Most priests perform blessings on their congregations at church. Not the case for Father Sergei Bychkov, a Russian Orthodox priest who anoints Soyuz rockets at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, moments before they are blasted into space.
Bychkov tells Metro how only rockets that haven't been sprinkled by holy water have failed.
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Metro: How long have you been in the rocket-anointing business?
Bychkov: I started in 1998, and since then we've have blessed almost all of our rockets. Those anointed rockets, they had no faults in them all the same, but curiously those that fell had not been consecrated. For example, the unmanned Proton M rocket that crashed and exploded just seconds after takeoff was not anointed.
How many rockets were not blessed?
If my memory serves me correct, there were four rockets: two in the 1990s, when consecration was not yet a tradition, the Belarusian rocket BelKA in 2006, and of course the Proton in July of this year. It's up to the construction team to decide whether to sanctify the spacecraft or not.
Why are in you into anointing rockets?
There is a divine providence in it. There are those of us who want to anoint rockets and others that don't. It's clear that the Lord is showing them that we are carrying out a good and necessary deed.
So, why didn't you give a blessing to Proton?
With Proton it turned out inexplicably. As luck would have it, I was not in town and the rocket was launched without my blessing. This, again, was that very divine providence.
What do you do with astronauts who are not Russian Orthodox by faith?
That's true we often send to space those who have a different faith. But they all kiss my crucifix and get sprinkled with holy water at a special ceremony. The crew all show their respect towards our procedure.