Note: I published several blogs on November 13th.
10 November 2007
It’s Saturday, I think. With the help of Ambien, the 26 hours of sleeplessness melted away into good rest. We start with breakfast – a buffet full of, yes, meat, cheese, and vegetables, along with porridge, fried biscuits (called pancakes), baked cottage cheese, and fruit. I opted for fruit.
Rather than begin the day at an orphanage, we learned about Russian culture and St Petersburg history a bit. Founded by Peter the Great, St Petersburg is filled with palaces, churches, museums, monuments, and other icons. From the air, it was impossible to see the architecture and beauty that hid amidst the industrial-looking apartment buildings. But it seems there is some bit of history on every street. It’s difficult to take it all in.
We toured the Cathedral of St Isaac (named for Peter the Great’s patron saint), and were awe-struck by the artwork and design. The cathedral is only used for special occasions and major religious holidays now, and can accommodate 10,000 people.
Outside the cathedral, a large statue of Peter the Great was erected by his bride, Catherine. Peter is shown on a horse, hand outstretched to the west, crushing a snake. The base looks like a wave. I’ll write more about the symbolism later.
After the visit to the cathedral and a local shop for traditional Russian souvenirs, we had lunch and went to our first orphanage. Orphanage #7 is located inside the city, and is home to special needs children. They put on a delightful show for us, and we then spent time doing VBS and crafts. While many of the children have developmental delays, they are extremely talented dancers and artists. Having the opportunity to spend time with the kids was amazing.
Our day ended with a delightful evening at the small theatre of the Hermitage, watching the St Petersburg Ballet Company perform Swan Lake. Though the dancers were talented, they couldn’t hold a candle to the kids at #7.
As we rode back to the hotel, I pondered that statue of Peter the Great. You see, his hand is outstretched to the west because he wanted a city that would be better than European cities. His horse crushed the snake of adversity. And the wave? He fashioned his great empire after Venice. From the ornate architecture of the buildings to canals rather than roads, he wanted Venice in Russia. But there was a fatal flaw in his grand design. St Petersburg is located just south of Finland, and water can’t flow when it’s frozen. So his city became impassable in the autumn and spring when the canals were not thawed completely nor frozen solid.
Rather than look around at the land he had been given and design the perfect city for that land, Peter wanted to best a distant land. His hunger for greatness caused great distress – and he ultimately had to redesign the infrastructure of the city to make it inhabitable. I wonder how often we’re like Peter…hungry for what others have. When all the while God is holding out great gifts right where we are.
I know I’m guilty.