Christian Foreigners Moving to Russia - How an American is Helping Make it Happen

An American Orthodox priest, Joseph Gleason, moved with his family from the United States to a village in the Yaroslavl region several years ago, and now helps Orthodox foreigners immigrate to Russia. There are already more than 2,000 people in the social media group he runs. According to Joseph and other foreigners, there is increasing pressure in Western countries on people committed to traditional family values. Earlier, 12 families with many children asked RT to help them obtain Russian citizenship. Read about how the Americans have settled in the Russian countryside in the RT story.

"If money is the most important thing to you, live in America. But if your faith is most important to you, if you want to live where your religious views are protected, it is better to live in Russia," Joseph Gleason says to his English-speaking listeners and readers.

He moved to Russia with his wife Amy and eight children four years ago. He now serves in an Orthodox village church. They call him "Father Joseph".

"If it wasn't for the kids, I would have stayed in America."

Joseph grew up in a religious family: his father, Whitey Gleason, a pianist, toured cities with the famous gospel band, the Blackwood Brothers, which sang Christian songs in Protestant churches. At age 20 Joseph entered seminary to dedicate his life to serving God. After several years in a Calvinist baptist church, he eventually converted to an Anglican Church.

Joseph Gleason's family loves music / © Photo from personal archive

He founded an Anglican parish in the small town of Omaha, Illinois. Joseph tells us that the more Christian books he read, the more he thought he wanted to join an ancient church with a strong Christian tradition.

Eventually Joseph and his wife Amy decided to embrace Orthodoxy.

Moreover, all the parishioners in the Anglican parish gradually converted to Orthodoxy as well — none of them left the congregation. But this was not the end of the Gleason family's quest.

"If my wife and I didn't have children, I might have stayed in America because of my laziness. But I don't live only for myself. I fear that if we stayed in America forever, it would be very difficult for my children, and especially my grandchildren, to live their lives as true Christians," Joseph tells RT.

Traditionalists in the U.S. now find it difficult, he said, to maintain their worldview and raise their children among the values they believe in.

"If you just say, 'I'm a Christian' - but you don't go to church or think differently from everyone else, then you'll be fine. If you're a traditionalist in the deepest sense of the word, meaning marriage for you is only a union between a man and a woman, if you don't approve of the LGBT or transgender lifestyle, then it's harder to get a good job or even an education because you're under pressure for that position," he explains in a conversation with RT.

When the U.S. Supreme Court made homosexual marriage legal in all 50 states in 2015, the Gleasons made the final decision to move. The couple was looking for an Orthodox country that banned same-sex marriage and allowed homeschooling. Russia fit the bill on both counts.

According to him, "American television and movies always portray Russia in an absolutely negative way." He says the Orthodox faith played a major role in the fact that he and his wife stopped being afraid of Russia, because he read and learned about the lives of so many Orthodox Christian saints from Russia.

During one of his trips across the country, Joseph found himself in Rostov Veliky, a small city in Yaroslavl Oblast with a population of 30,000 people and more than 1,000 years of history. The ancient Russian city, called the Orthodox capital of Russia, impressed Gleason, and he decided that this is where he wanted to raise his children.

Getting used to the "Russian soul"

The Gleasons moved to Rostov on January 2, 2017. Russia welcomed them with bitter frosts: temperatures then dropped to -35°C. It was out of the ordinary — one of the coldest winters in more than a hundred years.

Archpriest Roman Krupnov, the dean of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Rostov Kremlin, who helped the family get settled in, recalls that at first it was not easy for the Americans to accept help.

Father Joseph with his son / © Photo from personal archive

"Of course, they were different from us in mentality and habits. For example, they had to get used to what we call the 'Russian soul'. We welcomed them as guests and helped them gratuitously. But at first, they tried to pay for everything, quite insistently, they did not understand how they could just accept our help, they said: "We must pay". Little by little they got used to the fact that you can receive help for nothing", recalls Father Roman.

According to him, the Orthodox faith helped to overcome the difference in mentalities: "As an Orthodox man, as a patriot, Joseph was no different from me or other priests.

The Gleason family now lives in the small village of Ivashevo near Rostov Veliky. Life in the countryside, on their own plot of land, is familiar and understandable to them: they never lived in city apartments in the United States.

Bishop Theoktist, under whom Joseph now serves, says he is distinguished by his "ability and willingness to work with his own hands rather than wait for outside help."

"This is something we lost in the twentieth century due to the well-known events of the Soviet era. Father Joseph is the kind of American who lives from the work of his hands, because he is a subsistence farmer. In fact, he and his family now live the way our great-grandfathers lived, who went and fed themselves from their own land," the bishop shared in a conversation with RT.

"I will support all the aspirations of my children."

Father Joseph now serves at the Church of the Epiphany in the village of Krasnovo, 11 km from his home. He is not the rector of the church, but it was after his arrival that weekly services began in the church.

The Gleason family on their property during construction / © Photo from personal archive

"Before he came, services were held once a month, usually attended by three old ladies from the locals, although there are about 100 people living in Krasnovo permanently," Vasily Tomachinsky, reader at Epiphany Church, tells RT. "As services started regularly, locals started coming more often, as well as people from nearby Borisoglebsky. For example, most recently there are two newly baptized children who, along with their mother and siblings, regularly come to services."

Services in the village church are bilingual: Father Joseph says some of the prayers in Church Slavonic and some in English. Especially for the services he prepares a notebook with bilingual translation.

According to Vasily, most parishioners have become accustomed to these services, although new church members are unaccustomed to hearing sermons in English.

"Sometimes it happens that new people don't really like the fact that an Orthodox priest speaks a foreign language, it is somehow unusual for them. But gradually everyone gets used to it," Vasily smiles.

Joseph himself admits that Russian is not easy for him, but it is much easier for his children. If his sons want to become priests, they will follow that path with more success than he did, Joseph believes.

"There are many career paths open to my children in Russia: they can become teachers, engineers, translators. I will support all their aspirations. But the most important thing is that here they will be able to live in a society where no one will fire them from their jobs for their religious beliefs or persecute them for it. The most important thing for me is that they are all true Orthodox Christians," the priest said.

All of his children are now homeschooled. In addition, like their father and grandfather, they are engaged in music. The Gleasons' daughters are fond of Znamenny chants, a type of ancient Russian chant that has been heard in Orthodox services since the 12th century.

Vasily Tomachinsky recalls that when he met the Gleason children, he was very surprised by their broad worldview.

"They all love to read, which is unusual for modern children, constantly taking books with them. For example, his 11-year-old son once brought a Psalter in English and told me he was very interested in reading. Another son loves animals and plants, and we communicate a lot on this topic: we discuss what plants we can plant, what animals we have seen," Vasily tells RT.

Warm Country.

Although Father Joseph serves in a rural church with fewer than a hundred people, his audience is much broader. Back in the fall of 2016, when his family was planning to leave the U.S., Joseph started a Facebook group called "Orthodox Christians Moving to Russia." It now has over 2,400 members.

According to Joseph himself, the people in this group love America: their friends, family, fellow citizens, and nature.

"But unfortunately, the way the government behaves both in America and in Canada is becoming increasingly intolerable to Orthodox Christians," he explains.

Joseph and other users share articles about Russia, explaining how to move legally, find jobs and housing so that those who have joined the group recently learn about real life in the country. The vast majority of Americans know only what the official propaganda says about Russia: that it is a "dangerous" and "unfriendly" country, Joseph says.

"These people had never heard anything good about Russia, but five years ago that all changed. I posted a lot of videos and pictures, showing that Russia is a good and safe place for Christian believers," Joseph says.

He emphasizes that he knows hundreds of Orthodox Christians in the U.S. and Canada who would like to move to Russia to keep their faith and raise their children in adherence to Christian values.

75 U.S. and Canadian citizens have already applied to RT's "Not Alone" project with a request to help them obtain Russian citizenship. The editors sent an inquiry to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs requesting comment on the possibility of helping foreigners. 

In addition to his social networking group, Joseph maintains a website called Russian Faith. Materials are translated into ten languages. One of the translators who works with their Portuguese-speaking audience is a Brazilian, Geraldo Silva.

He and his wife, Karen, moved to Rostov Veliky last fall.

Like Father Joseph, Geraldo was also once a Calvinist and became interested in Orthodoxy during his seminary studies. A year after beginning his studies, he became an Orthodox Christian. Soon after, he and his wife found it increasingly difficult to be active parishioners.

"Brazil is currently dealing with social problems, and we see similar things happening in North America. I'm talking about gender theory, about rewriting history, about how society and authorities react to Christian values," Geraldo tells RT.

He met Father Joseph through the Russian Faith website. At that time, Geraldo and Karen were considering several Russian cities for relocation, including Irkutsk. But after talking with Joseph, they decided they would live in the Yaroslavl region.

Karen & Geraldo Silva / © Photo from personal archive

"After reading Russian literature (e.g. Dostoevsky), Russia seems very white and covered in snow. But we first came here at the very end of spring, and it was hot! It was as if we'd never left Brazil, and we were very surprised at the warm welcome," Geraldo says, smiling.

The family recently bought an apartment in Rostov - on the grounds of the current A.L. Kekin gymnasium. Geraldo and Karen live in an annex that used to be reserved for local teachers, while they are students themselves and are mastering the Russian language.

There is a park next door with a soccer field, and Geraldo jokes that, as Brazilians, they couldn't choose an apartment in a different neighborhood. Under their windows, local schoolchildren play on the playground. So far, the couple have no children of their own, but they dream of having a big family.

"We want to raise our children so that they live here peacefully and quietly and take an active part in public life, helping others and each other. We want to raise them as human beings so that they will be a good addition to the Russian population," Geraldo says with a smile.

He now earns his living translating from Portuguese to English. The man hopes that once he has mastered Russian, he can join the ranks of the clergy in the local church.

© Photo from personal archive

Karen and Geraldo were already married when they arrived in Rostov, but a few months ago they were married in an Orthodox church and each was baptized the same day — Father Joseph administered the sacraments.

Now the Silva family has a three-year temporary residence permit, and it is already a victory for them because they were able to obtain the documents despite the difficulties caused by the border closure and the lockdown.

Source: (Russian)