Phillips Brooks, the Anglican priest who wrote the hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” offered a very rich phrase with his observation, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous Word is given…” The ubiquitous sound of Christmas music has accompanied me into almost every store and restaurant since late November. At its best, the music is quiet and reverent. At its worst, the music jars the mind with every imaginable form of cultural distortion. Thus my thoughts have turned to the silence of the Word.
The silence of the Word made flesh is a crucial aspect of the Incarnation. Though Christ taught – it is not as Teacher that the Church knows Him best: He is certainly not to be compared to other religious figures who are primarily known for their teaching. It is Who He is, and what He did and does that distinguish Him as Lord and Savior. Even the words spoken by Him need to be received into the silence of the heart, according the fathers of the Church.
In a very noisy season, it is worth pausing for silence – listening for the silence of the Word. Spoken into our hearts, the Word again “takes flesh,” as we hear Him in obedience.
It’s good to see one of my Anglican predecessors cited on your blog, Fr. Stephen. I gain much insight from your blog and have started reading it regularly. Thank you for this offering.
I have heard Brook’s lyrics for O Little Town of Bethlehem described as one of the finest meditations on the incarnation in modern literature. I like carols.
Fr. Stephen, I appreciate your honing in on the deeper significance of Brook’s emphasis on the silence of the Word made flesh. You’ve changed how I will hear those familiar words, and I’m grateful for it.
It may be a bit odd to say this in such a forum, but serving as an Episcopal priest these days, and knowing what I do about Eastern Orthodoxy (and with a brother who converted to Orthodoxy), there’s a part of me that wishes I had simply been born Orthodox. I’m mindful of a clergy colleague who (speaking of moving from one parish to another) said, “The grass is always browner on the other side.” Nevertheless, in spite of the messiness that surely exists in your neck of the ecclesial woods, there’s that part of me that wishes the dogmatic core of the Christian faith laid out so clearly in historic creeds and Ecumenical Councils were just not up to revision and/or second-thoughts in my neck of the ecclesial woods. Not that everyone within Anglicanism (broadly conceived) is doing that, but it can and does happen more often than I would have initially expected. It can really be painful at times.
That may be why I felt the need to respond to your posting in the first place. Perhaps, at this juncture in my own discernment, I take some comfort and hope in reading an appraisal from a brother in Christ, who is also an Orthodox priest, of an Episcopal priest’s lyrics for a beloved Christmas hymn, even as I continue to struggle with what it really means to be faithful to our Lord and the inheritance we have received in my neck of the ecclesial woods. In the midst of the back-and-forth bluster of Left vs. Right within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, what do I need to hear in the silence?
Please pray for me, a sinner.
Your blog brought to my mind the phrase “Good Christians, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading” (from the 2nd verse of What Child is This? William C. Dix the lyricist)
Good morning Father!
I discovered your blog few days ago, when I was searching for the photo of an angel:) It took me a few hours to read all your posts, all I can say is that if we were to be face to face, I would bow, kiss your hand and ask for a blessing.
I’m an orthodox (although not worthy of the name) from Romania. Maybe you know, our traditional Romanian carols lyrics are heavily christian, with some elements mentioning the bounties to come and the spring (apple flowers, white flowers and other floral elements). I grew up with them and I almost cannot imagine Christmas without their lyrics and music, even kids nowadays walk from door to door, singing carols to people, spreading the news about Nativity 🙂
I don’t want to offend other cultures from which we had a lot to learn, but in most supermarkets and radiostations, we hear carols of a different kind, glorifying not the Nativity, but Santa Claus (a beautiful figure from everyone’s childhood), giving me the impression that we are somehow missing the point about Christmas, which is less about Santa Claus and worldly “love” and more about Jesus Christ being born to save us from darkness.
Anyway, Father, I hope you won’t mind if I link some psalmic byzantine carols, and I hope you will enjoy them a little, even if they are in Romanian. God bless and thank you for the wonderful articles.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IjtFDxmBT8&feature=PlayList&p=A14924B1102463A9&index=1 (this is a playlist of 20ish songs)
The following carols are performed by a priest who has an extraordinary voice, named Marian Moise, and their lyrics and music are still about the Nativity and nothing else, just in a more folk manner (mostly about the Emperor of all creation descending onto earth in humility, the three kings and shepherds coming to worship etc)
Best regards from Romania
May you be blessed in this holy season in the God-protected land of Romania!
I saw on Saturday the Antiochian website the above icon. What was excellant was that you would pass your mouse over the character and up pops the explanation. When I went to the liturgical service Sunday morning I paused alot longer at this icon in the church. It was a great blessing.
Yesterday was also the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He wrote about the silence, “Indeed, it is better to keep quiet and be, than to make fluent professions and not be. No doubt it is a fine thing to instruct others, but only if the speaker practises what he preaches. One such Teacher there is: He who spake the word and it was done; and what He achieved even by His silences was well worthy of the Father. A man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech.” Also, “All these secrets were brought to pass in the deep silence of God.” Ignatius to the Ephesians
My beloved Fr. Philip,
I was thinking that St. Ignatius had said something on the Word and silence but could not remember which epistle it was in. Thus, I am greatly in your debt (and both of us to St. Ignatius!).
Truly what God has done for us in the Incarnation of the Only Begotten Son inspires the silence of awe, the quiet of wonder.
As my husband, Kenny, was driving us through that desolate stretch of I-70 in southern Utah on our way to Las Vegas – the alone-ness of that particular wide-open space made me think – “Let all mortal flesh keep silent.”
We hear this at Pascha,yet I couldn’t help but think of it as we drove to probably the noisiest place on earth (and I mean this as ‘filled with unnecessary’ noise).
It is difficult, perhaps even a spiritual feat today, to be able to “keep silence” and absorb what is about to transpire – and all for our sake…
Handmaid Leah, I have heard this sung as a Christmas hymn (in the church where I grew up)
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and in fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to Earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
thank you – it just sprang to mind and it is so very beautiful!
That image of the nativity is beautiful. Who is the artist?
Like most icons, the artist is anonymous.