Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Evening at Volga 1888

Levitan spent a lot of time along Russia's greatest river, The Volga, painting it from different angles and at different times of the day. I like this one specially because its colors are said to be opalescent. I wasn't absolutely sure what opalescent meant, so I looked it up: iridescent, rainbow-like, lustrous, many-hued, sparkling, shimmering. Look at the water with its great reflective power, and the sky - which could be even close to ten at night, if it's June. 

There is an opening between the trees on left and right that seem to invite us to enter a contemplative place. I'd suggest that the title itself: Evening at Volga is vague enough that I might ask: Whose evening is it? Just Levitan's? My own?

It's perfectly right that we should ask that question, as Levitan loved new ideas, especially ideas that grew out of his insights about archetypal images: light, darkness, fog, colors, water, desert, wilderness, fire and ice, thresholds. Archetypal images are those ideas that every human person can identify with from a deeply personal place. That's what we've been doing these Lenten weeks.

Notice how horizontal lines play an important part in this painting, but lines which don't serve as barriers but invitations to venture even further: in the middle of the water there is a bright horizontal line, then the line of deep blue reflective water, then the line of the mountains the base of which shelters a town along the thin line of beach,  then finally the line of soft sky and clouds. 

I took a trip up the Volga River in 1996, traveling from Moscow to St. Petersburg. In the middle of July, the sky remained bright well after ten at night.  So I went back to look at the pictures I took along the way and found this one below. I remember the feeling of awe when I saw this scene, and here I am twenty one years later discovering Levitans' painting so much like it.

Then I thought of the lovely hymn, Shall We Gather At The River? written by Robert Lowry in 1864 - the river of the Book of Revelation 22:1-2.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of  God?

Yes, we'll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior's face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we'll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.


  1. Thank you for the gifts of song and prayer you send today. they will energize my spirit toward peace and healthier insights.

  2. I notice that the slanted rocks in the clearing, in contrast with the horizontal lines elsewhere, almost point or direct us to look up and out. I look left and the right, not knowing which way is up river or which way is down. I ask myself where am I heading? Where have I been?

  3. Beautiful hymn. Thank you for sharing it. You have gotten to experience sights beyond what the average person can imagine. It must have been wonderful to make your way down the Volga River and take in the landscapes of Levitan. I wish you many blessings Father Stephen. Your shared experiences and observations help me to grow in spirit.

  4. Thank you. Yes the trip was a boyhood dream come true - especially the day I woke up at Kizhi Island. There are three centuries old wooden churches there that I had seen pictures of when I was a boy. Waking up and sticking my head out the porthole, there they were! When the group gathered afer breakfast and we walked the dirt trail to the churches I thought I was in a dream.

  5. Beautiful message! Beautiful music! Thank you for all these lovely posts. Very inspiring.

  6. I send a blessing these last weeks of Lent.