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 side 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.