© Rykoff Collection – Getty Images

Dear friend, yesterday it rained all day; then in the evening the sky was clear and an extraordinary full moon appeared. I immediately thought of God, our Father in Heaven, and… of Yuri Gagarin, the first human being to go into space on April 12, 1961. As he orbited the Earth, admiring the breathtaking views of our planet from the window of his capsule, I’m sure Yuri couldn’t help but ponder the age-old question: Is there a God among the stars?

As he contemplated the cosmic ballet of stars and planets during his 108-minute stay in space, Gagarin must certainly have experienced a moment of clarity. He must have realized that it was not a matter of finding God in a physical, tangible form, but rather of recognizing the divine essence that permeated the universe.

I am sure that when Yuri Gagarin completed his historic orbit and descended to Earth, he brought a new understanding of God into his heart. However, in Russian history books, Yuri Gagarin is remembered not only for his extraordinary achievement, but also for a controversial quote attributed to him when he was in space: “There is no God up here.”

This is a quote that is certainly not true, firstly because there are no primary sources, such as transcripts or official documents, to confirm that he ever uttered these words, and secondly because in the political climate of the then-Soviet Union, religious expression was repressed, and public figures were very reluctant to talk about their personal religious beliefs. In addition, Valentina Gagarina, Yuri’s widow, always vehemently denied that her husband ever made such a statement, pointing out that Yuri was a believer, and that the whole story was probably fabricated to fit a particular narrative.

Although I am fully convinced that Gagarin never said “There is no God up here,” I do not believe that the challenge of that phrase can simply be ignored. Therefore, I think it is more than fair to ask: What does the Lord’s Prayer mean when it recites that God is “in Heaven”? Is Heaven a specific place? And is it the same place where all those who have kept the commandment of love go?

I think that with the expression “Our Father who art in Heaven,” Jesus wanted simply to explain to us that God is a father who loves us infinitely, but that He is not an earthly father. The fact that He is in Heaven, however, does not indicate that He is far from us, but rather close in a different way, so much so that St. Augustine said, “He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”

Heaven and Earth are in fact not distant realities, but simply different, co-existing dimensions. By saying “Our Father who art in Heaven,” we recognize, to use theological terms, that God is both transcendent and immanent. That is, our Father is outside our full experience, perception or understanding, but at the same time knowable and perceivable.

But we must not forget that Heaven is also where the Lord welcomes those who have believed in Him.  In fact, when we say that our loved ones are in Heaven, we think of them there together with God, in the embrace of His boundless love. I think Mother Teresa explains it very well with one of her famous quotes: “Heaven is our home. People ask me if I can’t wait to die, and I say, ‘Of course, because I’m going home. Dying is not the end, it is only the beginning.’”

Therefore, we cannot but give thanks to our Heavenly Father for loving us so much that He gave His one and only Son to lead us all to Him in Heaven, wherever that may be.

Updated on May 06 2024