While I was in St. Petersburg, I determined not to miss church on Sundays before going to see some more neat stuff. Usually, I will not write much about my faith, but since this experience helps to lay some groundwork for what I hope will be future genealogy research in Russia, I include it here.
I've read in Church magazines and heard them tell on the World Report at General Conference about how it takes Russian members an hour on the bus to get to church. I found this to be true first hand. What they don't tell you is that there are two wards in St. Petersburg, and the distance traveled is only about 7 kilometers as the crow flies, with no fewer than 15 stops along the way.
It took some doing to find the church - it was a remodeled apartment building. The mission office and coat rack were downstairs, the chapel on the third floor, and the classrooms on the second. I got there late on my first Sunday, but they helped me find where they were putting on a recording of the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference in English. That was all I saw of Conference, and then I went home, somewhat bummed that there wasn't anything else after that.
I enjoyed Church immensely in Russia. There, so far away from home, amidst people of so many languages and backgrounds and influences, the Church felt like a real spiritual oasis. It was wonderful to just sit in the chapel and soak in the influence of that sweet spirit that's always there. On my second week, I got there early. The bishop saw me outside, unlocked the door, and let me in. He had me follow him into the elevator, where he gave me directions to to the chapel - most of which I understood. I went in and sat near the back of the chapel to wait for the meeting to start. It wasn't terribly long before a young family - the Mizinas - came in and sat next to me. Sister Mizina greeted me cheerfully and made me feel welcome right away. She began asking me about why I was in St. Petersburg. In my broken but improving Russian, I told her what you already know if you're reading this. She asked a question about my family that I didn't fully understand. With a few simple hand gestures she was able to make it clear that what she was asking was, "Ты скучаешь по ним?" -- Do you miss them?
Right then we were interrupted. The meeting was getting started.
It was wonderful to hear an opening prayer and sacrament blessed in Russian. I didn't understand the opening prayer very well, but I understood most of the sacrament prayers. I had studied those in the Doctrine & Covenants in Russian. They then performed a confirmation in Russian, which I also didn't understand. The rest of it was a fast and testimony meeting, same as we do in the States the week following General Conference. I was able to understand enough of that to get the gist of what they were saying.
At the end of that first sacrament meeting, a man from the Elders introduced himself. I wish I could remember his name now. Every Sunday I was there, he made sure to track me down and show me around. He introduced me to the music coordinator in the ward, and I had hoped to help with choir, but it didn't work out.
Anyway, Sunday School and priesthood classes were interesting... I didn't understand much. In priesthood they talked about how the temple ordinances are meant for people of all languages and mean the same thing in all languages. Needless to say, that resonated well with me. It was fascinating to have people participating in Russian, English, and even Spanish!
I was able to get a copy of the Book of Mormon in Russian for my host family. Per school rules, I'm not allowed to tell you much about them, so I'll be brief here.
My landlady's name was Anna. She repeatedly asked why I wouldn't drink tea, and so we ended up having a discussion about the Word of Wisdom. She had heard of "Mormons" before but didn't know anything about us, so I got to explain that to her.
As I have probably already pointed out on another page, I found out just days before leaving for my trip that she's a genealogist. I taught her about how God is no respecter of persons and how Peter and Paul had taught about the gospel being preached to the dead and baptism being performed for the dead in preparation for resurrection.
The notion that these people could also have a chance to hear the gospel really sat well with her. As a child she had asked her mother why people who never heard of Jesus Christ had no chance. "Why do you have to ask difficult questions?" she would say. I was able to help her find an answer to that one in the restored gospel.
I typed up a list of basic beliefs with some scripture verses for each item: premortal-existence, purposes of mortal life, what happens after we die, families can be forever etc.. I pasted that along with a letter thanking them for hosting me into that copy of the Book of Mormon, and I gave it to her, along with my Russian Bible I'd bought but was unable to fit in my luggage. She seemed grateful to have a way to learn more on her own terms. I pray every day that her interest will lead her and her husband to investigate more fully.
By my last week in Russia, I was understanding better. I was able to participate in a Sunday school lesson on charity and visit with some of the members. I was also able to practice my German with a newly minted sister mission-uh, I mean "religious volunteer" from Austria. (We're not allowed to call them "missionaries" in Russia.)
While I was there, I could not escape the recurring feeling that this was not to be my last trip to Russia. The Lord has a work for me to do there; I just know it!