Why Christian families from America, Brazil, and Denmark are relocating to rural Russian villages a few hours north of Moscow . .
In the village of Krasnovo, the church of the Holy Theophany was built in 1870, and is now being restored. But this is not the only attraction here. This church also has an American priest.
Fr. Joseph has many friends who come to him, fleeing from America, Denmark, and other countries. This of course creates such an amazing and unusual composition of parishioners, which is why we all actively use English in the service. Services here in the church of the Holy Theophany last longer than usual, because the scripture readings and some of the hymns are duplicated in English.
Joseph Gleason, or as he is now called, "Fr. Joseph", with his wife and their eight children, moved from America to Russia, to the Yaroslavl oblast, five years ago.
Formerly, Joseph was a deacon in the Anglican church, but while studying theology, he came to the conclusion that true Christianity can only be found in the Orthodox Church.
...I was still nervous, because changing religions is such a huge life decision. My grandparents and great-grandparents and many previous generations were Protestants.
I decided to do as the Bible says, with prayer and fasting. So for three days, I didn't eat anything. I just drank water and prayed. I asked the Lord to show me what I should do.
There weren't any signs from heaven, but after these three days, I felt that I received a direct answer. It became clear to me that if I became Orthodox, everything would be OK. I felt peace in my soul and realized that this was the path I would follow.
At first, Fr. Joseph's extended family categorically disagreed with his decision.
They either thought I was crazy, or that I was an "idolater", because that's how they perceived Orthodox icons. My sister and her family refused to enter my church building. She said she wanted nothing to do with "idolatry". My mom didn't like it either. I was very upset about this.
A few years later, when I decided to move to Russia, my mother had already decided that she hated this country and the Orthodox faith, and for some time we hardly talked to each other.
A few months later, after I had already left, my sister and her family converted to Orthodoxy, and this upset my mother even more.
My sister came here to visit Russia with her family, and they visited many holy places.
And a miracle happened: My mother converted to Orthodoxy!
The first year in Russia was difficult. After arriving here, Fr. Joseph was diagnosed with cancer. But with treatment in Moscow, he successfully overcame it. Soon, life got better. He and his family did not regret choosing to live in Russia.
People look to you and follow your example. Is that also part of your mission, or not?
Well, my mission and the mission of any Orthodox Christian is to follow Christ, to be obedient to Him, and to protect people when their faith is attacked.
Of course I want to help people. They feel that their faith is under threat, and that their children are in spiritual danger, and indeed they are.
Of course I let them know that there is an opportunity here. This may not be for everyone, but I hope that many will see this as a good option.
You can be anywhere in the world and consider yourself to be at home, but you do not have a real home until there is a church, the faith, and fellow believers near you. A house is not only a pile of logs and bricks.
Here I feel that we have a country that supports Orthodoxy and does not persecute us for it. We have a community here. Many have the same goals, to raise up our children in the Orthodox faith.
I feel at home here. We have everything we need here to live a Christian life
All these families standing here in this church arrived here after Father Joseph. The first and most basic question I asked them was,
"How did you reach this decision to move to Russia?"
We talked with a lot of friends who had already moved here, we thought about what the best place would be for our family, to raise them as Orthodox Christians, and we really wanted to explore the idea of living in a historically Orthodox nation.
Why Russia in particular?
Why Russia? Well, there is strong leadership in the church. When I look at Patriarch Kirill, I see the strength and the fidelity to the Gospel with which he operates. I have to say that our holy Patriarch is leading the church well here, and the church abroad as well.
Also, I must say that the strong way President Putin leads his people here is an inspiration to people looking from without, who want that, who desire to have their faith protected, to have a future for their children as well, because their children need to be protected.
So, in America they are not protected?
No. Absolutely not. The laws in America right now are pushing the LGBT movement. Children are assaulted with this ideology in music, TV commercials, and even in schools.
Meanwhile, in Russia, it is forbidden. For me, this is most important.
We have two more families here, one from Brazil, and the other from the United States.
So, did you come here to just to take a look?
No, we came here to live permanently. We bought a house, and I'm opening my business in Pereslavl-Zalessky.
It seems hard to believe that this is possible, since many of our compatriots rush to move to the west, but here the situation is exactly the opposite.
After all, these are not some bots on the Internet. Real people are sitting in front of me, sharing their personal experiences and their sincere intentions.
We were so pleased to meet this Danish couple in their early 20s, Daniel and Mira.
We decided that we would live here in Russia. At least, we will do our best to stay here.
What's most important to us is our son. It is very important to us that he lives in a good environment, and we are convinced that Denmark is not the right place for him.
So, what are your plans for your life here in Russia?
Our plans for life in Russia, by God's grace, are to get a house, to start a farm with animals, hopefully to have more children, to homeschool them, and to live a quiet and peaceful life in the countryside. This is our plan.
In a village?
Yes, in the countryside. We want to raise our children so that they become a part of Russian society.
Interestingly, they all have higher education, and still they assure me that they want to live in a real Russian village, even though the only Russians currently living there are older and retired.
But who knows? Maybe these foreigners' aspirations will find responses in the hearts of our compatriots, and these lovely village houses with carved window frames will once again be bubbling with life.
Krasnovo has its own dress code, so I’m already in this sundress that they gave me.
I’m in the house built for the priest in 1871. They restored it in the same way as this church.
We began this work when we started holding our summer camp in the nearby Mikhailovsky pine forest. I was serving the liturgy here every day during the camp.
During the camp, we slowly began restoring frescoes, clearing windows with the help of local villagers, opening windows that had been shut with boards, and taking away garbage. Of course we worked on it. You couldn't expect us to do otherwise. We're Orthodox, after all. How could we just leave so much trash in a church?
Father Ignaty, hieromonk of the Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery, has been working with local children for 14 years, improving the church territory and the village. If it weren't for him, there would not be a church here now, nor the buildings next to it, nor the cultured life, which, by the way, is in full swing in this village.
Not every city dweller would be able to do a square dance, but the locals can. They have real balls in the church parish school, which was also built by Fr. Ignaty and his pupils.
This is a good example of how to bring life back to a village.
Village life here in Russia is not very cheerful. As Patriarch Kirill said 25 years ago, the village was dying, and was dying in terrible ways.
Would you say this village has been a good example of this?
Well, yes, probably so. It has been a common occurrence for such a rural life.
In this village, it is a blessing that there is a natural spring nearby. A lot of people come here because of the good drinking water. So the village does receive visitors.
There is a unique spring in Krasnovo. St. Irinarch himself, who blessed the militia of Minin and Pozharsky, stopped here to drink water. Locals say that it doesn't go bad, and it doesn't even leave mineral deposits. Teenagers, pupils of Father Ignaty, plunge into this holy water even in winter.
This evening we met with a married couple, Aaron and Danielle. They said they are leaving the United States, and they want to settle here in the Yaroslavl region.
I think one of the things that motivated our move is that over the last 10 years in America, the culture has been moving in a very strange direction.
Family values are being destroyed by the LGBT movement, and it has even gotten into the schools. Stories about transgender people are being imposed on young children, which is completely unnecessary.
And if you resist it, then there are cases where people are losing their jobs.
Is it propaganda, or is it for real, these things we are saying about the West?
It's a reality. It's more real than you and me. I'd like to snap my fingers and let people spend three weeks there and experience it for themselves.
American politicians do not want to understand us, but there are ordinary people who are not only trying to understand, but also to become part of our world.
They admire our culture, profess our faith, and are ready to explore our villages. Their courage is inspiring. May there be more such examples.
Russia is open to those who love and understand it.
Angelica Karetkina. Andrey Andreevsky. Sergey Kamensky. Television channel СПАС.