Orthodox America


  Journey to Orthodoxy - Werner Meyer-Hellige


        On first acquaintance, Werner Meyer-Hellige did not appear to be a likely candidate for conversion. Born in 1889 into a privileged family, he left a career in the German military in 1921, when he inherited his father's firm of A.I. Eisfeld, a successful establishment that manufactured pyrotechnical supplies and explosives. It 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 in true German fashion. Although he had no formal scientific training, Meyer-Hellige was of an inventive and practical mind, and, with the help of one of the firm's engineers, he was the first to test the idea of a multi-stage ignition system, the same technology that 35 years later launched the first satellites into space. The invention could have doubled his fortune had not the Nazis come to power. Meyer-Hellige, a man of independent views, bristled at the changes introduced by the new regime. They in turn mistrusted him and, in 1934, he was denounced as being disloyal and was forced to sell his factories. All the data from his research went to the German military. His world fell apart. Then, in 1947, he met a young and very religious Russian woman, Elena Constantinovna, nee Radomanskaya. They fell in love, and she introduced him to a whole new world, the world of the Russian Orthodox Church.

        Meyer-Hellige was sympathetic towards his wife's religion, but the deep, personal conviction which lies at the foundation of a true conversion, took some time to develop. Elena Constantinovna wrote to Archbishop John (Maximovitch), asking him to pray for her husband, and she sent alms to Mount Athos and the Holy Land with the same request. Through her, Meyer-Hellige met Bishop Leonty of Geneva and became closely acquainted with Archimandrite Kornily of the Pochaev Brotherhood in Munich. He was a mining engineer, and they had long discussions. Later, Meyer-Hellige also developed a correspondence with Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitsev) of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, a monk of great learning and fluent in German. Under their combined influence, the desire to embrace the Orthodox faith matured. It came to fruition after the couple moved to the Holy Land, in September 1969. Visiting the holy sites, attending services at the various monasteries, and speaking with the monks and nuns--all this deepened Meyer-Hellige's understanding and appreciation of Orthodoxy. Finally, he decided that he did not want to postpone baptism any longer. Then a real battle began. Turning to leave the room moments after telling his wife of his decision, he stumbled and fell headlong on the 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 some attackers. "I want to become Orthodox right now," he declared. His wife explained that this was not possible; it was the middle of the night. He calmed down but awoke 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 especially, lay unconscious on the floor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, six miles away.

        In the morning, Elena Constantinovna phoned the Mount of Olives convent and arrangements for the baptism were made without delay. Meyer-Hellige was still unable to get out of bed, so the baptism was performed there in their home in Bethany. With the priest came a group of nuns from the convent, and Abbess Tamara, who had agreed to be godmother. Knowing how long and dilligently Meyer-Hellige had prepared for this occasion, they all wept for joy. He took the name Alexander, having been impressed by St. Alexander Nevsky's maxim, "God is found not in might but in truth." Later he said to his wife,

 "All my life I have been living on the bottom of the ocean, and now the waves have brought me to the surface, to sunlight, to freedom."

The German pioneer of rocket technology, Werner Alexander Meyer-Hellige, died peacefully on August 2, 1970, the feast of the prophet Elijah, 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.


Switch to: 

Subscribe (and order back issues) to Orthodox America
Order Books from Orthodox America

If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society