As the sun heats city streets and suburban lawns, Americans flock to local swimming holes, mountain campsites, and crowded beaches. A similar migration occurs during the summer weekends in Russia—not to the ocean or the mountains—but instead to the country dachas.
The word dacha can be loosely translated to summer home or cottage, but it comes through a long historical line of social, economic, and political implications that lead to that name. Originally dachas where considered a small gift of land from the land owners to the serfs during feudal times, but in the late nineteenth century, after the serfs were freed, dachas became an emblem for the rising bourgeois middle-class. Yet, during the Soviet times, dachas were encouraged around the idea of communal land and everyone sharing in these cottages. Also at points during the Soviet reign the government-controlled agriculture failed to such an extent that an estimated 90% of produce came from private dachas. Dachas have always had a garden component that represents the ideal of “returning to the soil” that is prevalent in Russian culture. Thus, these little summer homes literally fed the Soviet Union during times of trial.
Even now, when walking through a metro station in St. Petersburg or Moscow, old women (Babushkas) come from a weekend at their family dacha with fresh fruits and vegetables to sell. From these sales, the elderly women are able to survive in conjunction with their meager government stipends.
Yet beyond the historical and political implications of the dachas, they are first and foremost a place of rest. For the city dwellers coming to their rustic dacha, often void of running water and electricity, they get a chance to return back to the soil. It is a place where families gather in the garden to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in the dusky summer heat. Conversation floats around the generations between grandmother and grandson; between father and daughter. Although this idyllic image does not embody every dacha for every family, it demonstrates the nostalgia that inherently arises from these country homes. National Geographic depicted these scenes in a beautiful photo piece— “Russian Summer.”
Currently SunErgos’ president and vice president Tatiana and Michael Mendakoff are resting with their children at their family dacha. This important aspect of Russian life—that the Mendakoff’s partake in—demonstrates the Russian understanding of the need for rest. In our busy Western lives we often forget how often the scriptures speak of rest, and that along with prayer and community rest is vital to our faith and spiritual walk. Without rest we limit our ability to walk like Christ. In the letter to the Hebrews we are reminded: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NIV).
So as we enjoy the month of July, let us remember our Eastern sisters and brothers who have built the idea of rest into the fabric of their culture. Think about the simple joy and rejuvenation that comes from a weekend with family and friends, or a night of uninhibited conversation without deadlines and calendar notifications. Let us remember the repose of Christ and not just the work.