Monday, January 14, 2008

Christ as Winged Holy Silence

Jesus Christ as Winged Holy Silence

I noted in an earlier blog entry that over at the Milton List, the scholar Paul Miller had called attention to Rublev's winged trinity. Well, he also linked to still another tradition of a winged 'Christ' -- in the figure of a winged Holy Silence.

For instance, he linked to the above depiction at the website of Elizabeth T. Knuth, who not only provides the icon but also tells us:
This remarkable icon depicts Christ as Holy Silence. The inscription on the bottom border says, "Hê hagia hêsychia", that is, "Holy silence." Hesychia is much sought after in Orthodox spirituality, but this is clearly an icon of Christ, for the inscription within the icon itself reads, "Jesus Christ." Is the Word now silent? Is it not rather that the Word is found and speaks in silence?

The figure in the icon has wings, a sign of heavenly origin, as in Rublev's famous icon of the Trinity. Christ is wearing red robes. Red is the color of the Incarnation, and also the color of grace. The diamond on Christ's breast is surrounded by seven jewels, seven being the number of perfection and the number of gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In iconography, Christ as Hesychia is sometimes depicted as masculine and at other times, as in this instance, in feminine form. The same can be said of the portrayal of Christ as Holy Wisdom.

Wisdom, if not depicted in the Old Testament as a Person in the Trinitarian sense, is certainly personified and identified very closely with God. In Hebrew and Greek, the Biblical languages, Wisdom is feminine. Therefore Divine Wisdom is "she". See, for example, Proverbs 8 and the beginning of the following chapter. Christians understood these Old Testament references to Wisdom as foreshadowing Christ. The Gospels tell of Jesus Christ in words that are often reminiscent of Holy Wisdom, and St. Paul more than once calls Christ the Wisdom of God. This icon accordingly portrays Christ as Wisdom incarnate.
As Knuth notes, "the inscription within the icon itself reads, 'Jesus Christ,'" i.e., "IC XC," the abbreviation in Greek capital letters for "Iēsous Christós." Knuth further identifies this figure not only as "Holy Silence" (Hê Hagia Hêsychia) but also as "Holy Wisdom" (Hagia Sophia).

I do not know if identifying "Holy Silence" with "Holy Wisdom" is also traditional, or if Knuth herself is suggesting this identification. She does note that Christ as Holy Silence appears in both feminine and masculine form.

For a masculine winged figure of Holy Silence as Christ, see the following icon by Suzanne Zoole:

Suzanne Zoole, Christ the Holy Silence (2001)

Ms. Zoole tells us that this "icon was painted during a five day silent retreat at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Moncks Corner, South Carolina."

I think that I could use about a week of silence, but no time off for me, though this might help a little...

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At 6:15 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

Another, apparently older Hagia Hesychia icon can be found here.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Brandon, and that's an intriguing image, for the winged Christ is holding a tiny serafim in his hands -- could there be an allusion to the winged 'Christ' who gave St. Francis the stigmata?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I had missed that, and you're right; it is intriguing. As far as I can tell the image is Russian Orthodox; if so, it can't be alluding to St. Francis. I don't know what it could be conveying.

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I had also doubted an allusion to St. Francis -- but who knows, so I had to ask.

Perhaps it's some esoteric reference to the Holy Spirit.

Jeffery Hodges

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