Sunday, April 30, 1989

Russian Easter at Long Beach Third Ward

Event: 30 April 1989
Updated: 18 Dec 2017
Russian Orthodox Church

Mormon Church

In early April 1989, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, my [then] wife Barbara and I received a telephone call from Marina in Moscow. Marina was the young woman who had been our tour guide the previous January on our good will trip to the USSR. Marina had just received permission to leave the Soviet Union for the first time and wanted to stay a few days with us on her first trip to America. She came with her best friend, Lena. Our home was their first stop outside their own country. We learned that both young women were members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They had scheduled to be in our home during Russian Easter (April 30).

As many of you may know, Easter, for Russians, is their most important holy day. So, to help them celebrate such a special day, we went to the closest Russian Orthodox Church for services. This occurred at midnight on Easter morning.

Later on that same Russian Easter Sunday, out of interest and curiosity, both Marina and Lena came with my family and me to experience a typical Mormon sacrament meeting. As the bread tray was being passed along to those sitting on that hard wood pew in Long Beach Third Ward, Marina (on my right) leaned over to me and whispered, “Is it permitted? We are not members of your church.” She was clearly absorbed in the service and hanging on every word.

Without thinking, I replied spontaneously, “Of course, we are all Christians and believers here.” With that explanation, the three of us took the bread together.

Shortly after that moment I began to realize that I had just take the sacrament for the first time in a way different than I’d ever taken it before. Now, together with these two eager, enthusiastic and sincere believers, albeit from an old, alien and ailing culture, we took the sacrament as fellow believers! All distinctions between us disappeared. And in some mysteriously new and wonderful way, I experienced that ordinance of eating that broken bread together as something more transcendent than at any time previous. With our Russian friends, I realized that I was more than a member of the Mormon Church.

With that realization, I began to experience an extraordinary sense of freedom to participate with any other believer in any other worship setting. The setting, itself, became insignificant. The institution became insignificant. It no longer mattered whether it was formal or informal. What became significant was acknowledging membership in a community of believers. By that simple act of taking bread together distinctions were obliterated, and I realized I had joined a far more fundamental and universal spiritual community. Several days later the deeper irony of that unplanned moment began to dawn on me. As I have said before, up until then I had been preoccupied with and focused on a Mormon Mission to Moscow. I had invested over thirty years of preparation into a completely Mormon-centered enterprise. Now, in one spontaneous moment of providential good humor, I experienced a Moscow Mission to Mormons! I felt my thirty year preoccupation transform in a moment—as if in a twinkling of an eye. In that moment I felt open to whole new universes of Good News! In that moment a new understanding of a universal law began to awaken in my consciousness. And it has taken time to begin to apply this new understanding—this subtle but major shift in my personal values—to practical reality.

Russian Easter

“Is it permitted?”
Inquire our two Moscow guests
On a Long Beach bench
As sacred emblems pass our way,
“We are not members
Of your church.”
“Yes,” I whisper,
“All are Christians
And believers here.”

Then we three as one
With tear-stained smiles
And Slavic souls communing
Thus took the broken loaf
And through the Ancient Date
The Mystery rose to fuse
The Awful Fission.

Eugene Kovalenko
Long Beach
30 Apr 89