Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mother of God Milk~Giver

Galaktotrophousa ~ Mother of God Nursing 

MANY ICONS COME TO US with tales of their creation, their wondrous discovery or transport, how miracles were wrought by their presence or  monasteries and convents grew up around them. 

Saint Sabbas the Sanctified (+532) predicted on his death bed that another monk, also named Sabbas, would appear one day as a visitor to their monastery outside Jerusalem and that the Milk~Giver icon at that time should be given to him.

The story continues "the next six centuries rushed by" (perhaps a poetic way of saying that time means nothing to good monks) and in the 13th century, Saint Sabbas the Archbishop of Serbia arrived in Palestine. The monks related to Sabbas the story that had been handed down for centuries, fulfilling the holy founders prophecy entrusting the Milk~Giver icon to his care. 

Along his return trip to Serbia, Sabbas stopped in Greece where he visited the Hilander Monastery, evidently giving the icon to the monks there. Eight centuries later the icon still resides in a kellion there (a sub-community of six or seven monks) attached to that  monastic community. But I believe there is more!

The ancient Greeks believed there were four libations (liquid gifts offered to the gods: oil, water, honey and milk). But now in Christ, there is a great reversal as God offers us - humankind - the milk of God's wisdom and truth. 

Like new-born babies all your longing should be for milk - the unadulterated spiritual milk - which will help you to grow up to salvation, at any rate if you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2)

Wisdom is not at all the same as being smart, or being able to solve problems or give good advice, or being old and having good sense solutions drawn from long life experience.

Wisdom is having insights into God's mind. And God has gone to a great deal of trouble to share God's mind with us in Christ. And truth is closely linked to this wisdom. But truth is not trends and fads, advertisements and the newly elected, the top ten list, the winners, what's in, what the experts say, what the guarantees promise. 

God's truth first has to do with my becoming a newly conscious person. It is bigger than simply nodding my head to dogma
"But let the complete renewal of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God ~ what is good and acceptable and mature." (Romans 12:2) 
Another translation says: "But let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed."

And this re-making and renewal of our minds might express itself first of all in a radical embracing of the truth of the Incarnation - the abandonment of the limiting separations we create between God and us, and the abandonment of  the destructive separations we create between and among humans. 

Over the door of a friend's church there is a stained glass window of angels holding an open scroll which reads: Porta Caeli (Door of Heaven). I don't deny it, but I would suggest that the same sign could appear over the door leading into the doctor's waiting room, or the door leading into the Motor Vehicle office! YIKES! 

Instead of flipping through old issues of People or watching the awful and too loud TV suspended from the wall, could I imagine personal prayers for each of the people waiting along with me. There's the renewed (re-made) mind!

Lord, that woman looks so tired...
Lord, that man is so crabby towards his wife...
Lord, that mom looks so worried about her child...

Instead of worry, fear and demonizing complaints I can send blessings and prayers of help, healing and strengthening to the ISIS militants, the Ebola sufferers and helpers, the President whose job is unspeakably difficult, the pro-democracy students of Hong Kong and the police who drive them back, the homeless teens in Ocean Beach, California. The new mind is a kind of waking up - no more separations, no more dividing distinctions between humans.

And Saint Benedict says in his monastic rule, "Treat the garden and kitchen tools as carefully as you treat the sacred chalice used at Mass." No more separations between God and humankind.

Your icon, O Lady
in the kellion at Athos
where monks alone admire you ~
fly now on techno-wings
around our dry world 
nourishing us all with the
abundant milk of divine
wisdom and truth.


  1. Thank you Father Stephen for giving us this piece of enlightenment. I wish to nourish my mind in the wisdom of God and you always lead the way. Just when I think that I might fall into complacent prayer again, you give me something new to think about.

  2. All my life I have gone to church and prayed. Receiving the Eucharist has always been an important part of my faith practice. But I never thought about my salvation. I didn't yet know to yearn for spiritual nourishment. Then I found you and I saw what my spiritual life was missing. My consciousness has been awakened and I feel more alive in God. But now I worry about my salvation and if it is enough now just to want to feel God's presence in my life in this new way.

  3. Well, worrying doesn't help. Have you read the four gospels? Have you ever done any studying of the gospels? That can be a real mind-changer. Keep going to Mass, by all means. But you might have a look ahead to the gospel for the next week and do some study-preparation. That's adding a whole new dimension to the idea of preparing for Mass. Can you dedicate some minutes each day to silence before your crucifix or open bible or an icon? These things are helpers. But keep worrying far away. Jesus is pleased with your efforts.

    1. That isn't what I meant. I do prepare before mass and I pray, I have never been so aware of a spirituality within me. And nowI see that it isn't only about prayer and going to Church. Our faith is much more than that and I am as a newborn learning how to form my thoughts and learning to spiritually walk. And I thank you.

    2. Oh yes, I see then. But don't let it worry you - let it please and excite you. When you were a baby and were learning to walk you weren't thinking "Dang, I'll never get this!" You were more likely feeling, "How exciting this is - imagine where I'll go!"

  4. An interesting icon. Reminds us that Jesus came to us in human form with all our human needs. A mother nursing her child, her first responsibility to her newborn baby. Even the worst criminal began life as an innocent child suckling at his mother's breast

  5. It is so hard to go to those places of silent prayer, I long to find them but I get so distracted with responsibilities. If I can quiet the brain and form a direction, it is to visit the Blessed Sacrament. There my mind changes for the better. I don't dwell on the weakness of others but on my own needs for change. Blessings to you.

  6. Our minds were made to create thoughts, so yes, we are very distractable. God understands. Don't try to "blank" your mind - we can't really do it because of the culture we live in. Better to "lock" or "fix" your mind. So the tabernacle, the icon, the flower, the open bible. Not to try to have holy thoughts - and to let distractions go down the stream - like leaves in the water. Just being there matters. Our mothers were happy when we were just there - in her arms.