As all of my readers in the United States know, today we celebrate the national awfulness that is the utterly secular St. Valentine’s Day, when no one thinks about the several saints named Valentine from the Early Church, but instead all engage in the exchange of gifts, greetings, and hurt feelings. Rather than bore you with tales of romance and love as most bloggers will be doing today, my gift to you is in fact something of a gift to myself. For I am (hopefully) going to give people like Lenin and Stalin a bit of a kick in the head. Perhaps it is exceedingly uncharitable of me to do such a thing, but I will worry about that later.
Since today is the Feast of St. Valentine, it is therefore the saint’s day or name day for men and women bearing the name Valentine, Valentino, or Valentina. And one of those whose saint’s day is today is the first woman in space, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She went into orbit around the Earth for three days beginning on June 16, 1963. When her voice was broadcast by Soviet radio to listeners who would hear her for the first time from space, she excitedly exclaimed, “It is I, Seagull!”, referring to her mission call sign; it subsequently became her nickname.
After her return to terra firma Tereshkova became a national hero for the Soviet Union. Over the course of the next several decades she rose to quite some height within the Communist Party, until the break-up of the Soviet Union, the second Russian Revolution, and the fall of the Communists from power. Subsequently, like many heroes of the old Soviet era, she mainly retired from public view to enjoy being a grandmother, except for giving the occasional interview or making an appearance at a conference or ceremony, as she is still highly regarded by the Russian people as the poor girl from the factories who made good.
Yet in doing some research for this piece, I came across a rather interesting story from the press office of the Serbian Orthodox Church, regarding a public appearance Valentina Tereshkova made a few years ago. In 2003, Tereshkova paid a visit to the official representative of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church assigned to minister to the Russian Orthodox community in Belgrade, in order to meet with the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. That might seem rather an odd thing, on the face of it, for a formerly high-ranking leader of the Communist Party in Russia to do, though keep in mind that from a historical perspective, there have always been close political, strategic, and cultural ties between Russia and Serbia, which were cemented by the relationship between their two state churches.
What the article reported next, however, I must admit I did find rather amazing. “Mrs Tereshkova expressed gratitude to His Holiness,” the unnamed author of the piece explains, “for spiritual and other support that the Serbian Orthodox Church had given and had been giving in connection with the activities and mission of the Russian House in Belgrade, that marks 70th anniversary of its successful work this year.” As if that were not enough to make you slap your forehead in surprise, the article further reports that “Mrs Tereshkova gifted, in memory of this meeting, the Vladimir icon of the Most Holy Mother of God and a filigreed Easter egg to the Patriarch Pavle, and His Holiness gifted in return an Easter egg and congratulated the forthcoming Feast of all the feasts [i.e., Easter Sunday.]”
After reading this, naturally I did something of an extensive search to try to ascertain whether Tereshkova ever converted to Christianity. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information in English to directly answer that question, one way or the other. Perhaps those of my readers who can actually read Cyrillic might have better luck.
Yet regardless of whether Tereshkova did come into the Church or remained your garden-variety Soviet atheist, the fact that she would not only thank a Christian leader for his spiritual ministry, but also present him with the image of Our Lady of Vladimir, showing the Blessed Mother tenderly embracing the Christ Child, as well as one of those beautifully decorated Russian Easter eggs, which usually bear the abbreviation for “Christ Is Risen”, makes the mind of this author reel – and no doubt Lenin, Stalin, and their ilk spin in their graves. From my point of view, that is certainly something to celebrate, on the Feast Day of Mrs. Tereshkova’s patron saint.