After the Saturday program at the Saint Petersburg temple yesterday, Avadhut Maharaj and I get the overnight train to Moscow, to do the Sunday program there, but when we get to Moscow, Avadhut Maharaj asks me to do a public program in Yaroslavl instead.
It is snowing heavily by the time Yadhu Krishna Prabhu, Muralishwar Prabhu and I leave Moscow at eleven o' clock. It takes us five hours to drive on the hazardous roads to Yaroslavl, which lies on the right bank of the Volga River, 175 miles (282 kilometers) northeast of Moscow.
There is an old man at the program at Nanaratna Devi Dasi's apartment who wants to take initiation from Srila Gurudeva. He has thick coke-bottle glasses, and looks bewildered; I am quite sure that he does not even know that he is in the room.
When I hear that the old gentleman lives at the sanatorium, I am very reluctant to perform the harinama ritvik ceremony. I don't want to connect just anybody to Srila Gurudeva, and this person certainly does not look like a prospective initiate to me.
I call Avadhut Maharaj on the phone and express my reservations, but Avadhut Maharaj says that, according to the devotees here in Yaroslavl, the old gentleman is sincere, and that I should give him the connection to Srila Gurudeva.
I take the old gentleman aside, and, with Muralishwar Prabhu at my side to translate, I ask:
"What is your name?"
To my great surprise, he leans forward in his chair, presses the palm of his hand to his chest, fingers splayed, and says — in perfect English:
"My name? My name?! My name is Vladimir!"
Needless to say, I am taken aback. After I recover from my shock, I ask, "Why do you want to take initiation?"
"I have been an atheist all my life," he says, "but due to association with Nanaratna and Tulasirani, I understand that Krishna is God."
What can I say? I am humbled. You can't ever make any assumptions about anybody — especially in Krishna consciousness.
I initiate Vladimir on behalf of Srila Gurudeva, and give him the name Vrindavan Dham Ashraya das.