"We Came to Russia for a Better Life" - Why Westerners are Moving to Russia

Why is a whole colony of foreigners forming in the center of the Yaroslavl region?


Our correspondent Vladimir Vorsobin (right) met an American priest with his family near the Borisoglebsky Monastery.

Photo: Mikhail Frolov

An Almost-Fulfilled Prophecy

Rostov the Great. Churches, churches, churches. Russian frost. When it's so cold that it burns. You freeze to the point of crystallization and shiver down the street. I'm walking with Geraldo, a local Brazilian. He stamps his feet while wearing a hat with earflaps, and you happily say to him: 

"Well, Zhora, why not Rio de Janeiro?" (For convenience, I christened the good Geraldo "Zhora".)

"Well actually, I wanted to settle in Irkutsk," the frostbitten Brazilian mumbles. "God saved us..."

And he looks at me with piercing eyes.

“You probably don’t understand what a wonderful country you live in,” he says.

"What do you mean?" I say guardedly.

"You were lucky to be born in Russia." Zhora clapped his mittened hands together. "I walk with my wife around the city every evening. It's a feast for the eyes. There is salvation here. There is peace here. (He had been speaking Portuguese and here he switches into Russian.) It is good here. Do you understand that it is good here?" 

He stands. Blinks. He's delighted. A blessed Brazilian.

I shrug. What can one say to that?

"Eh, you've got it all figured out, Geraldo," I say, grinning. But I think to myself: The curly-haired man is right. We Russians have our eyes blurred. For half a day I wander around Rostov the Great, look at ancient churches, walls, and even cross myself . . . But there is still no enthusiasm.

And the strange thing is that foreigners are actually coming here, to the Yaroslavl region. There is already a whole colony of them here: Germans, Americans, British, Scottish. Someone is engaged in tourism, someone in farming, someone is simply "retired", burning through their European pension here — in this "unsettled, unpromising Russia," as we Russians often grumble in our kitchens.

They say that among the foreigners there is a rumor that a priest lived in Rostov, known for his prophecy that this provincial region will flourish as soon as foreigners come here. Even the local priesthood says there really was a clairvoyant priest. This story turns out to be surprisingly strong.

The Brazilian, Geraldo, settled in the cold Rostov the Great, although at first he was going to Siberia. God saved him...

Photo: Mikhail Frolov

So Geraldo left his Brazilian town and arrived here with his young wife. He makes a living by translating articles and managing a news website. He goes to Russian churches. And he dreams of salvation.

“For Father Joseph and me,” he said, “Russia is freedom. Here you can build your own world. One that is pure, correct, and godly." 

I actually was on my way to visit this Joseph. He is Joseph Gleason. The American came here from Texas five years ago, and like Geraldo, he consider various parts of Russia until he saw the land of Rostov the Great. Then came the standard reaction: Delight. Yes, and such delight that he brought his wife and eight children from America, settled in a nearly abandoned village, and seems to be happy.

He serves God in a church in one of the villages. And he says strange things...

"Father couldn't light the stove in the church"

The first time, I came across Father Joseph by chance, by clicking on the link to an Orthodox conference.

With further research, I learned that Joseph Gleason had moved from America to a place near Yaroslavl. In the US, he worked as an IT engineer for a large corporation. He was looking for the true faith, first in the Anglican church, then in Orthodoxy. Moreover, having delved into religious reading, he was so imbued with the Russian Faith that he converted an entire Anglican parish to it.

“When I studied the Bible and church history, I realized that Protestantism was only 500 years old,” he said. "I didn't want to be part of a religion that was so young. I wanted to be in the Church that has existed since the time of Christ and the apostles.”

Father Joseph Gleason and his large family have found a place in Russia where they can be saved from the unrighteous Western way of life.

Photo: Mikhail Frolov

To the Russian way of thinking, Gleason is an unusual phenomenon. Strange. Imagine an Orthodox "fundamentalist" raised in an ultra-religious family. Joseph's father, a Protestant, toured across America (as part of the "Blackwood Brothers" and "Jubliee Quartet" Gospel groups), singing Christian songs passionately. Gleason Jr. continued his work. But in his own way. He became Orthodox and decided to save himself in Russia.

For a Russian, this is like coming to believe in God and moving to Greenland.

“When I found out that some American priest wanted to move here, I didn’t believe it,” recalls the Rostov Dean Archpriest Roman Krupnov. "But he came with his wife and a bunch of children. I still remember — the frost was 30 degrees below zero, and their child was exposed. 'Poor fellows', I think. To begin with, we settled them in a house near the church. And he immediately went to work: He began to build a house for himself on Blagoveshenskaya Gora (Annunciation Hill). And then a second one — he has a big family."

“Fortunately, his American employers allowed him to work remotely from Russia,” the archpriest recalls. "It saved him. Due to the time difference, he went online to work at 5:00 P.M., and he continued working until 2:00 A.M." 

But then the strange priest lost his job in the USA, and he remained in the Yaroslavl outback to live on the beggarly salary of a parish priest. The settler was given an empty church in the neighboring village...

I call Gleason, to clarify our meeting place.

“We can't meet in the village church,” a local parishioner answers instead of him (Father Joseph hardly speaks Russian). "Father couldn't start the stove in the church, so it's freezing here. He decided not to freeze his flock. Tomorrow he will serve in the Borisoglebsky Monastery. It is warmer there . . ."

“Poor American,” I think. "He doesn't know Russian. And, Lord, eight children! How will he survive?”

And then I remembered that very Orthodox conference... He will survive.

I remember it as if it were now: An American blazing on the podium. Preaching. In such a way that the Russian priests are stunned.

“Remember,” the American earnestly pleaded with them, “the school does not educate our children, it trains workers for business corporations and drills soldiers for the state. Is this what God wants? Orthodox Christians know that God created a husband and a father who must work and protect his wife and children. To raise children and to be a helpmeet for the husband, He created the mother and the wife. But God did not create schools. He created the race of Israel and did not tell them that they needed teachers. God gave parents the responsibility for teaching. And parents do not need to doubt: 'Is it possible for me to teach my children at home?' They need to ask themselves: 'How can I teach them?' In America, millions of children are homeschooled. In Russia, about 100 thousand. And these children pass exams better and can enter a university more easily."

The priest cast a flaming gaze around the paralyzed Orthodox audience, which seemed to vividly imagine the "true Christian life" — daily kitchen lessons for 6 hours with offspring for 9 - 11 years — and hammered in the last nail with a wave of his hand.

"If you cannot teach your children because of your job, then you should change your job!" he said.

"To get married and teach my children at home" 

At the Borisoglebsky Monastery, where Father Joseph set our meeting place, I met a sunny lady. A former Muscovite. A few years ago, she sold her apartment in Moscow and moved here with her daughter. Closer to God. Happy. She trades in apple pastille. It's real. Delicious. Only fifty rubles. 

This former Muscovite also moved to the Yaroslavl region. She trades in apple pastille. She's happy.

Photo: Mikhail Frolov

And she says the same thing as my holy Brazilian. She says, can't you feel how good it is here, Vladimir?

"Here it is again!" I'm angry at myself. "Perhaps I have a gloomy, Muscovite face? And what is it that I'm supposed to be feeling?" 

I meet the innumerable Gleason family pouring out of the church.

We go to a nearly abandoned village nearby, where there is a house built by an American.

“Oh, I know this place,” the taxi driver nodded (I didn’t fit in Father’s car). "Who have I not driven here! I don’t remember any blacks, but other than that I've driven every nationality. A month ago, for example, I brought a Dutchman here. Why are there so many foreigners here?"

The house is strong. Spacious. A farm house. With a tractor. A shed. No neighbors to speak of. What would the Gleasons need neighbors for?

Inside — a real Russian hut. Spacious, no TV. Icons on the walls. A strong wooden table for the whole family. The women are preparing lunch. Everything here is on a strict schedule — prayer at 7 A.M., breakfast, work, study, prayer, lunch, and so on until nightfall.

"Kimberly, hello," I greet Father's elder daughter, my translator — she is the only one here who knows Russian well. "How old are you?"

"Eighteen," and blushes.

"Where are you thinking of going to college?"

She laughs.

"Nowhere," she said, shrugging. Like, that's nonsense!

I see that her numerous brothers and sisters also smiled. They understood the question.

"Wait, Kimberly," I was surprised, "In Russia it is expected that you'll go somewhere. To college, to a trade school..." 

“I don’t need to go anywhere, because I don’t plan to work,” the young American looks at me, uncomprehending. "I will get married and will teach my children at home as a wife, as a mother. I have no career plans." 

And none of the young Gleasons have such plans. Their father bought land nearby for his sons: they will grow up and become farmers.

And no one has any doubts. The father of the family said, "We are flying to Russia," and that means we are flying to Russia.

“At first, of course, it was a shock, but then I agreed that it would be better for an Orthodox family to live where Orthodoxy is the main religion,” said his quiet wife, Amy Gleason.

And here it is, the long-awaited moment.

"What is so special about Russia?" I asked Father Joseph, almost adding myself: what do you foreigners sense here that we don’t?

“Okay,” Father smiled. "Okay…" 

Fleeing Homosexual Propaganda

“I remember that day very well,” Father Joseph says. "When the Supreme Court forced the States to accept homosexual 'marriage', I decided that I would move to Russia. I told my family: It will be difficult. If we want money, it is better to live in America, but if we want the Orthodox faith, we should live in Russia. In America, many people do not know what Orthodoxy is. In America, millions of people believe that homosexual marriage is okay. I don't think that Russia is a paradise, but one can live a normal life here, because the state is trying to protect itself from sin." 

"All because of homosexuals?" I was surprised. "But how did they interfere with your everyday American life?"

“It used to be more peaceful,” the American sighed. "But now in many states new laws are being introduced — if you do not believe that homosexuality is normal, you can be fired from your job or banned from a university. In some cases your children can even be taken away. You can be persecuted if you condemn homosexuality or transgenderism."

Americans, it turns out, have been coming to Russia in waves — at first they fled from homosexual propaganda. Believers who would not reconcile themselves with such things preferred to find another country.

Now a wave of covid-skeptics have reached Russia...

“One thing upsets me in Russia,” the American suddenly remarked. “They don’t seem to notice the sinfulness of vaccinations here. In the US, everyone knows perfectly well that cells of aborted children were used in the creation of vaccines. But in Russia they are silent. And nobody talks about it. Why?" 

"If that's the only thing that upsets you in Russia, then you are a saint," I laugh.

To which Father Joseph humbly remarks that in Russia it is easy to start a job, but one can only finish a job with great difficulty...

Then the American priest then switches to politics.

He says that Crimea is ours, Kiev is fascist, and in the US-Russia conflict, he is in agreement with the position officially adopted by Moscow.

I nod meaningfully at the priest's son — will he go to war?

“I love America,” Father Joseph spoke passionately, “and I pray that the American government will repent. Because for the last hundred years, the US Army has been spreading evil. If only they would only fight to defend against those who tried to conquer them! But no, they are building military bases all over the world and they want to rule the whole world. I don't want them to serve in the American army. But if they want to serve in the Russian army, I don't see any problems. Your army defends your country without attacking others."

“It would be great if you are right,” I remark. And then I ask him to reveal the secret — what do they, foreigners, sense in Russia? Why are they rushing here? And I get a parable in return.

He says, in the Gospel, Jesus speaks of a field where an amazingly beautiful pearl was hidden. And one man sold everything so that he could buy it. "So we, foreigners, came here to gain this gift."

"And what is this gift?" 

"Russia. This land. The Faith." Father Joseph laughed. "It's amazing that many Russians have a dream to go to the USA, they think that it's still the '80s there, that there is freedom there. No, we've switched places — now freedom is here in Russia!" 

We say goodbye, and we take a picture. Father commands: "No American smiles, let's do it like Russians," he makes a gloomy face and then laughs . . .

And I, taking advantage of the distraction, furtively ask Kimberly, who is already busy with housework:

"Of course, you were joking about your main goal in life — to be a housewife?" 

"Why do you think so?" she laughs.

"Isn't it boring?"

“There is nothing more important and more exciting than sitting at home and teaching a child,” she says instructively. "Here I am a teacher, here I am a cook. Breakfast, lunch, and supper to make — what else do you need for a good life?" 

"Wonderful!" the homemaker in me admired. "That's rare in Russia." 

And then 18-year-old Kimberly breaks out:

"If both Americans and Russians will remember how their ancestors lived," she suddenly says so fervently... "If they will live as God commanded. If Americans and Russians start big families and don't have abortions..."

"No contraception," Father Joseph prompts in a whisper and proudly looks at me.

"Yes, no contraception" the girl nods, "then we will build a wonderful world!" 

And the whole big, friendly Gleason family crossed themselves.

Source: Komsomolskaya Pravda (Russian)

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