St. Petersburg, Pt. 2
The construction of St. Petersburg, along with the style and flair it exhibits now more than ever, the far-reaching effects of Peter’s dream. But its architecture also joined a unique combination of influences.
When the Christianity of the Eastern Christian Church on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea came under threat and ultimately succumbed to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Russian Orthodox Church unofficially took on the role of protector of the faith for Eastern (or Eastern Orthodox) Christianity.
As St. Petersburg began in the early eighteenth century, this eastern influence became ubiquitous throughout the city. It can still be seen in the multitude of onion domes and the broader architectural styles of its many churches. But given Peter’s deep fascination with all things European in the late 1600’s, other buildings beyond the churches look much more like France and Italy.
So this extraordinary amalgamation of stylistic influences from Western Europe, Scandinavia and the Middle East created a distinctive look and feel in a land that, in Peter’s mind, had been devoid of culture.
Now, his dream of a city, a port on the Gulf of Finland that would open Russia to the world, a place that would showcase the beauty and ingenuity of Russia, St. Petersburg has more than fulfilled his dream.
Yet, like the atmosphere of St. Petersburg, we are surrounded by a wide variety of influences, cultures and perspectives. This can be confusing and even overwhelming. Change happens quickly now, more than ever in history it seems.
Yet, beauty, originality, creativity and appreciation for other places and cultures emerge. The more open we are to other ways of experiencing the world and one another, the broader our own sense of understanding and cultural appreciation becomes.
So in spite of whatever difficulties that come in today’s world, regardless of the potential to feel left out and passed by, let us view the increasing diversity of the land where we live as a fascinating amalgam of God’s world at our doorstep. It depends upon our attitude – and our ability to see beyond, and to see God’s hand and presence and a touch of eternity in all things.
… we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us
The Longest Siege
900 days – that was the length of the siege the Germans perpetrated on St. Petersburg, Russia during World War II. Then known as Leningrad, this incredible city endured unimaginable conditions at the hands of a German war machine bent upon the ultimate control of Russia itself.
The entire western part of the former Soviet Union had been invaded by Hitler under his Operation Barbarossa in June of 1941. St. Petersburg remained one of the few population centers able to stem the tide of the German’s relentless push. Most expected the city to capitulate.
Geerkt Mak, in his classic travel diary In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century, gives one example of the suffering endured by the Russian people during this time. He records the following words from a diary of an eleven year-old girl named Tanya Savitsyeva. These are her only entries from 1941-42.
Zyenya died, 28 December, 12:00 a.m. Grandmother died, 25 January. 1942, 3 p.m. Leka died, 17 March, 5 p.m. Uncle Vasya died, 13 April, 2 p.m. Unaleksei, 10 May. Mama died 13 May, 7:30 a.m. The Savitsyeva family is dead.
Following page: “They are all dead.”
Following page: “I am here alone.”
Tanya was evacuated but soon after, died at in an orphanage in 1944. She was thirteen. Her thin, light blue diary is on display in the St. Petersburg Municipal Museum. Her starkly tragic pages offer a brief glimpse into the stormy past of the St. Petersburg and the Russian people.
But brave and resilient, and in spite of hundreds of thousands of deaths relentless bombing, lengthy famine and brutal cold all of over 900 days, St. Petersburg survived. But the subsequent years saw deprivations of a different kind. The Soviet Union reasserted its authority over all aspects of civilian life.
Corrupt leaders on both local and national levels evoked resentment and new kinds of survival strategies. From struggling for food and the very essence of staying alive during the siege of WWII, the new difficulties under communism involved repressions of personal freedoms, shortages of certain food items, and quality goods. Plus, there came to be considerable restrictions on religious expression. Faith became largely frowned upon in official circles. But we now know that while faith might be frowned upon, it is not and will not be denied.
Christians remained faithful even in their sufferings. And their sufferings produced endurance, character and hope. Quietly, they continued to study, pray, attend services, and maintain devotional stances in life despite the potential consequences. St. Petersburg today is filled with a plethora of glorious churches, some still being restored to their former glory with the faithful worshipping freely and openly. For, as Romans reminds us, suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us …
Now, this thriving, wild, spectacular, sparkling city belies the stormy past of revolution, invasion, siege, starvation, and the stark, seventy years of communism. Instead, St. Petersburg’s tragic history is quietly camouflaged among the culture and sophistication of architecture, style, perspective, engineering and outlook on life.
Like their founder and namesake, Peter, this city continues in determination, to reinvent itself, and to rise above the adversity that punctuates its rich and spotted history.