Soviet TV reporter baptized in Maine’s Russian community

In 1990, a group of about 20 Russians came to Maine for a tour. One of the places they wanted to visit was the town of Richmond, a Russian enclave that had attracted Russians from New York and the West Coast.  I accompanied them for several days. Another thing they wanted to see was a U.S. supermarket. They were taken to a store in Portland. Many of them refused to believe it was anything more that some sort of display store — they couldn’t believe that everyday Americans actually shopped in such a place. One thing that really amazed them was the dog and cat food aisle.

RICHMOND, Maine (UPI) — Serguey Souponev lives in Moscow, but he found a spiritual home in Maine when he was baptized earlier this week in a Russian Orthodox Church in a community of Russian immigrants.

Souponev, 27, a reporter with the General Department of Children’s Television, is in Maine taping a documentary on the Samantha Smith Center’s World Peace Camp in Poland Spring. He said Wednesday he was baptized Sunday while visiting St. Alexander Nevsky Church, one of Richmond’s two Russian Orthodox churches.

st alexander nevsky church

Richmond, Maine’s St. Alexander Nevsky Church

The ceremony was conducted by Father Chad Williams, a Russian Orthodox priest, and was witnessed by a few Soviet companions and by members of the local Russian community. His producer, Mikhail Shilov, served as godfather, and a local woman, Galena Frish, agreed to act as godmother.

‘I dreamed about it for three years, and now my dream is fulfilled,’ Souponev said Tuesday.

Souponev said he asked about baptism on the spur of the moment, and was worried the ceremony might not be possible because of his age.

‘I asked if it was possible and they say, ‘Why not?” he said. ‘I say I am pretty old, but they say it can be done.’

Souponev said he was moved by the Russian residents of Richmond, a colony that is rapidly aging and dying out. About 500 families moved to Richmond in the 1950s and 1960s, attracted by ads in Russian-language newspapers in New York and San Francisco, but the colony is now down to fewer than 200 people.

St. Alexander Nevsky Church, sided with grey asphalt shingles and topped with a tin roof, was converted from a barn years ago. But Souponev described the baptism as warm and colorful.

‘It took two hours and a half, and it was fantastic,’ he said. ‘There were thousands of candles, and I was (immersed) three times in a great (baptistery), and there were I believe 500 liters of very cold water. When it was done the first time, I gasped.’

Several elderly women from the town sang orthodox hymns during the ceremony, he said, and their presence meant that Souponev had to keep his trousers on during the immersion.

I didn’t want to offend them, and then I realized that I had nothing dry to put on,’ he said. ‘One of the women went to her house and brought me dry clothing that belonged to her son. I put them on and everything was alright.’

Baptism in the Soviet Union is possible, he said, especially in recent times, but he said it is still not easy to accomplish.

‘It is not impossible, but it is still difficult,’ Souponev said. ‘But my people want to do it because of (the) lack of faith (among the Soviets.) (They need) something to believe in (now that things) are getting more normal.’

While religion has been frowned upon in his native land — Souponev has never formally practiced a religion — he said he still holds a strong belief in God.

‘I believe in something that runs everything,’ he said.

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