Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mother of God ~ All-Perceiving

NOT APPEARING IN ANY OF THE BOOKS I use to identify icons, this Mother of God comes to us in mystery. A friend who was staying at a Russian monastery found it outside the door to his room one morning. The kind giver remained anonymous. 

So I have taken the liberty of giving her a title, which is not hard to do. Considering the Holy Mother's attentive locked-on gaze, I have called the icon Mother of God ~ All Perceiving. 

Here it seems that Jesus' Mother has perhaps become aware of some danger: raising herself a bit to observe and encounter, her chin and cheek pressed against the Infant's head. In some cultures a mother will look directly into the eyes of any person who steps up to address the baby she holds, intending to ward off any dangerous power or intent present in false words. Mothers can be very sensitive to danger or evil lurking.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

When someone makes this kind of eye contact it suggests that he or she has nothing to hide; there are no masks. Masks of course leave us wondering, who is really there? Some masks are necessary as when a priest, who knows himself to be sinful, has to present himself as confessor, healer and reconciler. The school teacher who carries personal burdens at home  needs to wear the mask of a confident, happy, put-together leader in the classroom.

But then there are the masks we wear protectively everyday and  behind which we hide. The masks of:

pretending, posing and posturing,
grandiosity, vanity and name-dropping,
incessant talking and boisterous laughter,
false smiles,
obvious and emphasized sexuality,
power-titles and displays of wealth, 
to-be-seen religion,
lies and living on the level of surfacey conversations,
the zany girl and the laugh-a-minute guy...

In the 1988 film, Dangerous Liasons, the Marquis Isabelle de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and Vicomte Sebastien de Valmont (John Malkovich) are bored, pre-revolution French aristocrats who, rather than expressing and accepting their love for each other, set out in a destructive game to destroy the love of those around them. They are ugly characters hiding behind wigs, decorative fabric, entertainments, social refinements, fans and clouds of powder.

In the last scene the Marquis has been exposed for the vile person she is. Removing her thick make-up-mask, she sits framed in darkness before her mirror. We see her real skin (her underneath) for the first time and the first of her painful tears.

The friend who shared the print of the All~Perceiving Mother of God told me when he prays or sits silently before the icon he can feel uneasy or troubled - as if the Holy Mother sees past the masks he wears to his own underneath - the raw, concealed or vulnerable place where many people never go.

But heaven doesn't leave us lost in desperate guilt. We weren't made for that. Rather, the Holy Child of the icon, protected by his Mother, is covered in rays and sparks of light. Jesus keeps nothing for himself, but shares everything, including the divine energies of God Himself. Scroll back up to the top and draw near!


  1. I find it fascinating that each icon of the Mother of God has its own interpretation. I have looked back at your other posts that feature a Mother of God icon and they are all so beautiful, yet subtly different. In each one she has a tender message for us. Thank you for bringing these to us and for your own reflections on each one.

    1. It is said of now Saint Kateri Tekawitha that she prayed more with her eyes than her lips. My prayer books are essentially books of icons. Just looking. And in doing that the subtle differences you refer to start to show themselves.

    2. Whether through words or through these pictures, my prayers are deeper and more heartfelt after reading this each day. I will work on the looking, studying, focusing. I am happy to learn.

  2. Could you recommend a book of icons that could be obtained and useful? I would like to get one. But I wouldn't know where to begin.

  3. Read "Icons: Theology in Color" by Eugene N. Trubetskoi. Trutbetskoi was a Russian Prince before the Revolution. This book is the best for presenting the theology of the icon in an accessible way. It can easily be gotten online. Also, Henri Nouwen has written a small book called, "Praying With Icons" that is helpful.

    1. Here is another readable and good book titled: Orthodox Iconography by Constantine Cavarnos. Highly recommended. This book is published by the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 115 Gilbert Road, Belmont, Massachusetts 02178

      Sometimes these Eastern Orthodox books draw contrasts with Western art - that is, art used in Catholic Churches. It can come across as an "ax to grind". Piece of advice: Just note the contrasts and keep reading.