Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Saint Andrew on the Vuoksa River

This is the little temple of Saint Andrew the Apostle built in the year 2000 on a stone outcrop in the River Vuoksa, Russia. For those of us who live in a drive-up-window-world, there might be something gentle-ing about having to row up to the chapel.

Some photographers happened upon the miniature river-church, then returning many times over the years they discovered it anew in each of its seasonal surprises. But beneath the natural beauty there is the chapel's vulnerability. It is a wooden church, exposed to the elements. It sits in a river, clinging to rock; a great rush of water could take it away. Far from the city's surveillance cameras, thieves could plunder it.

Vulnerability means no power: a newborn, a nest of eggs, the earliest spring flowers, a candle flame, snow on a pine bough. During an evening of television shows and commercials we hear the word power beyond counting: power-up, cleaning power, spending power, political power, celebrity power, athletic power, the vehicle's power, muscle-drink power, vitamin power, movie characters vying for power. 

Archbishop Anthony Bloom wrote: 
The Church must never speak from a position of strength. It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. 
Christians don't talk much  about our personal connection to power. The thought of discovering how infected we are might terrify us. And so this spiritual work remains to be undertaken today by first-world Christians. Why? Because at some point in the Gospels the miracles of Jesus stopped, and the people turned on him, disappointed that he wasn't going to be the kind of Messiah who would liberate them from Roman power. So they heaped abuse on him and crucified him, reducing him to absolute weakness. Jesus' only remaining power was the word of love he spoke to those under the cross who gave no evidence of love. 

We may not like this, may even defend against it rationalizing another way, looking for the wiggle room, but in his book A Life of Jesus, Shusaku Endo has written:
"A person begins to be a follower of Jesus only by accepting the risk of becoming himself one of the powerless people in this visible world."

We might end with this little meditation: I imagine myself rowing alone on the Vuoksa River at dawn, the Easter hour in the morning mist. Only the birds, the frogs, the fishes, the insects and I are awake. I tie up, step out onto the rock island and enter the chapel in its solitary and vulnerable beauty. I understand: all the displays of power I witness in person, or through media and even within myself, are theater. 

And in the meditation I may light a candle before the icon of the powerless Christ. I am alone in this fragrant space; there is no one to hear my prayer but heaven. Perhaps I pray for the salvation of those who menace the world with the illusion of power. Then I pray for my own divestment:

Volumne-d words,
curses and imaginings,
signs and insignia,
credentials and schemes,
looks and posturings,
refusals and obstructions,
threats and delays,
curriculum vitae,
snob appeal,
dropping names,
the very high quality of my accumulations...
and, O Christ, that the vacuum would be filled with love.


  1. I hope to visit such a tranquil place and experience the serenity you speak of. Away from everything but my thoughts.

  2. I know the feeling of powerlessness and vulnerability. Sometimes I feel like the least powerful person in the world. But I thank God for the people he put in my life to help me get through these times. They are the answers to my prayers and my personal gifts from God.

  3. Beauty in vulnerability. Thank you for pointing out the need to shed power, both in what we do towards other people and how we let it affect our actions.

  4. Thank you for this reflective prayer Father. I feel so connected to Jesus when I sit with a candle before His image. I become more aware of His presence and His desires for me to live my life in a certain way. I don't feel powerless or vulnerable at these times, only peace.

  5. What a great lesson this is. This beautiful little place hidden and protected by God can be used to bring spirit and new life to the soul. You are always making us aware of ourselves and the things needed to carry on and into a more ideal relationship with Christ.

  6. Being on the water brings peace and solace and allows one to leave the hardships of life behind. I can see how this little church would be a spiritual oasis to those willing to make the trip to get to it. Thank you for sharing this and your prayer reflection.

  7. Thanks to everyone for these comments. Bless your week. We might be on the watch for power abuse this week and steer clear.

  8. Thanks to you Father Stephen for keeping us on the right heading. Always leading us to Jesus. And yes to avoiding power abuse. Much in the foreground this week.

  9. Sooner or later, if we are praying and listening, tapping into His Grace, we realize that there's just endless vacuum without Him. When we are gifted in receiving His Grace, we find ourselves at a place of peace (power) such as the door of the little River Church. What a beautiful place that must be! Thank you for sharing it, Father!

  10. I love seeing a Catholic blog written by a priest that has some real thought and reflection that I can get behind. Way to go Father for reaching out far and wide using a modern day pulpit.

    1. "Modern day pulpit" - yes - isn't it wonderful. Saint Anthony spoke from a tree top and the priest today can point online. Thanks for following the posts.