Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Evening Bells 1892

Yesterday we viewed Levitan's painting, Quiet Abode ~ The Silent Monastery, which he painted in 1890. Now, two years later, he has returned to the monastery on the river, pondering and painting from a different vantage point. Instead of the wooden bridge connecting the opposite shorelines, here we see a small boat carrying pilgrims over to the monastery. Perhaps they are going to attend Vespers (Evening Prayer). We see the little dock from which they set out and two additional small boats. A boatman waits for another group. 

Notice the path right in front of us, growing out of the field flowers along the lower edge of the painting. And then, how wonderful is this, the same path picks up across the river on the other side where two monks stand looking to welcome us. That's how much Levitan wants us to go with him.

The calm waters reflect the monastery complex. And for all the beauty of what we're seeing, of course, the dimension missing is that of hearing the bells. But we can imagine. 

It is said before the 1917 Revolution, church bells rang from one end of Russia to the other. When Josef Stalin came to power in the early 1920's, his first mandate was to silence the bells, either removing them or having them destroyed on the spot. The churches, convents and monasteries that were not bulldozed or blown up were put to secular use: turned into stables, storage houses, movie theatres, office space, prisons, insane asylums and skating rinks. The Krivooserski monastery was submerged and lost when the Gorky dam was built and the reservoir filled in the 1950's.

But here we have Levitan's work of deep respect before us - still inviting us to hear the bells of invitation, to cross over and enter. The Dali Lama has said:

"In a sense a religious practitioner, whether man or woman, is like a soldier engaged in combat. Who is the enemy? Ignorance, anger, attachment, and pride are the ultimate enemies; they are not outside, but  within, and must be fought with the weapons of wisdom and meditative concentration."  

There are Christians who conceive of the combat as a war with the culture and a fight to preserve religious freedoms. But those battles are not an inner spiritual way and leave us un-transformed. One Catholic mission institute is offering a six day spring program of renewal titled: Whatever happened to Jesus? I'd suggest this is the problem, and it is a serious one: the loss of the Christ-Center. The Dali Lama suggests meditative concentration. For the Christian disciple that means an immersion into the four Gospels and daily study of the same. 

Want to take the little boat across the river to the evening monastery? Be spiritually kind to yourself and get a copy of Daniel Durken's New Collegeville Bible Commentary of the New Testament (copyright 2009). It is available through Liturgical Press. My copy cost less than $25.00, which if I used it daily for a year comes to about 6 or 7 cents a day. A large pizza with drinks and a tip might cost more, no?


  1. The monks standing on the far bank of the river ready to welcome the boat is a nice touch. Sometimes our Church doesn't extend a warm arm of welcome.

  2. It is sad to know that this monastery is submerged and that so many beautiful churches were lost. At least their memories are preserved by artists such as Levitan whose landscape scenes invites us to think about all that has been and all that will be.

  3. This post will be a good meditation for me today. Thanks.

  4. We spend money frivolously. Giving up a pizza night seems a small sacrifice to buy this book which promises great reward. I trust your recommendation Father Stephen.

  5. A serious but not "over the head" New Testament study. You won't be disappointed. Many Catholics have never undertaken any study of the Gospels. We are weaker for it. Thanks for bucking the trend.

  6. What I like best about these posts is that everyone here can offer their own views of each painting and how it makes them feel and what meaning it has for them. Everyone sees things different based on their life experiences. Even people with no artistic background can see the beauty in it all. I thank you for bringing them to us and offering your own insights. It has been a great path so far.