Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Inside the Peter and Paul Church in Plyos 1888



This is the first (and perhaps only) interior scene Levitan painted. It is the little church of Sts. Peter and Paul. We viewed this wooden church, as if from the air, at the start of Lent.

We are standing on the worn, wide-planked floor, looking ahead to the iconostasis, which is not a dividing barrier, but a place of intimacy and encounter. The altar is behind the central Royal Doors through which the priest comes and goes to bless us, to enjoin us to worship and to bring Holy Communion to us. The icons serve as windows, as if heaven is looking out at us in mercy and encouraging love. The heavenly ones, the angels and saints singing, Holy, Holy, Holy!

This small church, likely holding less than one hundred people, reminds me of the chapel at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in Yonkers, NY. My own seminary, a few miles away, had a large gym complex for our use and the seminarians at St. Vladimir's had an open invitation to use that gym and our extensive library. 

Now and again, a group of us would drive over to their place on Saturday night for Vespers in their chapel. Notice in the painting there are no pews: the shoulder-to-shoulder worshippers stand throughout, often for many hours. That's how it was at St. Vladimir's. 

I remember one evening, after the deacon incensed all the icons on the screen, he turned and started to walk down along the wall of the chapel to incense the many icons that were placed there as well. And as he moved along, the entire community stepped to the left. And when he got to the back of the church, everyone stepped forward. And as he moved along the left wall, everyone stepped right. 

This wasn't a prescribed liturgical dance - the folks were just moving aside in courtesy to open a path for him. But it seemed to be more than that - perhaps an unconscious movement that there's no ranking here and that we move together as one. Not to say, we all believe exactly the same thing, that's not the greatest claim, but that shoulder-to-shoulder, we move through this faith-life, en-spirited, created as one and loving each other.

This movement of an entire congregation was quite unconscious, perhaps reflecting a sense of common life and oneness: a great gift the Church could give to our nation, rapidly losing the value of us.

6 comments:

  1. We see this in nature, herds of animals, schools of fish, flocks of birds, moving together as one, ensbling their survival. One cannot make their way alone without becoming swallowed up or lost to wander alone and afraid.

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    1. What a good insight. Even a hermit monk has to have some relationship to a community.

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  2. I find it interesting that he only painted one work indoors. What called him to the interior of this church more than anywhere else he visited? I understand that we really don't know the answer, but it makes me wonder

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    1. It's good to wonder about that. Remember, he was Jewish. Of course, the answer is a heart-answer.

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  3. The Iconostasis is seen as the boundary between two worlds; the Divine and the human. Forgive me Father, but I don't see how you can say that this separation of the altar from the nave is not an exclusionary barrier. It may be a place of encounter and intimacy, but for the clergy only.

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  4. There's a very wonderful book titled, The Icon: Theology in Color by Eugene Trubetskoi. St. Vladimir Press publishes it. I'd venture it can be gotten for pennies online. It was the first book I read many years ago that helped me to begin to understand the Eastern Christian liturgical sense. It's not a scholarly book of high theology, which I very much appreciated. In Eastern theology indeed, the Divine Liturgy (what we'd call the Mass) is a coming together, a joining of heavenly and earthly worship. The priest and deacons come and go through the doors many times - almost as if sewing the two realms together. But if you'd care to - the short book I've referenced is a good read. Could I add: you don't need to say, "Forgive me, Father" as if you might have offended me, but the next thing you say, "I don't see how you can say," that baffles me, as there can be many appraoches to most things: different ways of approaching prayer, meals, sense of family, governance, symbolism, manners, what marriage means - even which side of the road on which to drive. My way, your way, our way, isn't the only way. I like making those discoveries.

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