On 12th April, 1961, 27 year old Soviet Cosmonaut and Airforce test pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first man ever to go into space.
At the time, the officially atheist Soviet propaganda machine announced that Gagarin had said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.” But that was a lie.
Russian journalist Anton Pervushin was a close friend of Yuri Gagarin. He says that Gagarin was a true Christian, a firm believer who never gave up his faith.
That first space flight lasted just one hour and forty eight minutes, but it was a turning point in history. It was the height of the cold war, and Gagarin’s first space flight marked a propaganda triumph for the Soviet Union. They had clearly won the first leg of the so termed ‘space race.’ The Soviet regime had a further triumph four years later in March 1965 when Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk in history. He beat American rival Ed White on Gemini 4 by almost three months.
Gagarin’s Christian faith was never a secret to his close friends. He was a baptised member of the Russian Orthodox Church and would happily talk about his faith with them. But Gagarin had to be careful in his role as a Colonel in the Soviet airforce. The Government was officially an atheist regime and the repression of Christianity in every form was party policy.
Officials may well have known of Gagarin’s faith, but as long as he kept it under wraps it was not important. What was important was showing the official party line in public. Lies and cover-ups were commonplace at the time.
For example, Yuri’s Vostok space capsule landed a great distance from the planned landing site, but this was not disclosed. Officially, the first manned space flight was an outstanding success without a glitch. Officially, a son of the repressive regime had shown that atheistic Communism was superior to the ‘believing’ west, and that was all that mattered.
Anton Pervushin wrote, “For many years Soviet literature claimed that Yuri Gagarin and his Vostok landing capsule had come down in the area it was supposed to. They had been expecting Gagarin to land almost 250 miles further to the south, so it turned out that nobody was waiting or looking for Yuri Gagarin where he ended up. So the first thing he had to do after landing was to set off to look for people so he could tell the leadership where he was.”
The Soviets also lied about the manner of the landing. They claimed that Yuri had made a perfect touchdown, remaining inside the capsule which landed on dry land. In fact, Gagarin bailed out and landed by parachute.
In his book, ‘180 Minutes That Changed the World’, Pervushin confirmed both Gagarin’s deep Christian faith and that he had never uttered the infamous phrase about not seeing God in space. Pervushin maintained that he never heard Gagarin say such words, and to his knowledge neither did anyone else!
Gagarin became well known for two things in the early 1960’s. Not only was he the first man in space, but atheist propaganda at the time picked up on the words supposedly spoken by him about not seeing God in space. General Valentin Petrov, personal friend and Professor of the Russian Airforce Academy, disagreed with the official line. He said,
“Gagarin was a baptised faithful throughout all his life. He always confessed God whenever he was provoked, no matter where he was.”
A third voice confirming Gagarin’s strong Christian faith is that of Maria Biniari, who wrote an article entitled, ‘Yuri Gagarin, the Christian’ in 2007. She wrote that on his birthday in 1964, he visited a monastery, The Lavra of Saint Serge, and met with the Prior. He had a photo of himself and he told the priest, “This is for those who don’t believe.” He signed it, “With my best wishes, Yuri Gagarin.”
General Petrov also said, “That famous phrase which has been ascribed to him, well, in actual fact it was Khrushchev who had said it.” Petrov adds,
“It was heard during a meeting of the Central Committee, whose desire it was to promulgate anti-religious propaganda. Khrushchev had mockingly addressed the following words: ‘Why didn’t you step on the brakes in front of God? Here is Gagarin, who flew up to space, and yet, even he didn’t see God anywhere.’”
The General continued, “Immediately after that, those words were placed into another’s mouth, because the people would have believed more in Gagarin’s words than Khrushchev’s.”
Anton Pervushin said, “In fact, Gagarin should be remembered for completely different words. I always remember that Yuri Gagarin said: ‘An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and his heart.’”
Story by Ralph Burden