Russian seminary president chooses Little Rock for first marathon

Sergei Nikolaev running the Little Rock Marathon.  COURTESY PHOTO

Sergei Nikolaev running the Little Rock Marathon.

March 1 brought a milestone for the president of Moscow Seminary—26 of them, in fact. The Rev. Dr. Sergei Nikolaev ran his very first marathon right here in Arkansas, finishing just seconds over the four-hour mark. He corresponded recently with Arkansas United Methodist editor Amy Forbus; here are excerpts.

You are spending this semester at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. What are you teaching?

On the invitation of Candler School of Theology Dean Jan Love, this semester I am teaching a directed readings class on the history of Russian Methodism. I am enjoying teaching the class and also learning from Dean Love how to run a first-rate seminary. Part of my sabbatical study leave is to reflect on what needs to happen at the Moscow Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church in order for it to become a better institution than it is now and what I, as a seminary president, need to do for that to happen. Candler is a great place for reflection…. In addition to running a marathon, learning how to run a first-rate seminary and teaching a class, I am writing a book on the history of Russian Methodism.

Was it a goal of yours to run a marathon during your stay in the U.S.?

I started running as stress relief, then fell in love with it and wanted to have a goal and a discipline to follow. In preparation for this marathon, I followed a running practice plan for over five months, and even in my travels with different United Methodist committees I followed it. Thus, I ended up preparing for the marathon in three countries: the U.S., Russia and Mozambique.

What led you to choose the Little Rock Marathon?

When my good friend Freddie Nixon, a long-time member of the board of trustees of the Moscow Theological Seminary of the United Methodist Church, learned that I planned to run a marathon during my sabbatical study leave, she invited me to run the Little Rock Marathon. Her friend from Pulaski Heights UMC, Gina Marchese Pharis, was one of the main organizers of the marathon…. I wish every first-timer had friends like Freddie and Gina. Because of them I did not feel that I lacked anything, even though it was my first marathon.

How do you feel about your run?

I did not expect that running the marathon would be such a strong emotional and inspiring experience. The first 21 miles I ran quite easily without pushing myself much…. I felt joyful and cheerful. The last five miles I felt as if gradually I was becoming more and more empty: All thoughts, distractions, and stress disappeared except one strong desire to finish and finish as well as I could. All this emptiness was abundantly filled with positive emotions and deep satisfaction of accomplishing something big. My wife Deborah, all my four children, Katya, Alex, Davyd and Daniel, my close friends Freddie, Vic and Aubrey Nixon filled my emptiness with love and care, which I continue to carry even three weeks after the race, and expect to carry in me for a long time. It was a cleansing and deeply fulfilling experience for me emotionally, physically and spiritually.

What is the best way for United Methodists in Arkansas get connected with Moscow Seminary?

The very best way to get connected to the Moscow Seminary is to talk to Freddie Nixon from Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock. Freddie has such deep knowledge and love for the Moscow Seminary and its students and so much experience in doing first-rate governance of the seminary, that she would definitely guide you in the right direction.

You are always welcome to come and visit the Moscow Seminary in person and enjoy getting to learn more about Russian culture. Or you can invite Freddie Nixon or me to speak at your church or a small group. Additionally, you can sign up for the Moscow Seminary newsletter in English by writing to

For over two decades, United Methodists in Arkansas have thoughtfully and imaginatively partnered with United Methodists in Russia. We appreciate that in the last couple of quadrennia they have focused on partnering with the Moscow Seminary in a strategic and visionary way. Thank you for partnering with the Moscow Seminary in meaningful and decisive shaping of the future of United Methodism in Russia.