When Marie Helm made her first visit to Russia in 1991, little did she suspect the spiritual adventure that awaited her, and how much at home she would come to feel there. As she became acquainted with the Russian people and began learning their language, she soon discovered their deep yearning to know more about God. It was in Russia that Marie took her first steps into the public practice of Christian Science, and she began healing patients there even before she could speak more than a few words of the language.
In 2000 Marie was listed in The Christian Science Journal as a practitioner, and four years later she began serving as a practitioner in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2005 she joined the Christian Science Board of Lectureship and began lecturing—in Russian—throughout the Russian-speaking field. In 2006 she became a teacher of Christian Science. Marie lives six months of each year in St. Petersburg, where her class and association are held.
You mentioned that you were always a spiritual seeker. What’s your earliest memory of that search?
It dates back to my early teens. I enjoyed the mainstream Protestant church I attended with my family when I was growing up, but I had probing questions, and, quite honestly, I didn’t like many of the answers that were given in Sunday School classes. I thought, “I have to find something that really speaks to my heart, and that exemplifies the teachings of Christ Jesus.” So when I was 13 or 14, I started visiting churches of different denominations. I had friends in the Catholic church, the Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist—and I visited them all, with my parents’ blessing.
Meanwhile, my grandmother was a Christian Scientist, and whenever my sisters and I stayed with her on weekends, we would visit her church. Gradually I realized that what I appreciated most was what I was learning in the Christian Science Sunday School. And eventually that became my church home because it exemplified everything Jesus taught that I had read in the Bible.
Did you experience changes in your life as a result of attending the Christian Science church regularly?
Oh, I really did. I started attending regularly when I was 15 or 16, and it gave me a new sense of possibilities. And more than that, it gave me a very clear sense of God as the source of continuity and stability in my life.
That sense of stability must have been a great support, considering the direction your life took later on.
Yes! My husband has had a wonderful career with a major company, but that company’s tradition was to move families about constantly. And with every move, my career changed. I was a preschool teacher, an adult education teacher, a legal secretary, a youth group organizer, a volunteer coordinator and trainer, and eventually a nonprofit regional director. So change has been a constant in my life.
Was all this moving around a challenge for you?
It was, at times, because when we moved, my husband and our two children immediately found their places in the community. The children were in school, they made new friends, they had new activities. My husband, while he was in a new office, was still within the same company, and his career continued on as it had. But for me there was often a sense of being adrift, of not having a place in the new community. And that was when Christian Science was so important, because I was beginning to learn that home isn’t a particular place. If I looked at home as a material setting, it would always be vulnerable, so I found that I needed a spiritual sense of what home is. And at that point home really became, for me, a sense of unity with our Father-Mother, God.
If I was basing my sense of home on my unity with God, then I was claiming my unity with all good.
What I was finding, too, was that if I was basing my sense of home on my unity with God, then I was claiming my unity with all good. There’s a lovely verse in Exodus that I want to share with you: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared” (23:20). I love that, because to me it was a promise that I didn’t need to worry about what I was going to do, or how I was going to find my place—God had prepared it for me, and God was revealing it to me. And that has been so true!
When you look back, do you see how the steps you took were leading to your future career in the Christian Science movement?
It’s interesting that if you look at a tapestry being woven, you can’t see what the picture is until you get farther along. But when I look back now, I see how all the various threads of my life wove together to prepare me for what I’m doing now.
During those years, were you consciously working toward the public healing practice?
I was. When I had Christian Science Primary class instruction, that was quite an awakening for me because it was really the point where I said, “OK, this is the focus of my life now.” And I remember thinking that the public practice was perhaps something I would like to do, but I felt totally unprepared. At some point I remember my prayer became, “Father, I’m here. Use me.”
At what point did you develop an interest in Russia?
Well, we moved to Alaska in 1983. We were supposed to be there for just 18 months, but our children had reached high school age, and we felt it was not a time to be moving. And we all loved Alaska, so our temporary assignment turned into a 25-year sojourn there. It was an interesting time. Alaska has deep connections with the Russian Far East. It was once part of the Russian Empire, so many places in Alaska have Russian names. One of the intriguing things we learned is that when the first Russian explorers came to Alaska, there were Russian Orthodox priests with them, and many of the native peoples, such as the Aleuts, Tlingits, and Haidas, became part of the Russian Orthodox church.
You moved to Alaska at a time when Russia and the United States were not on friendly terms. Did having the Soviet Union right next door ever seem threatening?
I didn’t really give it a thought. Although I grew up during the Cold War era, I don’t think I ever took in the notion that Russia was our enemy. It just wasn’t consistent with the teachings of Christian Science—that God is Love and that man reflects God’s nature as Love.
When did you first begin making connections with Russian people?
I remember my prayer became, “Father, I’m here. Use me.”
My first connection came through a friend who had been corresponding with a family in Russia for many years. When the family came to the United States for a visit, I was asked to arrange housing for them in Alaska. Then a year later, when Russia began opening up under Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership, there was suddenly an opportunity for people in Alaska to explore their Russian heritage. My first visit to Russia, in 1991, was part of a sister-city program in which we were reuniting some of the Aleut elders from Alaska with their Aleut relatives in Kamchatka. I went on that visit because it was an opportunity to meet this particular family with whom I had spoken and corresponded. And what I thought was going to be a one-time visit turned out to be a door that opened to a new series of adventures. I realized that if I wanted to continue to participate, then I needed Russian language skills, so at that point I began to study Russian. When I got home after that first visit, I received a flood of letters, but I could not read them because they were in Russian. That really solidified my desire to learn the language. And to this day I continue to study Russian.
My first three visits to Russia were part of this sister-city program, and then the director of the program asked me to help prepare a seminar to be taught at a new women’s center in the Russian Far East. I was happy to do that. It was all about the development and management of nonprofit organizations. And after I helped her write the seminar, she said, “Well, now I would like you to go and teach it.” I remember saying, “Whoa! I don’t speak enough Russian to do that.” And she said, “It’s OK; you’ll have an interpreter to work with.” I agreed to do that, not having a clue where God was leading me.
When I arrived there to teach the seminar, it was at the time when the Soviet Union had recently fallen, and the Russian people were, for the first time in three generations, having an opportunity to explore their spirituality. Everyone wanted to know about my faith, and whenever we took a break from the seminar and the business of the day, people would ask me questions about my faith. The more they learned about my faith and about spiritual healing, the more they wanted to know. By about the third day, I had patients lined up requesting healing. It was quite a challenge because I didn’t speak enough Russian to be able to explain the healing process to them. But I’ve always felt that was such a lovely way to begin a public practice.
Since I couldn’t use words, I really had to let the Christ direct my thought and guide what was happening. I would find myself opening the Russian Bible to a passage that I knew corresponded to the English verses I wanted to share, and I’d say, “Read this.” And then I would share something from the Russian translation of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy and say, “You just hold that thought, and I’ll pray.” And we had some wonderful healings.
Can you give us a snapshot of the Russian-speaking Christian Science Field?
I think it’s difficult for most Westerners even to imagine. Russia is such a huge place—it covers ten time zones and reaches from the Arctic Ocean all the way down to the Black Sea. There are students of Christian Science dotted all across this vast expanse. They’re very isolated. And relative to countries where Russian is spoken, the only branch churches are in St. Petersburg, Russia; Kherson, Ukraine; and Riga, Latvia. We have small, informal groups in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and several cities in Russia.
That place that God has prepared for us includes everything necessary to meet our daily needs.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, what was one nation is now many different nations, and while they have all embraced their native languages, most of them still maintain their Russian language as well. We also have people reading Science and Health individually in Belorussia, as well as all across Russia.
We have a wonderful website now, where people can find contact information if they want to know more about Christian Science. Our branch church in St. Petersburg has also started offering our Wednesday meetings over the Internet via Skype, and this has been stimulating and helpful for so many people. Those who are in isolated places and don’t have a church can join us on Skype. As with all Wednesday meetings, we listen to readings from the Bible and Science and Health and share testimonies. There have been times when we have had, in a Wednesday online testimony meeting, me from the US, other Russian speakers from the US, as well as people from Kazakhstan, from Ukraine, and even one from Dubai, in addition to people from various places in Russia. This has been such a unifying and strengthening activity for all of us.
The one thing we all have in common is that we’ve found that Christian Science is really our spiritual home. It has given us a sense of our unity with God as well as our unity with one another. Through the Russian translation of the weekly Lesson-Sermon, the Russian edition of The Herald of Christian Science on JSH-Online, and the Christian Science lectures that are given in Russian, we really have a sense of belonging, a sense of unity with our Father-Mother and with this worldwide family. That is a very strengthening thing to realize—that you are not alone.
Some of the things that the Russian people have had to deal with, such as big political or economic shifts, could be challenging for any of us at times. What can you say, for instance, to people anywhere in the world who have been displaced from home through job loss, natural disasters, or war?
When those kinds of things happen, there is much comfort in the promises that the Bible holds for each of us. In Jeremiah there is a wonderful promise: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; … Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul” (32:40, 41). When we become aware of our unity with God, and that God’s purpose is to bless us, that really gives us an uplifting hope that no matter how bleak things may seem right now, we can count on our Father-Mother God to protect us and support us.
That lovely verse from Exodus that I mentioned earlier reassures us that God has prepared a place for us, and His angel, His thought, is guiding us to that place. I like to remember that life is not a competition, because God has made this covenant with each and every one of us. He’s never going to turn His back on any of us. That place that God has prepared for us includes a sense of belonging, productivity, and everything necessary to meet our daily needs. I find that what limits us, more than anything else, is trying to put that promise within a material framework and say, “I have to have this, this, and this, and then I’ll feel at home, and then I’ll feel safe.” But when we put aside that material box and just listen for God’s direction, and really trust in His goodness and care, we are led step by step to that full sense of life.
What you’re saying reminds me of something Mrs. Eddy once told the members of her household: “Home is not a place but a power. We find home when we arrive at the full understanding of God” (Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy, Amplified edition, p. 211).
I agree wholly. When we move home out of the sense of a physical locality, and we see it as an expression of our unity with our Father-Mother God, then we see that we are fully empowered by God’s omnipotence, which leads and guides us, protects us, and gives us everything we need to be developing and growing continually. We begin to understand that no matter where we are, we’re always at home.
Home is the consciousness of good
That holds us in its wide embrace;
The steady light that comforts us
In every path our footsteps trace.
Christian Science Hymnal supplement, Hymn 443
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