As Christian values have come under increased pressure in the West, some leave for places with more respect for traditional ways of living. Joseph Gleason is one of them: he left America for Rostov Veliki, in Russia’s idyllic countryside. . .
Once, Joseph Gleason was a fervent Calvinist, a pastor in a small church in Omaha, Illinois. But that time has gone. Gleason and his family — eight children and his wife — now live in the land of the onion-shaped domes of the Russian Orthodox Church. With his long, broad beard and black robes, he is the typical of a Russian Orthodox priest. A silver cross dangles on his stomach.
Joseph Gleason (43) worked in America as an IT professional for almost two decades. Since 2017, the Gleasons have been living close to Rostov Veliky, in the Yaroslavl region. Father "Iosif", as the Russians call him, serves in several churches and seminaries, including weekly at a village church in the village of Krasnovo, about seven miles from his home. He also helps other Americans with their 'crossing'. He also has a website called Russian Faith.
His "conversion" to Orthodoxy did not just happen all at once. It took months, Gleason went from being a “solid, tough Calvinist Anglican Protestant preacher” to “thoroughly confused.” For many years, Gleason searched for the truth, a journey that took him through different church movements: Protestants, Anglicans, but also Catholic churches. Now Gleason is a member of what he calls that “only church that has existed on the earth for 2,000 years,” the Orthodox Church.
The first time Gleason stepped into an Orthodox Church was in America, he was overwhelmed: “The robes, the singing, the psalms, the incense, the prayers, the presence of God there in the midst of his people, it is as if you read the book of Revelation and you see how worship takes place in heaven.”
Several years ago, in 2017, Gleason decided to move with his family to Russia, where he has been living for four years now in Rostov Veliky, Russia, a town that is part of the Orthodox Golden Ring, the heart of Russian Orthodoxy. Gleason has become a celebrity on Russian TV, where his story is of course a beautiful picture of Russian culture. A conversation with Joseph Gleason:
You were Protestant for most of your life. What made you convert to (Russian) Orthodoxy?
I realized that Christ and the apostles had only built one Church, and it was not Protestant. I wanted to join the same Church that was founded by Christ and the apostles, the only Church that has been on the earth for 2,000 years.
Even after reading early Protestants like Luther, Calvin, and Edwards, as well as later Protestants such as Sproul, White, and Wilson, I realized that the Orthodox Church is the place where one can go deeper into the Holy Scriptures, paying closer attention to the details written in God's Word.
You have also spent most of your life in America. What made you leave America?
I didn't want to raise my children in a country without a future. When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized so-called "homosexual marriage", we were very frustrated. Every society is built on the foundation of the family. When the family is strong, society and the state are also strong. History has confirmed this several times.
It is as Saint Paisios put it: When an individual sins, God punishes the individual, but when the government sins, God punishes the whole nation. I don't know if it will take ten years or fifty years. But if America does not repent, the nation will eventually fall.
Why did you move to Russia?
It didn't feel right to live in America anymore and I started looking for a country where we could live, and I started researching countries with strong Orthodox traditions: Serbia, Georgia, Greece and of course Russia.
The Orthodox Church has existed in Russia for over a thousand years. And today, millions of devout Orthodox Christians live life and raise their families in Russia. More than 30,000 churches have been built or rebuilt in Russia in the past 30 years. That's an average of more than three new churches built every day.
I like the Greek churches. But home schooling is prohibited there and there too people have given in to homosexual propaganda. Russia is better: Orthodox Christianity is respected; home-schooling is legal, and homosexual propaganda is banned. While the rest of the world is turning its back on Christian principles, the Church has found a safe haven within Russia's borders.
Now that you live in Russia, is it what you expected? What is your life like?
My family and I are happy here. We have a house on an acre of land, a tractor, a barn, and a young cow. We also have high speed internet. New people continue to leave America and Canada, to move here, so we do our best to help them settle here.
We are grateful for our church community. Every Sunday we sing, we pray, and I preach from the Holy Scriptures. We always have a community meal together afterwards. Every day, my family and I start and end the day together with prayer. It's a good life.
How does the religious life in Russia differ from that of America?
In America, the challenge is to introduce people to Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately, many people in America are not familiar with it.
In Russia, the challenge is to inspire people to be faithful to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. It is one thing to just attend a liturgy and light a candle or two. It is quite another thing to change one's entire life by carefully reading the scriptures and writings of the Saints, faithfully obeying the teachings of Christ.
What is the hardest thing for you and your family in Russia?
Since English is our native language, it is difficult to learn the Russian language, but we are making good progress. The government bureaucracy also makes it difficult to navigate through the paperwork required for immigration and other things.
Why do you think orthodoxy is the truth?
This is the question everyone should ask themselves: “If my family and I lived in the 4th or 9th century, which church would I attend?” The answer wouldn't be Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran, or Presbyterian, because those options didn't exist at the time. No, 2000 years ago, Jesus and the apostles started a single Church.
In the first century, the apostle Paul visited many places, and planted many churches. Some of these churches are still around today, thriving in the places where they were planted during Paul's missionary journeys. If you visit them, what sort of ancient churches are they? They are Orthodox.
You are no doubt aware of Protestant criticism of Orthodoxy. For example, what do you think about icons?
There are those who misinterpret the Ten Commandments, imagining that all icons are forbidden, but Biblical examples are enough to correct that misunderstanding: God commanded Moses to place carved cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. Later, the same cherubim were placed in the Holy of Holies and icons of angels were embroidered on the tapestry within the temple. The temple itself was an icon (a representation) of the presence of the Lord. In Psalm 5, God's people even bow before the temple.
How do you see your future in Russia?
I pray that my eight children will grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures and in their faithfulness to Christ, that they will start their own godly families, and that our church community will likewise grow. I pray that my children will lead my future grandchildren and great-grandchildren to faith in Christ, and ultimately to an eternity in heaven.
What would you like to say to people in the West?
Russia protects Christians
One of the main reasons Joseph Gleason turned his back on America was foreign policy. That drew him to Russia.
“(The Americans) have established hundreds of military bases around the world and have supported countless unjust wars. And when they go to war against Orthodox countries, it seems that they always attack Christians instead of protecting them.”
“As bad as the leader of Iraq was, at least he protected the Christians who lived there. But after the war was forced on Iraq, the Christian population was mercilessly exiled or massacred. Before the Iraqi war there were about a million Christians and today there are almost zero.”
“Russia openly promotes the Orthodox Christian faith. And in several military conflicts, Russia has fought for the side that protects Orthodox Christians. So, if there ever comes another major war, I don't want my kids to be in an army fighting Russia. I would rather they be in the Russian army so they can help protect Christians.”
“And the Russian army is very strong. Instead of establishing military bases around the world, they focus on defending national borders. If a nation is foolish enough to attack Russia, I think they will lose. I feel safer in Russia than anywhere else.”
Take action! Resist the assault from the rainbow mafia:Russian Faith Website Attacked by Pro-LGBT Megacorporation - Help Us Fight Back! Who works for Russian Faith? Click to see our photos:Meet the Team - Russian Faith Now in Seven Languages!