Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mother of God Psychosostria ~ Searcher of Souls

This Byzantine icon which dates to the 14th century, is titled Mother of God Psychosostria. Psychosostria might translate: Savior of Souls. 

We notice the lovely silver work behind and around the figure of the Mother of God. With extended right hand she stands in the position of the Hodgetria icon - Shower of the Way. There are vigorous folds in her deep red maphorion (mantle). The archangels Michael and Gabriel look on, while prophets reside in the small border medallions. The Christ Child, with light red hair, blesses us with his right hand while with his left he holds the scroll of his teachings.

Recently a young college man wrote that on his campus no one makes any reference to God. People aren't even thinking about God, maybe a "ten year plan" for their lives, but not God. So religion isn't being helpful today when it quickly resorts to the use of religious language which bounces off of people: Savior, Salvation, Grace, Heaven, Redemption, Sacrifice. It's like talking to ourselves. 

Using these kinds of words can stop people from wondering and pondering. Indeed, I'd suggest that wonder is in short supply among many first-world Christians, and that's too bad because wonder is supposed to be our method from the very start, no? 

O star of wonder,
star of night,
star with royal beauty bright,
west-ward leading,
still proceeding,
guide us to the perfect Light.

So instead of Savior of Souls, we might use Searcher of Souls or See-er of Souls. And rather than relying on an abstract and philosophical definition of soul, which fewer of us will understand, we might try musing on inner soul-aspects of our lives that are closer to home:

Mother of God ~ Psychosostria,
in the lifting up of my heart,
in my night dreaming and day dreaming,
in my fears and fantasies, faith and trust,
where I live in beauty, goodness and truth,
in my flight from ugliness, vulgarity and mindlessness.

Mother of God ~ Psychosostria,
in my deepest value and regard,
in my inner awakening,
as I stand in the world beyond what's transitory,
where I yearn for understanding and rooted-ness,
where I discover still my growing up.

Mother of God ~ Psychosostria,
in the evolution of my relationships,
as I leave behind cruelty and falsity,
in the unburdening of resentment,
as old wounds heal and I discover new strength,
as I expand in openness and clarity of vision.


  1. What has made all these people abandon thoughts of God? It can't be the religious talk,but.must have something to do with the way we are raising out children, with no emphasis on the need for God or prayer. This saddens me greatly.

    1. There's no simple answer. We should ask the young people. Often we wind up judging them without ever having engaged them in meaningful and honest conversation. Maybe they're not convinced we practice what we preach. And yes, it is sad, as much for us as for them. Increasingly young Americans claim "no religion." Mind you though, that doesn't mean they don't pray.

  2. I do yearn for understanding and the feeling of being deeply rooted. I pray for these things when life is seemingly out of my control.

  3. I think that sometimes we need to take our fundamental beliefs without too much thought. There are many questions that there is no answer to and we must accept that. Then I can focus on my own clarity of self. To be open to what God wants me to do without all the distractions in life.

    1. To be sure there are questions to which there are no answers. "What our senses fail to fathom, let us grasp through faith's consent." But I grew up being told "it's a mystery" to more questions than I can remember. And mystery meant an unsolvable puzzle. That's not the sense of Christian mystery at all! The catechism I knew as a boy gave a one or two sentence answer to all possible questions and we were just to accept it whether we understood it or not. Young people ask questions - lots of them - sometimes more than we are comfortable with. And if one answer doesn't satisfy they have accessible to them countless other ways of exploring - ways we never dreamed of. It really is a new world, and simply applying the old vocabulary and responses clearly doesn't feed them. We need to re-articulate. It is a great challenge for parents and clergy. I'd also say it is, for me anyway, a joyful challenge, inviting creativity.

    2. A joyful challenge. That's a good way to look at this new line of questioning. Maybe if more people would take the time to answer thoughtfully, more young people would return to their religion.

  4. You can see the details in the silver work when you view the picture enlarged. There are saints around the border and very intricate etchings in the metal work. Very beautiful. But I kindly thank you most of all for the prayer to this Mother of God, Searcher of Souls for it speaks to me. I hope to discover new strength in my continued prayers to our Blessed Mother.

  5. The Mother of God is in the Hodgetria pose - with her right hand open and extended she is Shower of the Way. To Christ surely, but also also that "the way" is interior - to soul growth - where we "lift up our hearts," as we say at Mass. We might ask ourselves, when was the last time when I really felt the lifting up of my heart? That's a real question, which might be asked more often than we do.

  6. These icons are like treasure maps for the soul. Thank you for bringing me to them.

  7. Russian prince, Eugene Trubetskoi, wrote a short and very readable book called, Icons - Theology in Color. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. If it's out of print I expect it could be gotten for pennies online. One of the first things I ever read that helped me to understand the great spiritual depth of icons.