It is said that “silence is the language of the world to come.” We are also told that those who are in the grave (sheol) cannot offer praise. Hades is the land of the silent. Thus we have the paradox of the joyful silence of the age to come and sorrowful silence that can say nothing.
It seems the mystery lies in the nature of the silence. There is a silence that comes from fullness – a silence because there are no words that are sufficient. There is also a silence that comes from emptiness – when words fall back on themselves and never rise to the level of expression.
In the course of our lives we probably experience something of both forms of silence. I have known joy too great to be spoken and grief like an “emotional black hole” that has no words. I prefer the joy.
St. Ignatius of Antioch said, “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence” (Eph. XV). Vladimir Lossky comments on this that it is the necessary condition for hearing the Scriptures when they are properly transmitted in the Tradition. It is simply a way of saying that the Scriptures say more than can be heard without the Spirit dwelling in us.
In a strange way we live in a world that is hungry for silence – not for the empty silence that grinds everything beneath it. We hunger for a silence that is capable of bearing the fullness of the Word – a silence that is filled with the praise and joy of God.
I remember well that torrent of words and thoughts that swirled around my journey to Orthodoxy. Not only were there the myriad questions and halting debates – the words served as a substitute for action – a noisy hesitation. I also remember the silence of submission when words came to an end and hesitation yielded to God. I have to be honest and say that the condition of my heart was such that these occasions were repetitive. The silence of surrender was frequently followed by another torrent of words only to end again in silence.
I suspect that my life will continue in that model until it finds its final submission. Words flow until they finally meet their rest in the silence in which the Word reposes. It is a silence that is embraced – not for love of the silence but for love of the Word. It is the silence of the word of Jesus.