Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Donskaya's Invitation

A RUSSIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP gave an exceedingly long sermon on the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan reminding the faithful that the icon had held back the Tartar invaders centuries before, protecting the Fatherland from the enemy and preserving Holy Russia. When Our Lady was done with the Tartars (for the time being) she managed to keep Russia pure again, this time from the Poles, "Imagine, Latin services in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Annunciation!" the bishop proclaimed.

In my view this kind of religion manipulates divine things, fostering the fevers of nationalism, xenophobia and every kind of hatred. It encourages the imaginings of exceptionalism, arrogant pride and isolation. It's magical, un-spiritual and alienated from the gospel.

If the Mother of God assumes the role of protector and guardian, then we must ask Where's the real enemy? Some Christians would never ask this question because the real enemy is interior and the face-off can be terrible indeed - for the individual, the local community, the nation or church. Jesus tells us:

"Avoid greed in all its forms," (Luke 12:15). 

In a recent TV special, a 30-something Canadian Inuit man is seen driving a reporter around his small arctic city. Along the way he laments the changes he's seen in the city during his young lifetime - the growth and disappearance of its indigenous culture due to the new presence of mining, oil and gas drilling companies. He believes the Inuit have sold out to these incomprehensibly rich businesses who are ruining the land, the water, the animals and air. He said, "Only when the last tree is gone; the last drop of water, will people realize we can't eat money." Greed is a real enemy. 

But the image here is of another Tartar-defeating icon: The Donskaya Mother of God or simply Our Lady of the Don - the Don being the River where Our Lady won yet another Fatherland victory.

The icon is of the Eleusa type giving expression to the most affectionate love between Mother and Child. Notice that while the Mother of God wears a modest cap under her maphorion, her left ear lobe is seen. This isn't a cute detail but rather, she is always listening to us and for us, like the mother of an infant sleeping in the next room.

But there is more: Mary, good Jew that she was, and having been trained in God's Word as she lived in the temple as a young girl, listens attentively to God's Word - the word of Proverb, Psalm, Prophet and History. Faith comes to us by listening. We might listen with her. 

"You will not not oppress the alien; you know how an alien feels, for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)

"The crime of your sister Sodom was pride, gluttony, calm complacency; such were hers and her daughters' crimes. They never helped the poor and needy; they were proud.." (Ezekiel 16: 49-50)

I hate, I scorn your festivals,
I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies.
When you bring me burnt offerings...
your oblations, I do not accept them
and I do not look at your communion sacrifices of fat cattle.
Spare me the din of your chanting,
let me hear none of your strumming on lyres,
but let justice flow like water
and uprightness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

Open your mouth on behalf of the dumb,
in defense of the rights of all who are unwanted.
Open your mouth on the side of justice,
and defend the rights of the poor and wretched. (Proverbs 31: 8-9)


  1. Might everyone who sees this be aware to keep their ear out for God's word. And also that we would listen for the good in the world today rather than all that is negative and destructive. Not that we shouldn't be aware, but that we can spread some happiness about.

    1. The first reading at Mass this morning is important - Elijah listening to God in the whisper. We'd like for God to do some thundering over the hateful and the rebellious - but God is in the whisper.God's method is often difficult to accept!