City of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is a city rich in culture and history. Built by Peter the Great in 1703 as a “Window to Europe,” the city represented Peter’s determination to bring Russia out of the backwoods culturally and politically. Located on Russia’s border closest to Europe, St. Petersburg provided better access to European trading. Also militarily strategic, St. Petersburg provided control of Baltic ports and, therefore, significant economic and political control of Russia and Asia.

Determined to show Europe that whatever they did, Russia could do bigger and better, Peter the Great invested much into the city and succeeded. St. Petersburg outdid Venice and the palace of Peterhoff dwarfed the palace of Versailles.

Nevertheless, Peter’s successes came with an exorbitant price tag. Ordering all peasants from the surrounding countryside to build his city or face immediate death, tens of thousands of workers were pressed into forced labor. Once in the city, the peasant workers were literally worked to death. When they dropped one-by-one, dirt was thrown over them and the work continued. It is said that 40,000 peasants are buried beneath St. Isaacs Cathedral alone. Due to these horrific conditions, many in Peter’s government believed the city to be cursed and called it “The City of Bones.”

To this day, many of the initial struggles faced in the building of St. Petersburg are still present deep in the Russian psyche. Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the Russian people experience an ongoing internal and external struggle as to their true identity. To what degree are they Eastern? Western? Neither? Peter’s attempt to appease and woo the West was extremely costly in Russian lives, and some of Russia’s resentment of the West can be traced back to this time.

Additionally, Peter modeled a horrible irreverence for the lives of his own countrymen. A strong authoritarian leader who ruled by fear, Peter became the model unfortunately repeated throughout Russia’s modern history. Weakness, whether national or individual, is despised and to be avoided at all costs. With such a mentality, it is easy to understand why Russia has such difficulty honestly addressing the epidemic increase of orphans and street kids.

Our prayer is that The Harbor will gently but powerfully model to the Russian people the tremendous dignity of all lives. As God transforms “the least of these” into productive citizens, business leaders, teachers, and healthy parents, may all Russians be led to find the lover and creator of their souls.