Join Scot and Maurine Proctor and other Meridian readers to one country that ought to be on everyone’s BUCKET LIST – Russia. Such a beautiful and, literally, iconic country. With some fearful of the effects of Covid, our friends who own the cruise company have slashed cabin prices sometimes $3,000 per person below what other cruise companies charge…and no one has a program like we’ll have on our cruise August 20, 2022.
Besides kicking things off with a rare public appearance by the last Premier of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev who will ONLY be on our August 20 cruise for an evening discussion with you and all of our guests, but just think, the Bolshoi Theater is closed for the summer so our entertainers are all from the Bolshoi and the best folk ensembles. Not only that, but a number of spots are designated just for Russian Latter-day Saints; what a singular opportunity for cultural exchange.
So much more to tell you about but it is better to just call Elizabeth at 1-(435)-775-2225 and she’ll fill you in – she’s conducted these cruises for 10 years! She knows. Visit our website page at www.HeartOfRussiaCruises.com/Meridian and check out the full 13 day Itinerary and other delights. Like their new introductory video. See you there!
As the patriarch laid his hands on the young man’s head, a calm enveloped the boy until the patriarch declared the gift Boris had been given. Then things changed.
But the change began a few years before that in the fall of 1992 when Boris was an energetic 14-year-old in St. Petersburg, Russia. Just a few years before he had witnessed the huge change of the dissolution of the USSR; from a communist regime to a democracy with the beginnings of a free market. During the official years of state required atheism, his mother, Tatyana, had been struggling with her feelings that there had to be something better – the divine within her yearned for the happiness only found in the comfort of the spiritual. In that their family never spoke of God or the Bible or any religion, she had to search on her own.
With glasnost, or openness, she began visiting churches and speaking to the priest or minister. Church after church seemed a possible venue for faith, but as she asked questions the answers left a void. In Russia the political climate had changed from communism to democracy/capitalism of sorts, but their lives were difficult. His parents had not been paid by their government jobs on time – often 6 months late.
An unexpected trip to the hospital for needed care put her in a room with a lady who had also been struggling with matters of faith. After listening to Tatyana’s quest for understanding and peace for her soul, the lady told her of a new religion brought to Russia by Americans that had promise. Tatyana wrote the address down and vowed to go there after her hospital treatment ended.
She did just that. For several weeks she attended The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and found a great deal of hope. Things made sense. Questions were openly answered. A peaceful tranquility permeated the rented hall where one of only two branches of the church in St. Petersburg met. Soon she began having missionary lessons from the American Sister missionaries.
Boris listened and was intrigued by what the Americans said. Mostly he was intrigued to meet Americans…real Americans, people he had feared and assumed he’d never meet. Curiosity piqued, he asked if he could attend church with his mother. “Kaneshno,” (of course!) said Tatyana. His first visit to the library-turned-meeting house was good. He felt comfortable and loved meeting the American Elders as well. Great fun. So, when the Elders asked him if he’d like to also learn the missionary lessons just as his mother was doing, he quickly said yes. Not exactly a great spiritual prompting but perhaps that’s as close as most 14-year-old boys would come to such a prompting. His mother gladly said she’d start the lessons all over again to take them with her son. Her older son and her husband had no interest in participating.
All went well. It made sense to Boris. Tatyana waited as her son began to grow spiritually – even in the small increments. When asked if they wished to be baptized, they both agreed although the Word of Wisdom was a major problem. The problem was abstaining from tea simply because their cupboards were filled with tea bags. They could not contemplate what they would drink!
Not too long after their baptism (January 9, 1993), Tatyana announced to Boris that an American cruise company asked the church leadership if 20 Russians would like to be their guests on a special youth cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg that had American teenagers anxious to meet Russians. Boris jumped at the chance. While on the cruise, Boris attended special workshops for all the youth on how to start and run a new business in Russia. “I even got a certificate of achievement, but more importantly, I learned the fundamental skills that eventually allowed me to start my own business…that I still own.” Additionally, Jeff Chatman, the former BYU basketball star, made a deep impression with his discussion of goal setting and his conversion story. Holding a Sacrament Meeting on the cruise moved him, especially when he saw one of the cruise company’s translators blessing the sacrament.
Boris also met many Russian saints who shared their testimony and experiences with him. “I didn’t realize how little I knew and loved learning so much about the Church and gospel.”
It helped him decide that he needed to receive a Patriarchal Blessing. “I was quite anxious and ready to meet with the Patriarch after hearing from the American teens about their blessings. When the Patriarch placed his hands on my head, I once again felt an enormous calm, that I knew I was doing what was good – something that mattered. I listened intently until he said he was going to tell me that I had a special Gift of the Spirit. That got me excited. My mind was flooded with possibilities – the Gift of Tongues, of Healings, of so many possibilities. But instead, he just said I had been given a gift – that is just ONE gift.
“Well, my teenage mind could hardly process the disappointment of only ONE gift. And the gift he said I had was the gift to know the truth. Truth? That’s it? I’m embarrassed by my reaction now, but I was just a young teenager who had probably seen too many superhero movies.”
As he thinks back on that blessing, he is often overcome by the spirit to know what an enormous gift that was because, “All along I knew the Gospel was true. I knew God lived. I knew Jesus was my savior…and I was a member of his true church. I have often questioned things, but never doubted. I asked, prayed and received the witness of truth.”
Six years after Boris’s baptism, Boris’s father, Aleksey, entered the waters of baptism where Boris baptized his father. Two days later Boris entered the military – a mandatory requirement of all Russian young men then and today. “My father embraced me and told me he was proud of me; thanked me for helping him.”
After his military service, Boris accepted a call to become a full-time missionary for the Lord. “I went to the best mission in the world – Rostov on Don Mission.”
There he learned to teach and then learned to administer in church callings, serving as Branch President in three different branches up until he had two months left on his mission. “I loved my mission. I loved teaching the gospel and serving the saints. Then my world came crashing down on me.”
Yes, it came in a telephone call from his Mission President. He told Boris he was being transferred out of Tuapse (near Sochi). Boris instantly said, “No! No, I am not!” The silence on the other end didn’t matter to Boris. He wasn’t leaving. “Elder, I can assure you I have had a direct revelation that you are to be my new Assistant.” Boris knew the president was right and agreed, hung up and went to his room where he collapsed on his bed. “I rarely cry, but I lay there and bawled and bawled. Finally, I did my duty.”
He served his mission well, travelling to all parts of the mission and meeting many members he’d known while in their area.
As a missionary they were to call home twice a year and Boris loved talking to his parents to tell them of the converts and great experiences. At the end of each call a girl he had quite enjoyed in their branch in St. Petersburg would be the last to speak to him. Shortly before coming home Boris had a particularly good call because the two of them agreed that they would get married as soon as he got home. “I didn’t ask her…we just had an agreement.” On Monday he arrived home and should have gone to see his agreement-bound fiancé, but he stewed about the decision all day Tuesday, and then Wednesday. But Thursday found him at her apartment and the wedding plans became official. He did ask her to marry him, and she said, “Yes!”
All this matters because not too long after their wedding in the St. Petersburg Wedding Palace, they went to the Stockholm Temple to be sealed for eternity. Two such wedding events are still the law in Russia. His brother, who had gotten married about that time, soon gave Aleksey and Tatyana a grandson. While she was thrilled, Tatyana did grimace a bit. “I raised two boys and now I have a grandson. When will I receive a little girl in the family?”
About a year went by and Tatyana welcomed her new granddaughter who she doted on, but only for a few months.
Without much warning, Babushka (grandmother) Tatyana experienced severe pain, went to the hospital for lung cancer and soon passed away at the age of 55.
For Boris, he was devastated to lose his mother. “For only the second time that I can remember, I bawled. I missed her so much but suddenly knew something powerful. That gift again. I knew without question my mother lived and was eternal. I knew families are forever. I was overcome by the Comforter and instilled with a profound gratitude for my Heavenly Father to give me that understanding of eternity.”
Boris Leostrin has run his St. Petersburg travel agency since 2005, providing great experiences for international guests, a good living for his family and the stability needed to be the Stake President of the growing stakes of Zion in Russia.
(A side note: Boris was astounded to find out that his new partner from America, Heart of Russia Cruises, is owned by the same owners that brought Boris and Tatyana on their first cruise with American youth when Boris was 15. And the owners are the ones who taught the principles of how to start a business. Small world when it comes to saints. Boris will be helping Russian saints to get a berth on the ships of Heart of Russia so visiting Americans get to know the real heart of Russia.)
The Silver Lining to Covid is some have been scared off traveling so companies have lowered their prices and there are few tourists to contend with. More time for you to get to know the Russians who’ll be aboard our ship – 170 Americans and 40+ Russians. Great small river cruiser. Call Elizabeth now at 1-(435)-775-2225 and she’ll fill you in – she’s conducted these cruises for 10 years!
Visit our website page at www.HeartOfRussiaCruises.com/Meridian and check out the full 13-day Itinerary and other delights. Like their new introductory video. See you there!
Some questions and answers about the St. Petersburg Stake
with President Boris Leostrin.
Mark: How large is the stake?
President Leostrin: We have six wards and 2 branches in our stake. We have the Vyborg, Avtovo, Kolpino, Nevsky, Shuvalovsky, Tsentrainy Wards and the Sestroretsk and Petergof Branches. There are at least 4 more branches in the Russian northwest but are part of the St. Petersburg Mission.
Mark: How large are the units?
President Leostrin: Sunday attendance during Covid is always hard to gauge but the average of the largest ward attendance is 120 and the smallest branch has about 20 attending regularly. All totaled the St. Petersburg Stake has 2,424 members with about 420 active or 18%.
Activity challenges are about the same as most stake presidents report: people get distracted by the world. They go inactive for about the reasons they do anywhere: when they learn the gospel from the missionaries they get a confirmation and testimony but the world sets in again. Some stop coming because they get offended, or read something online that disturbs them, or just let a busy daily routine stop them from doing what got them their testimony. Nothing unique.
Mark: Do many foreigners attend the St. Petersburg wards and branches?
President Leostrin: Moscow has an international branch but St. Petersburg has no international branch with just a few foreigners. But they are usually American returned missionaries who learned the language so they fit right in.”
He smiles to think of when their stake was created, a year after the Moscow Stake.
“We were created on Elder Nelson’s birthday – Sept. 9, 2012. He had rededicated land in August, 1990 and we know the place where he knelt to rededicate the land. In 1991, a year after the land was rededicated, the Tabernacle Choir performed to acclaim in Russia, with the German Stake President Dieter Uchdorf presiding.”
Mark: In the October, 2021 General Conference, Elder Renlund stirred many in Russia with the remarkable events surrounding the dedication of the Helsinki Temple when arch enemies put aside the past and the Finnish Temple leadership announced the opening session of the temple would be reserved for Latter-Day Saints from Russia. How was that talk received?
President Leostrin: Immediately my phone was filled with warm thoughts and excitement from friends around the world who had served missions in Russia. My eldest daughter, however, wasn’t quite so enthused. My daughter thought the talk showed Russia in a bad way, so I needed to discuss with her that the Finn’s hard feelings were from the way the Soviet Union government treated them. After having the chance to explain real history, she understood and was pleased by the way the temple presidency treated Russian saints.