Saturday, 12 May 2018

Number Seven

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen dost gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not?"
[Matthew 23:37]

We see Christ depicted in icons and religious art as the Alpha and Omega, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd, but we never see Christ as Mother Hen.  If not in the static devotional language of the Church, then perhaps the place for this depiction is the liturgy of the Church. Liturgy and public worship are also Icon (or should be seen as such).  Recently, I was struck by this passage from the Anglo-Catholic, Evelyn Underhill, it seems to support my view:

This total liturgical life of the Corpus Christi is not merely a collection of services, offices and sacraments.  Deeply considered, it is the sacrificial life of Christ Himself; the Word indwelling in His Church, gathering in His eternal priestly action in the small Godward movements, sacrifices and aspirations of "all the broken and the meek", and acting through these ordered signs and sacraments by means of these His members on earth.
Worship - Evelyn Underhill (1936)

OK, so in the passage from Matthew, Christ uses the mother hen image as simile not metaphor, but it doesn't stop it being real, it doesn't stop the maternal nature of God from being a truth.

Then on the anniversary of my husband's death, I saw this very icon in the Corpus Christi (using Evelyn Underhill's terminology) and it brought me to my knees.  All the way home from work, I'd been summoning up the strength to go to Mass at the Roman Catholic church.  It really is a marathon here; devout, intense and utterly sad because they squeeze and strain as much as they can out of the Novus Ordo and you just know the  Older Latin Rite (sadly non-existent out here) would sit more comfortably in the hearts of the faithful. I can't bear to see the Roman Church dying. Apart from the priests, I am often one of the youngest there. I went straight home, I couldn't do it, I was exhausted.  Then something forced me out of the house and said, if you can't make it to Mass, you can atleast stagger to the Orthodox church and pray there.  How could I not pray before the Pantocrator, how could I not do this simple thing?

Unknown to me there was a service taking place which happens regularly at that church: the Service of the Holy Oils. It was packed with old and young, rich and poor, men and women in roughly equal numbers. It is a sacramental service of the anointing of the sick, it is not, I believe, common to all Orthodox, but it is big out here. Bread, flour and fat are brought to be blessed by the priests and bought back home to be eaten by the sick. The sick (that is everyone) are anointed, there are seven anointings, seven Gospel readings, seven blessings of the Holy Oil.  It was the seventh anniversary of my husband's death, it will be my 49th birthday (seven squared) on Monday...... I was meant to be there, there was something revelatory about the whole experience: an end with a new beginning.

And there was the icon of Mother Hen.  As each Gospel was read out, priests would stand amongst the congregation, hold their wide soles out before them and many members of the faithful would "hide" under the stoles.  There seemed to be as many as 20 people for each priest. Here is the Word: faithful mother hen and field hospital.  And there I was, deep in something beautiful, at least as exhausting as had I attended Mass and more overwhelming.

I kissed the Pantocrator and wondered "what is it that You want from me?".... I am still wondering, but I am resigned and at peace.

To quote Underhill again: Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of  love.

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