You are invited to join Scot and Maurine Proctor on the most unique and remarkable river cruise we have ever offered. We sail from Moscow to St. Petersburg and one evening we will have the former Soviet Union president, Mikhail Gorbachev, join us, speak to us, and answer our questions about the new era he ushered in that changed the world.
This 13-day tour will cruise the rivers, explore the charming villages and sites of Russia, but also much more because Russian Latter-day Saints will join us who will share their vibrant testimonies and give us true heart-to-heart and people-to-people experiences. Our time on board the ship will include magnificent Russian entertainment as well as lectures on all things Russia from Pushkin’s fairy tales to dramatic history.
This makes it not only a trip to see the sights of an ancient land of tsars and commissars, but a true cultural immersion like no one else is offering. To learn more about this tour and see itineraries go to www.heartofrussiacruises.com/Meridian
Meridian introduces this Russian series by sharing again pieces of one of the most popular articles ever published on the magazine with important updates.
When I first saw it, it was in front of me and I could only stare and mumble, “Thank you.” Hardly the grateful gesture I wanted to give to the Russian Orthodox priest proudly standing before after he’d given me his gift. In May, 1992 this rather large Russian Orthodox priest gave me that gift of a phonograph record commemorating the 1,000th year of baptism in Russia.
But I couldn’t take my eyes off of the cover of the phonograph record he had given me as a token of his respect to me for my lecture on free agency and enterprise. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Gorbachev had instituted a radical restructuring (perestroika) and openness (glasnost). As part of this awakening in the USSR I had been invited by the recently retired Deputy Minister of Higher Education to speak some of the leading new businessmen and women in Moscow, Russia.
To hold that phonograph record and see the painting on the front left me speechless.
“Who painted this,” I asked him.
“A great painter for our church about 1900; Mikhail Nestorov who painted so much canvases of faith,” he smiled so broadly as our translator proclaimed the history. “His Holy Rus is a favorite of all of us and it hangs today in the Russian Gallery in Leningrad.”
“What does it depict?”
“Our Savior visiting ancient Russia or Rus.” The translator didn’t wait for the priest to provide the history. “We all know this story.”
“Tell me, Igor,” I asked quietly, “and please ask him where this story came from.”
Igor wanted to tell me, but obliged and asked the priest. They let me know Nesterov based his painting upon an ancient Russian folk tale about how Jesus came to visit the Russian people after his resurrection.
“Who are the haloed visitors behind him?”
The priest smiled and through Igor said, “Nestorov was no fool. He placed the three leaders of the Church of his day in the painting standing in for Peter, James and John.”
By now I had let the import of the painting settle in and looked up and shook my head in assent. Then we embraced and said we hoped to meet again. “You teach me much and I wish to show gratitude.”
I thanked him more profusely now.
[Join the Proctors in Russia August 20, 2022. Click here for details.]
A Visit with the Highest Authority in the Russian Orthodox Church
Later in 1992 I was invited to have lunch with a person they called the Metropole Peterim, the highest authority of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, and chairman of the ruling council of the entire church. This gentleman is similar to president of the quorum of 12 apostles in the LDS church. (I’m told by some that I didn’t get the right title, but, it’s what I heard and it matters little if I wrote it right because whatever came out of my mouth when I tried to say “Metropole Peterim” pleased him.)
After the lunch and tour of his headquarters, I asked him if he knew of a painting where Christ seemed to be appearing to the ancient Slavic people. He said that he did, that it had been used for a special phonograph record cover and that the original was in their private archives. I asked him where the artist got the idea of such a scene.
He replied solemnly that it was “inspired by an ancient folk tale that said after Christ’s death he visited the Slavic people, ancestors of the Russians, to bring his gospel. The people who listened to Christ were the humble and lowly in the farms and countryside. They took upon themselves his name which when written phonetically in our characters rather than Cyrillic is Kristiany. The word for peasant in Russian is Kristiany. Those who believed in Him took upon themselves His name.”
I asked the Metropole if he believed that Christ actually came to the lands of present day Russia and Ukraine. He nodded, stroking his beard.
“It could very well have been. But perhaps the more likely truth is that the apostle Andrew came through what is today’s Russia on his final mission. But, it could have been exactly as the painting shows.”
I then asked him, “Who would the three apostles have been?”
“In all likelihood, Peter, James and John, though one may have been Andrew.”
“Then you have no trouble,” I pushed, “with the concept that Christ may have visited other people on the earth after his resurrection?”
He smiled and looked up at me, his eyes dancing with a twinkle. “You like Book of Mormon? No. No trouble as you say. It probably happened.”
Metropole pointed out that Holy Russia was a painting of great significance to believers and art critics alike.
As one of the websites points out, “M.V. Nesterov’s painting Holy Russia was first shown to the broad public in the personal exhibition of the artist in 1907 in St. Petersburg. The artist believed that his painting, as well as all his work, would bring comfort to society, shaken by the revolutionary events.”
“In 1921, Holy Russia was put in the Russian Museum as part of its permanent exhibition. At the end of the 1920s, due to government restrictions on religion, the work was removed from the display and put in storage. It was not until the end of the 1980s that it became again accessible to museum visitors.”
Translation: When Lenin’s communist revolution hit in 1917, they purged the country of anyone who disagreed with their philosophy. An estimated three or more million died in the war with the Tsarist forces of “White Russia” against the “Red Russia” forces, plus those who perished in the pogroms and purges of not only Lenin but the even more brutal Stalin. Some estimates peg the loss of life in Russia from wars and purges between 1917 and 1945 to exceed 100 million souls.
In addition to destroying people, the communists destroyed anything not politically correct to the Communist Party. They destroyed some cathedrals and desecrated others, turning them into grain storage centers and other non-sacred functions. Church bells were ripped from belfries, melted down and turned into artillery pieces. Ironically, in 1991, I bought an Soviet artillery piece, had it melted down and produced the first bells restored to churches in the USSR; one to the cathedral on the sacred island of Valaam and one to a prison church for young men.
Bibles were also a favorite book burning exercise. Pictured are two 200-year-old pulpit Bibles Elizabeth and I happened to have found in a bookstore in Kostroma. Somehow the commissars had missed them.
Imagine the venom that would have been raised if the atheists saw the beloved Holy Russia painting. They missed it; but how? While in his office over lunch I asked the Metropolitan Peterim how Holy Russia had been saved from the communists. He slowly gave me a quiet grin and said, “Perhaps hidden places and sacred people have special value.”
According to Peterim, saving Holy Russia was a major and urgent priority for the Church. They secreted it in a special section of the walls of the Mikhailovsky Palace, Leningrad. They did it early in the purges so few communists were even aware of it.
In 1980, it was safe to bring Holy Russia for all to see. They soon found significant harm to the painting due to several factors, including Nesterov’s artistic methodology.
[Don’t miss the opportunity to spend an evening with Mikhail Gorbachev and the Proctors onboard ship. Click here now.]
A Major Restoration
Because Holy Russia was so prominent in Russian Orthodox and Russian society, the decaying painting’s condition needed attention. Consequently, a massive restoration work began March 21, 2019.
The websites report: “The reason for the unsatisfactory condition of the painting was the artist’s neglect of technological procedures: he would repeatedly interrupt the work for a long time, and when getting back to it, he would not treat the drying paint coats properly. As a result, the bond between them weakened, which led to the loss of the paint coats.”
The great news is they stopped the process of deterioration. “The new backing board has been made. Dirt, coats of yellowish varnish and paint patches altering the original color were removed. The gaps were filled with a primer coat and toned.”
The Orthodox Christianity website reported, “There was also a large crack horizontally across the entire surface of the painting, which sometimes turned into holes. This was especially noticeable on the figure of Christ. The painting was fully restored, and a new layer of varnish was added.”
Obviously, this was an expensive project. It was paid for by the Russian Orthodox Church, the government and with support of PJSC Gazprom.
So is This Painting Significant to Latter-day Saints?
While this painting is revered as an iconic painting to the Russian Orthodox and a masterpiece by art historians, what does that have to do with Latter-day Saints?
This painting, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon all have something in common — they exist for you to read or view and come to your conclusions.
In addition, the non-debatable features are:
- Jesus Christ is the focal point. Obviously, he is in post-crucifixion attire and demeanor.
- The landscape is so Russian. I’ve traveled from Leningrad to Vladivostok and that landscape is everywhere in the southern regions like Ukraine (site of Rus).
- They are people dressed as the people of Rus dressed in other paintings.
- Nesterov’s paintings are from the late 19th and early 20th century.
- Nesterov was a revered Russian Orthodox artist.
- None of his paintings are as famous as Holy Russia or Holy Rus, the painting I refer to as Christ in Russia.
We know in the Book of Mormon that Jesus said that he would visit his “other sheep.” It is interesting that many Russian members’ patriarchal blessings proclaim them of the House of Israel. It is also interest that the River Don may be a derivative of Dan, and Ismaelovo of Ishmael. Other locales bear 10 Tribe monikers or derivatives.
A critic asserted it had to be a made-up story because I reported that the three people standing behind Christ were not Peter, James, and John but three famous clerics of Nesterov’s time – something Peterim and I discussed. Peterim said the artist wanted to honor great people of his day. Of course, that is a common practice; artists often play around and insert anachronistic people all the time. Michelangelo loved doing that. It doesn’t make the wall of the Sistine Chapel any less a painting or the Judgment any less obvious.
So, critics, no apologies. I stand by Metropolitan Peterim who did say that Holy Rus is a painting of Jesus visiting the ancient Russian people and that Nesterov’s inspiration for the painting came from Russian folklore. “It’s a very old, long told part of our folk history.”
Heading Back to Russia
So now, we issue an invitation.
During the 1990s, my wife Elizabeth, my brother Eric and I traveled to Russia more than 50 times, taking more than 30,000 travelers on amazing cruises from Moscow to St. Petersburg and the Golden Ring. The remarkable part of these cruises took place when we introduced Americans to real Soviet and later, Russian people. They got to know each other heart to heart. We were sad when tourism to Russia dropped off in 2000 and we had to stop going there. But…today there’s a great new surge to see Russia so we’re starting up our cruise line again.
Visit www.heartofrussiacruises.com/Meridian for more details. Or call Eric, at 925-548-6980.
In fact, we’re heading back in 2022 with Maurine and Scot Proctor and their friends on our Heart of Russia Cruises, August 20, 2022. One of the first places we’ll take them is to the exhibition in the Garden Vestibule of the Mikhailovsky Palace in St. Petersburg that houses Holy Russia, the 9’ x 7’ masterpiece.
They will see firsthand Holy Russia and decide for themselves the efficacy of what I’ve written. More importantly, they will meet many Russians on our ship and make friends for life. About 20 of the Russians will be Latter-day Saints from the wards and branches of the church in Russia and about 20 will be Russians anxious to meet Americans. All speak sufficient English, but we divide the Americans into groups of 12 or so and give each group their own personal translator, guide, expert in Russian culture who love to help establish lasting friendships.
Aboard the ship, while the Americans are learning Russian culture, language, fables and more, the Russians take our Entrepreneurship courses to learn how to start their own businesses. Our Russian partner in St. Petersburg took our course in the 1990’s and started his own successful tourism business 12+ years ago. He proudly displays his diploma. A local Utah university provides the diplomas in 2022.
This unique cruise captures hearts, minds, and souls unlike any cruise you’ll ever take. Join the Proctors on August 20, 2022. And yes, we will have the former President of Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev, on board for an evening of education and answering questions.
The whole ship is ours. Don’t miss this opportunity to join us. CLICK HERE NOW TO RESERVE YOUR CABIN.