The painting opens a series of works devoted to the acts of St. Sergius of Radonezh (circa 1321–1391), the founder and hegumen of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, whose secular name was Bartholomew. Sergius is one of the most venerated Russian saints, whose image as a youth became for the artist a symbol of hope for the revival of Russian spirituality. Nesterov uses an episode from St. Sergius’ hagiography. Unlike his brothers, Bartholomew found it difficult to learn reading and writing. One day, when looking for his herd that had gone astray, the youth found himself in woods where he met a monk praying under an oak. On learning that the boy was failing at his ABC's, he used the sacrament of communion to help Bartholomew achieve the blessing of learning. The folding icon in the elder’s hand resembling a cathedral, the church in the distance are symbols of the saint's future deeds. The youth's fragile figure matches the thin young trees, brittle blades of grass, pine sapling that shoots up by his feet. The elder’s dark figure, by contrast, appears mysteriously from an ancient oak. His face is hidden; there is a luminous halo around his head. It seems that contemplation of a broody autumn landscape brought this vision to the artist's mind.
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