Friday, December 18, 2009

Flashback Friday: Being Mormon in Russia

Being Mormon in Russia isn't nearly as odd as being Mormon in Syria, but the experience of attending church there did have its quirks. Here are some memories.

We moved to Moscow in January and it was dang cold. Our first Sunday there, we made our way to church by walking to the nearest metro, taking it several stops to the northwest, and making our way through a busy open-air market to get to the cultural hall the church rented for Sunday use. The open-air market was an especially colorful place. There were aggressive vendors who would descend upon the swarms of people exiting the metro and offer all kinds of goods for sale - lemons, toys from China, cheap used clothing, you name it. There was one vendor who stood at the top of the metro staircase, selling seeds of all kinds. Every single Sunday (except for one or two times when he was very noticeably absent), the seed salesman repeated the same sales pitch in a lilting tone over and over and over again. We quickly dubbed him Mr. Chorniy because he always started his pitch with "Pyerets chorniy..." We had his speech pretty well memorized after a few weeks.

Also in this marketplace were tables full of slabs of raw meat and salo for sale. I figured it was a seasonal thing, as in, it was -20 degrees outside so it was smart for the vendors to take advantage of the natural refrigeration to sell their meat. As spring came, the weather warmed up...and the meat vendors still hawked their tables full of raw meat. What a sad and disgusting realization that was for me.

You already know about the classy church accommodations we enjoyed in Moscow. Here's a reminder:

Crazy people end up in every religion, and Mormonism was no exception. In Moscow, there was the added bonus that our crazies were Russian. There was one woman in our branch who, bless her heart, got up every Fast Sunday to warn us all of the evils of adultery. Every. Fast. Sunday.

Then there was the guy in our branch who we were pretty sure was KGB (or FSB or whatever). I taught the Young Women in our branch and sometimes this dude would just show up at our lessons and sit in the back and make inflammatory comments about how everything was better under communism. That was great language practice for me, trying to learn how to tell him (tactfully) that he absolutely didn't belong in our classroom and could he please leave now.

The last two things I'll share are that when we lived there, the branches were organized by metro line, which you have to admit was pretty brilliant. Lastly, the Russian hymnbook in those days was pretty slim, but the members were very resourceful at producing unauthorized translations of any favorites that were missing. I always thought it was great fun to sing these contraband hymns at church meetings and activities, using the same dog-eared and wrinkled copies that had been passed around and hoarded for years. A few years ago, they finally got around to publishing a full-length Russian hymnbook and a lot of those contraband hymns finally became official.

Ah, great memories. Except for the rotting meat, actually. That one, not so much.


Suzanne Bubnash said...

I remember the old women who were selling raw chickens sitting in the sun on blankets spread on the ground (summer). We saw them on our way into the city and then in the evening on the way home, with the same raw chickens. Yikes.

Susanne said...

Loved this so much! How interesting!!! :-) I enjoy when you share such things.

Anonymous said...
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Kristen said...

Was the adultery-lady a victim of the sin? And what kind of horrible comment did you have to delete from this post?


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