrated spectacularly this Saturday, the Russian Orthodox Christmas. It will be the first time Christmas services are held at Baikonur’s new church, just completed in the middle of last year.
The glistening gold and blue domes are clearly visible from a concrete overlook located behind the “Cosmonaut Hotel,” where space crews and their support staff live prior to launch. Often, on the day before the launch, those bound for space walk past lines of memorial trees planted by earlier generations of cosmonauts and look out over the Syr Darya River and the surrounding steppes, to fix in their minds the sights and smells of the world they are leaving. South of the overlook, about a mile downstream along the river, the shiny new church now glistens.
During Soviet days, religious celebrations in the city were forbidden. But as soon as Kazakhstan declared its independence, a small group of people at the spaceport petitioned the Russian Orthodox bishop of the nearby city of Akmolinsk to open a parish and send an ordained priest.
The bishop consulted with church officials in Russia, and in June 1992 they sent Father Sergey to Baikonur. With the Russian space program nearly bankrupt, the situation wasn’t the easiest. The congregation grew rapidly, however, and soon there were too many attendees to fit into the small store during services.
Easter 1994 marked a major turning point for the congregation, when about two thousand people crowded the street outside the makeshift church and city officials approved a live TV broadcast of the services.
One particular new member had a unique request. Aleksandr Viktorenko was preparing to blast off for the Mir space station that October. He asked the priest for a special blessing of the crew and rocket before launch, a revolutionary ceremony that has since become routine.
He attributes the church’s success to the highly educated populace, most of whom work at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Frivolous update: And, if you've ever wanted to know for sure, here is a website that offers...
...Photos of Christ. Why be uncertain any longer?
Russian link via many at St. Blogs