Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Lost

The Eastern Christian world has hundreds (maybe thousands) of icons of the Mother of God under as many titles. Each is unique: an event commemorated, a stance, a glance, the colors, background, story, the disposition of the Holy Child.

But why so many? Someone in love might say, "I can't contain myself," or speak of love that's overflowing. That's what this is all about. We've all visited a house where there are seemingly countless pictures of the same person(s) in a variety of outfits, situations, poses, places, props, companions.

This is the icon of the Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Lost. Sometimes she is called, Searcher of the Perishing. Here's the story. In the mid 18th century a pious Russian peasant, Theodotus, lost his way at night on the Feast of the Lord's Baptism. His horse became exhausted, and as he began to fall asleep from the cold, he asked for help from heaven, promising if he survived, he would have an icon painted of the Mother of God ~ Seeker of the Perishing.

A man in another village heard a voice outside his window say, "Take him." He went out and found Theodotus. Restored back to health Theodotus had the icon painted and given to the Church of Saint George in Bolkhov.

These varying titles: Searcher of the Lost or Searcher of the Perishing are important,  as we live on this planet which is often a planet of loss. There's the day-to-day losses that can be nerve wracking and time consuming: losing the keys, the cellphone, the wallet. A document gets irretrievably lost when we accidentally hit delete. Sometimes we lose a night's sleep, or when we're stressed we might jokingly say, "I'm losing my mind." Sometimes we lose our sense of humor, a game or a  bet.

But then there are the more serious  losses. We lose a dear one to death. We lose a friend through mistake or mis-understanding. We can lose our fiscal solvency. Lose sobriety. Lose our inner balance and wind up depressed. Lose our faith or our health. We can get lost to wrong-headedness or manipulation. Lose a job, lose self-respect, lose inner peace.  Lose all sense of good conscience. Lose your soul. We can wind up the loser because we've procrastinated.  It's not easy living on this earth. Indeed, the story of poor Theodotus lost on a snowy night is symbolic of so much of life.

But heaven doesn't want us living in loss. The title for the icon begins with the word Searcher. We're reminded of all the searching that goes on in the Gospels: Searching for the Pearl of Great Price, Searching for the Lost Sheep, Searching for the Lost Coin, The Lost (or Prodigal) Son. I think Jesus, raised up on the cross, was looking out  for each of us, in some way or other, lost.

Gazing at the icon I might consider the losses of my life (this isn't about lost keys and parking spaces). Notice in the icon there is a tree seen through the window. We're invited to enter our inner place. There is a curtain pulled back on the right. God has pulled back the veil or barriers of separation in his search for us. The Mother of God is holding the Holy Infant with clasped hands, a kind of safe-guarding fence. He seems to stand on her as a baby climbs all over his/her mother, testing strengthening legs. In Christ, God is climbing all over humanity in love.

The icon's feast day is February 5. Here are the two prayers the icon invites:

Within the Temple, O Temple of Life, you found Him whom the universe cannot contain, silencing the teachers by the word of God which is above the wisdom of the wise. O all-pure Mother of God, cease not seeking your children who are lost; that we may treasure Christ in our hearts, and find eternally our Father's House.

Vincent Van Gogh ~ Sorrowing Old Man ~1890

 Seek us who are perishing, O Most Holy Virgin, chasten us not according to our sins, but as you are merciful in your love for humankind, have pity, deliver us from eternal loss, sickness and necessity, and save us.

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