During a break in the conference, I went next door to St. Isaac's. Here are some photos from the inside. Although it is a museum, the northern "chapel" (which is enormous) is open for visitors to light candles, etc. I noted that one woman who went to light a candle and venerate the icons just in front of me hardly seemed to know how to do her cross. And yet she was there with a fistful of candles. I wonder if this is indicative -- a nascent faith, but with very little catechism?
Above is a photo of the beautiful gates from the main altar.
The ceiling. The western influence is heavy throughout.
Finally, it was my turn to speak. The audience was 99% Russian, and of the few foreigners present, most speak Russian (having studied in Russia, etc.) Originally, I was told to present the paper in English, but afterwards the organizers admitted that the level of the Russians' English was actually pretty low, so they drafted a poor young student to translate for me on the fly. (Complete disorganization, apparently, is not limited to the Balkans, but applies to all Orthodox countries.)
My talk was on the theology of mission as it applies to "translating" the ecclesiastical arts to new peoples.
The last day was free, so I did a grand walking tour of the city. My first stop, not far from our hotel, was the bizarre Kunstkamera Museum, otherwise known as Peter the Great's Chamber of Curiosities. Although much of the rather eclectic museum was normal (and rather bland), one floor (I believe it was the second) was shocking. I actually don't know if I'll ever be able to forget it. Apparently, it was all the rage in the European courts of the 18th century to collect "monstrosities" and "abnormalities of nature." This included having dwarfs and giants as royal attendants. It also included, as in Peter's case, a collection of human and animal fetuses with grotesque malformations (multiple heads, etc.). He even went so far as to issue an order for all such still-borns throughout the Empire to be sent to him. He then employed scientists to preserve them in jars for his museum.
Anyway, I then headed along the river toward Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress. Above, you can see a photo of the famous Winter Palace (and Hermitage Museum).
And here is the Fortress as I approached. More on that in the next part.