Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

There's More!

During the Seven decades of Soviet Rule the Russian Orthodox Church endured a persecution like that of believers in the first centuries of Christianity's existence. One of Josef Stalin's first directives was to silence the voice of the Church by pulling down and melting all of Russia's church bells. If churches weren't blown-up they were put to secular purposes - even installing toilets over the place where the altar had been.

In one night all of Ukraine's bishops were arrested, killed or exiled. Icons beyond counting were burned, priests and their families disappeared, monastic communities were dispersed. 

Yet after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 warehouses were opened containing thousands of neglected icons. The 2005 cleaning and restoration of one icon of the Mother of God proved to be of particular significance. The story of the discovery can be found online: Russia Peels the Veils from Antiquity and Gazes, Awed.

Above is the icon with its riza (decorative metal case) removed. Below is the icon fully restored. The Russian restorer likens the knowing smile of the Mother of God to that of the Mona Lisa with this one important difference: We don't know why the Mona Lisa smiles, but with her Son cradled in her left arm, we know why Mary does.

But what's to be learned from this discovery? The Virgin's smile is a knowing smile: God knows us as his children, even when we're soiled or fallen, sleepy, restless or even covered in recklessness and error.

But the wonder of this icon coming to us after seventy hidden years is in the getting to the underneath. We can live surfacey lives in this country: the talk shows and interviews, the commercials and sitcoms, roaming up and down aisles of things to buy. The icon with the charred and opaque surface seems to say, "There's more; get at the more."

Or sometimes disappointments overwhelm us and life can seem to be ruined and without purpose. Or we feel burned out, like the blackened board.  But the icon says, "Go deeper, peel away the surfaces. There's more." So many people are afflicted with bad cases of "What's the use?" But the icon, once cleaned and patched reveals yet again, "You can heal - you can dream again, there's more."  

There's radiance in every human person - it can be shelved, masked, forgotten, or stolen away,  but it's there waiting to be discovered and shared. This marvelous icon of bright joy - it's all of us! Ponder the icon in its transformation. But ultimately the peeling away and the discovery of the more is about each of us even more than it is about the icon. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When she saw the pictures and heard the story about the icon, my nine year old friend, Katie, wrote this dear poem, Lost and Forgotten. We can realize the poem as about ourselves as well and our churches, our nation, our communities, our families.

"Lost and Forgotten"

Veiled in darkness,
Lost and forgotten,
Falling apart, piece by piece.
A Mother and Son 
to be discovered
Restored back to
Heavenly glory.
Golden light, jewels, wondrous colors,
All together in one
Little Family of love.
Lost and Forgotten,
A Mother and Son
Now discovered
And crowned with
Eternal Glory.


  1. How perfect to relate the restoration of this beautiful, once lost icon to the discovery of our own selves. How many of us, at times, feel lost and forgotten and are just waiting for someone to come along and discover us for our own inner beauty?

  2. So hard to find that someone who sees you for your inner today's world so many ONLY see what's on the outside, what you drive, how big is your home... How much money do you make.... What about the person who's heart is giving of love all the time, who may not have the outer beauty but the beautiful of a good person... So hard so hard....

  3. Katie's poetic response to the restoration of this icon powerfully expresses not only the kind of sensitive seeing that the images in the icon call us to, but the "Word" as a signifier of the Divine, and the divinty within us all. Thank you Katie for your wonderfully alive rhythmic poem!

  4. We can certainly realize that about ourselves. The feeling of waiting in darkness, waiting to feel a part of something, to be able to show others what we are made of deep inside. We all have an inner beauty. If a child can understand all that, why can't we? Thank you for bringing us this message of not giving up. That we are all capable of being brought into eternal glory.

  5. Absolutely lovely. So inspiring! Both your words Father, and those of this little nine year old. What a blessing to read.

  6. Father
    One of the 1st icons you shared with us was a similar scene in which Mary is holding Jesus, you titled it as "The Way". Jesus is holding a scroll and Mary is looking up or out to him. In this one Mary is holding the ladder and smiling, as if she holds the the passage or the journey of "The Way to God the Father. The innocence of a child that we unfortunately lose as we get older to see that what is beneath the surface of people, their heart and soul is what only matters. God knows us as his children as we need to think of that childlike innocence that has abandoned us. Father, please keep showing us the More!

  7. With the culmination of the Olympics in Sochi and the unrest in nearby Ukraine, it is fitting that this post should surface again today. May it serve as a reminder for us to pray for the Mother of God to smile down upon these people. That they too can look forward to happiness and joy in the future. To live in restored radiance.

  8. Father,
    I have been looking around the blog and taking a look at your all Time Favorites. I see that they are all from within the past year, with the exception of this one, which is from quite a while ago. I read it carefully and understand why it is a favorite. The theme of transformation, the icon to its beautiful shining, ourselves from darkness into light. We together must prevent the lost from being forgotten so that we can all walk to the light together. I hope that your nine year old 'friend' Katie has not lost her innocent 'eyes wide open' Christ centered view of the world.

    1. Well this is something - I was just thinking today that I would ask Katie to write a prayer for students as in September they will set out into another year of school. She is doing well - a wide awake young lady.