Werner Meyer-Hellige was born into a privileged German family in 1889. After a career in the German Army, in 1921, at the age of thirty-two, he inherited his father’s company, A.I. Eisfeld, a successful fireworks and explosives manufacturer.
The company was located on a vast estate, with its own railway, a small zoo, carp ponds, a park of exotic flora and an orchard, all meticulously maintained. Although Werner had had no formal scientific training, he had an inventive and practical mind and, with the help of one of his company’s engineers, he became the first person to test the idea of a multi-stage ignition system. This was the same technology that 35 years later was to launch the first satellites into space.
The invention could have doubled his fortune had the Nazis not come to power. Werner, a man of independent views, bristled at the changes introduced by the new regime. It in turn mistrusted him and in 1934 he was denounced as being disloyal and was forced to sell his factories. Unfortunately, all the data from his research went to the Nazis and was to help them build their rockets. As Germany fell into her greatest tragedy, Nazidom and Hitler’s War, Werner’s world fell apart.
After this dark period, in 1947 he met a young and very religious Russian, Elena Konstantinovna Radomanskaya. They fell in love, married, and she introduced him to a whole new world, the world of the Russian Orthodox Church. Werner was sympathetic towards his wife’s religion, but the deep personal conviction which lies at the foundation of true conversion took a long time to develop. Elena wrote to the future St John, then Archbishop of Western Europe, asking him to pray for her husband, and sent alms to Mount Athos and the Holy Land with the same request. Werner met Bishop Leonty of Geneva and he became closely acquainted with Fr Kornily in Munich, who in the world had been a mining engineer, and they had long discussions. Later, Werner also developed a correspondence with Fr Konstantin (Zaitsev) of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville in the USA. The latter was a monk of great learning and fluent in German.
Under their combined influence Werner’s desire to embrace the Orthodox Faith matured. After the couple had moved to the Holy Land in September 1969, it was finally to come to fruition. Visiting the holy places, attending services at various monasteries and speaking with the monks and nuns all deepened Werner’s understanding of Orthodoxy. However, when he decided that he did not want to postpone baptism any longer, a real battle began.
Moments after telling his wife of his decision to be baptised, he stumbled and fell headlong on a stone floor. His wife barely managed to help him to bed. That night there was a storm and he awoke, shouting and making gestures as if fending off attackers. ‘I want to become Orthodox straightaway’, he declared. His wife explained that this was not possible, that it was the middle of the night. He calmed down, but woke up again later and said to his wife: ‘Pick up the nun’. It turned out that at that very moment a nun who had been praying for him was lying unconscious on the floor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, six miles away.
The next morning Elena phoned the Russian Convent on the Mount of Olives and arrangements for the baptism were made without delay. Since Werner was still unable to get out of bed, the baptism took place in their home in Bethany. A group of nuns came together with a priest from the Convent and also Abbess Tamara, who had agreed to be Werner’s godmother. Knowing how long and diligently Werner had prepared for this occasion, they all wept for joy. Werner took the name Alexander, having been impressed by St. Alexander Nevsky’s maxim, ‘God is not in force, but in truth’ (‘Ne v sile Bog, no v pravde’). Later he said to his wife: ‘All my life I have been living at the bottom of the ocean, but now the waves have brought me to the surface, to sunlight, to freedom’.
The German pioneer of rocket technology, Werner Alexander Meyer-Hellige, was to pass away peacefully on the Feast of the Prophet Elijah, 2 August 1970, during the prayers for the departure of the soul. He was buried near the Oak of Mamre, where the Patriarch Abraham had received the Holy Trinity in the guise of Three Angels. Thus the rocketeer rose to the heavens through the charioteer.
To the Servant of God Alexander - Eternal Memory!