"It's the people that make Russia 'Russia', and that's what makes me like being here. . . . They are kind people, they are good people, they are friendly, they are serious about going to church and living their lives for Christ in a real way, and I have not been disappointed."
A little over two years ago, an American priest brought his wife and eight children to Russia, starting their new life in a land where Orthodox churches are on every corner, and where the only legal marriages are traditional marriages, between one man and one woman.
In this ten minute mini-documentary, TOK Media introduces viewers to the Gleason family. What is it like for a family of ten to leave America, move to Russia, and live in a snowy town that looks like an ancient fairytale? A video transcript, in English, is included below.
I came here expecting that there are a lot of people that are serious about the faith. They are kind people, they are good people, they are friendly, they are serious about going to church and living their lives for Christ in a real way, and I have not been disappointed. I have met a lot of people just like that. It's the people that make Russia "Russia", and that's what makes me like being here.
Every morning we get up around 6:30. We pray together as a family, we have time at the table for breakfast, we have, time for reading the lives of the saints.
Every day we go out and walk close to four kilometers, and then three days out of the week we also do some basic exercises — some lightweight squats and lunges and push-ups and planks. Monday through Saturday the kids and Amy will go into the prayer room, and that's also their school room. We have lunch together as a family, and usually in the afternoon there's a little bit more free time. In the evening, I also do some additional work on the computer.
I like my children to have a taste of the monastery. Everybody eats their food quietly while somebody reads lives of the saints.
And a little exercise that we do every day after their reading the lives of the saints: My wife will read Proverbs or Sirach, and then when she's done, each kid in order from the youngest up to the oldest tries to remember something.
They get better and better and better about really paying attention to their parents, really listening to what's being said, and then remembering it so that they're able to say it back to you afterwards.
Probably the most enjoyable and awesome things that we have seen are the churches. It's just a total difference from being in America, where Orthodoxy is so rare. Here, we look next door and there's a church, and we look down the road and there's another church.
When we first arrived it was the coldest winter they had in Russia I think in like a hundred years. It was very cold, and I just remember we were sleep-deprived because we had been up for so many hours with the flights to get here, and then driving from Moscow to Rostov it seemed kind of like we were in a tunnel because everything was white with the snow, and then it was so cold and dark.
All the kids have always been homeschooled. We have never put them in a public school or in a private school. Because we are so intimately involved with it they are actually able to get more work done in a shorter amount of time, and we are even able to push them to do additional work, because we know what they are capable of doing.
Since we've been here now almost two years, we have learned enough [Russian] that we are able to have conversations with people at church, and their friends, and that helps a lot.
Kimberly (speaking in Russian):
It is still difficult now. But it's easier than it was, because the more you practice speaking Russian, the better you are able to speak it.
If you have families where the relationships are good and mom and dad love each other, and mom and dad love the kids, and the kids love the parents, and there's mutual care and respect and love, that's where children become adults. That's where they learn what it means to be part of a little society and the family.
You know, I looked at and talked to hundreds of different women online and with a lot of them it just didn't click. And then I meet this woman [Amy] who has traveled the world, been in the army, knows computers backwards and forwards, and then she said one thing that got me. She said, "My dream job is to be a wife and a mother."
About a kilometer from the house, we are going to Uspensky Sabor (Dormition Cathedral) at the Rostov Kremlin. This is the area where my family and I go to church every Saturday evening for vigil and Sunday morning for church, for liturgy. I think it's one of the most beautiful places on earth.
I think the first year was the hardest for all of us. A month after we moved here I was diagnosed with a certain form of cancer, and instead of spending the summer taking my kids to see different sites like I was hoping, I spent most of the summer in a hospital in Moscow getting chemo and throwing my guts up.
All my hair fell out, I was bald, I had no beard, I was just weak and sick and I didn't feel like doing anything. And I have to confess, during those months that I was going through chemo, during those months that I was fighting cancer, I let myself get depressed sometimes. It just felt like it was too much. But thankfully I got through the chemo. The doctor said they can't find any trace of the cancer, so that is a huge blessing. We are very grateful for that.
I don't consider myself an American citizen first, or a Russian immigrant first — I consider myself a Christian first.
I know people have been very friendly. You know, the people at church have been very kind, they have welcomed us in. Our daughters are singing in the choir there. Fr. Roman has invited me, so most Sundays I'm there at the Kremlin beside Fr. Roman serving liturgy.
Fr. Roman (in Russian):
Of course, for us, in our small city of 30,000 people, it is unusual for there to be Americans. He needs to learn the Russian language, fully understand Church Slavonic, and receive either citizenship or permanent residency, in order to be officially received into our diocese, or wherever the Lord will grant.
I really love America, but there are a lot of troubling things going on. I think one of the biggest ones that happened recently is this idea of "homosexual marriage."
I know there are problems in Russia, just as there are in America. There is sin here, just like there is sin there. I don't think it's a paradise here, any more than it is in America.
I want my children to be able to raise their families — once they get married and have their own kids — in a place where they can be Christians in peace, and I believe that can happen here in Russia.