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Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

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Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence

Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence (Hagia Hesychia)
During these four weeks of Advent of 2021, I’m going to focus on icons of Wisdom. And though she is enigmatic and nearly defies our western mind’s need for a rational explanation, I’ll do my best to try and share some of what I’ve learned. My dear friend Christopher Pramuk has written two books specifically about Wisdom and that’s actually how we met; when I wrote him a gushing fan letter after reading “Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.”
Encountering the Orthodox tradition of icons of Wisdom in 1990, really changed me forever. Wisdom is feminine in all the 5 Books of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures, except the Book of Job. I’m still in her school, which is just wonderfully humbling and ultimately... you come to Psalm 131.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud.
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs, in
wonders beyond me.
No, I hold myself in quiet and silence.
Like a little child in its mother’s arms.
Like a little child, so I keep myself.
Let Israel hope in the Lord now
and forever.”
“When I was a youth, before I went traveling, In my prayers I asked outright for Wisdom. Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last, I shall continue to search for her. From her blossoming to the ripening grape, my heart has taken delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth. By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction. Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me Wisdom! For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame. My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous about keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to Heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her; I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having fixed my heart on her from the outset. I shall never be deserted; my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession. In reward the Lord has given me a tongue with which I shall sing His praises. Come close to me, take your place in my school. Why complain about lacking these things when your souls are so thirsty for them ? I have opened my mouth and said: ‘Buy her without money, put your necks under her yoke, let your souls receive instruction, she is near, within your reach.’ See for yourselves: how slight my efforts have been to win so much peace.”
Ecclesiasticus 51 : 13-27
It’s so clear that within these words, you hear the voice of Jesus in the Gospels . The early church father, Origen of Alexandria (much maligned until wisdom figures like Cardinals Danielou, de Lubac and von Balthasar began to rehabilitate his reputation) once said (and I paraphrase him) “God’s Sophia (Wisdom) took a body and became just like other crying infants.”
I first saw this icon in my first icon book “Russian Icons” by Fr Vladimir Ivanov, published in 1989 by Rizzoli Publishers, and the letters were so faded I asked my teacher, Friar Robert Lentz, who is this very feminine looking angelic figure ? When he answered “Jesus” I knew I was entering a whole new theological world. I confess, when I leave or go against Wisdom, I pay mightily hurting myself or others, by trying to make earthly wisdom work. This was the reason I had to copy this icon. When you copy a master, you learn so much. For example, in this icon notice how the background goes from dark green to softer green, and the wings repeat in reverse, the same subtle gradation. She is also wearing a deacon’s stole. The deacons and early church deaconess’s (see the recent article by Ariel David about the finding of a 1600 year old Byzantine basilica with graves dedicated to female ministers) responsibility was to preach. So how does holy silence preach ? Think of St Francis’ instruction to his followers, “Preach the Gospel always, and sometimes use words.”
I know in these flammable and hostile times we are all asking, like the brilliant author of Ecclesiasticus, for Wisdom. A Wisdom that gives you the inner peace and rest you are seeking. In the words of Our Lord, Matthew 11: 28-30,
“Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 for the first week of Advent 2021