The Weight of Glory

Several years ago I had opportunity to visit a parish where the icon, Our Lady of Sitka, had been brought for veneration. The Church was packed that evening and I had the privilege of concelebrating the Akathist to the icon. There are many stories told about wonder-working icons. Some are known to weep tears of myrhh. Why a particular icon becomes a “wonder-working” icon is a mystery known only to God. It is not about how they are painted (well or badly), or how they are blessed and by whom. There are simply occasions in which the veil that hides the truth of reality is withdrawn and wonders become yet more manifest.

Visiting the Sitka Mother of God, I had an interesting experience. I have no idea whether anyone in the Church shared the same experience or not. What I noticed was a sense of weight where the icon rested – or that is the best way I know to describe it. It was a sense of weight that made the whole of the room and everything in it seem drawn to the icon – like so many planets drawn to a star.

St. Paul speaks of an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) that awaits us. The statement is something of a play on words. In the Hebrew (though St. Paul was writing in Greek) the word for glory “Kavod,” also has as its root the meaning of weight. The glory of God has about it an aspect which the Scriptures describe with the word for heaviness. It gives some understanding to the story of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, when the glory of God so filled the Temple that it says, “the priests could not stand [stand up] to serve. The glory of God pressed them to the ground.

The presence of God in our lives rests as a weight – not a weight which oppresses us, but a weight which gives a center and orients all things to itself. God’s glory sets all things around it in order as they are drawn towards it.

The greatest manifestation of the glory of God is surely the Pascha of Christ. It is the center towards which all things are drawn. As St. Paul notes: “[God has] made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:9-10).

It is proper to consider that the entire universe is as nothing in comparison to the weight of God’s glory. May we ever be drawn to that glory and the wonder which it brings.

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21 Responses to “The Weight of Glory”

  1. Jeremiah Says:

    That is a beautiful reflection on the weight of glory drawing us to God. It’s interesting that you posted this today. I just went to the vesperal service for the Great Martyr St George. At the end of the service Fr Patrick anointed us with a fragrant oil he received, that is reported to have come from a lamp before an icon of the Theotokos. It had the sweet smell of rose perfume, only better.

  2. Miriam Says:

    Father,

    Thank you for this image. I’d thought before about the “weightiness” of God’s glory–and I did even know about the double-meaning of the word “kavod”…but I suppose I’d always imagined it more as a heavy oppressing force.

    Instead I see it now more like a sheet with a heavy ball dropped in the center, everything on the surface of the sheet is drawn in toward the center [I think this is kind of the ways galaxies and such things work too–millions of things being drawn to an enormously dense center.] Such a helpful and profound picture.

    ~Miriam

  3. David Di Giacomo Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Fogive me, this is a bit off-topic, but have you read C.S. Lewis’s essay of the same title as this post? I’m sure he got his title from the same place you got yours, though he wasn’t writing about exactly the same thing. It’s my favourite of all the things he wrote. I’ve read it many times and it blows me away each time.

  4. Joanne Says:

    What an awe-inspiring explanation of the weight of glory. May this truth be an anchor of my soul.

  5. Yewtree Says:

    It was a sense of weight that made the whole of the room and everything in it seem drawn to the icon – like so many planets drawn to a star.

    What a lovely image, like a gravity well, and also like the perspective of icons themselves.

    Also – thanks for your earlier article about metaphors for the atonement. I was trying to explain about Christus Victor theology to some Christian fundamentalists the other day. I linked to Steve Hayes’ article about it.

  6. Anon Says:

    I had something approaching an ecstatic experience at the Kazan Mother of God Icon in St. Petersburg. As I approached it in line I was overwhelmed by this feeling of something being there – I don’t remember if it was a sense of heaviness or not. My mind was racing in a way, I kept repeating “Lord Jesus,…” without conscious effort or maybe against conscious effort – I could feel something sacred – more than sacred: I don’t know if it was the actual presence of the Theotokos or something more general about the place sanctified by so much prayer and prostration – I noticed that worship there is much more active, more bowing, more prostration, the crossing is more slow and larger – seems to cover the whole upper body. I saw one woman prostrating several times and praying by the icons who had a look of absolute rapture on her face. I approached the Kazan icon and whispered “Holy Mother of God, help me! Save me! Pray for me!”, wept, and left. One of the most moving experiences of my life.

    Subsequently, I stumbled across the following. Ivan Kireevsky, one of the slavophile movement founders who initiated the pilgrimages to Optina among the intelligentsia, was quoted in the book Natasha’s Dance from a letter to Herzen:

    “I once stood at a shrine and gazed at a wonder working icon of the Mother of God, thinking of the childlike faith of the people praying before it; some women and men knelt, crossing themselves and bowing down to the earth. With ardent hope I gazed at the holy features, and little by little the secret of their marvelous power began to grow clear to me. Yes, this was not just a painted board – for centuries it had absorbed these passions and these hopes, the prayers of the afflicted and unhappy; it was filed with the energy of all these prayers. It had become a living organism, a meeting place between the Lord and men. Thinking of this, I looked once more at the old men, at the women and children prostrate in the dust, and at the holy icon – and then I too saw the animated features of the Mother of God, and I saw how she looked with love and mercy at these simple folk, and I sank on my knees and meekly prayed to her.”

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Miriam,
    That is precisely the image that came into my own mind – I could not think of quite how to express it. Thank you.

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    Yes. Lewis’ essay by that title is among my favorites as well.

  9. Micah Says:

    “The presence of God in our lives rests as a weight – not a weight which oppresses us, but a weight which gives a center and orients all things to itself. God’s glory sets all things around it in order as they are drawn towards it.

    The greatest manifestation of the glory of God is surely the Pascha of Christ. It is the center towards which all things are drawn.”

    Very well said Father Stephen!

  10. Jerry Cornelius Says:

    “St. Paul speaks of an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) that awaits us. The statement is something of a play on words. In the Hebrew (though St. Paul was writing in Greek) the word for glory “Kavod,” also has as its root the meaning of weight. The glory of God has about it an aspect which the Scriptures describe with the word for heaviness.”

    This is why those who are called to be Saints will always end up -prostrate, face down, arms stretched out sideways with a simultaneous incredible Lightness of being, but always bearing up under the Weight of the marks of Christ…

    1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

    Galatians 6:17b for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus

  11. Elizabeth Mahlou Says:

    I don’t know the story of Our Lady of Sitka and could not find it easily online, perhaps because I am tired right now. I will look further tomorrow. I did want to share that the nearly blind son of a friend of mine was cured by the myrrh from a weeping icon, brought to St. John’s Orthodox Church in Washington many years ago. So, contrary to what seems to be popular belief, miracles still take place in our day and age. That must be part of the “glory.”

  12. Micah Says:

    The Sacraments have been the Life of the Church from the beginning (cf. Genesis 18:1-7/ Isaiah 6:1-8), manifest always as the visible icon of the Holy Trinity.

    Consequently, Orthodox theology cannot speak of God as being somewhere else, unlike modernity.

    In the words of Metropolitan KALLISTOS the Church is the very image of the Holy Trinity and the Body of Christ, a perpetual Pentecost (The Orthodox Church, 1997, p. 240).

    Christ is Risen!

  13. easton Says:

    elizabeth, i’m sure there are miracles. anything is possible from god. i have never seen anything like that, personally. i have known quite a few who believed they would be healed from cancer, etc, but never were. i don’t understand why god would do this for some and not for others. father stephen, maybe you could give us your thoughts? i believe we are all healed after this life.

  14. Micah Says:

    easton,

    There is only one way to understand life in Holy Tradition and that is through personal participation in the divine life through the divine energies. Thus we cannot speak of God in the same way that we speak of things.

    Although absolutely transcendent, God is not cut off from the world He made. On the contrary He has incarnated Himself into it and permeates all.

    Can you be more specific about what you mean by “life” and “god”?

  15. easton Says:

    micah, god is the creator of all things, and a mystery. when i say, after this life, i am talking about death, and the afterlife, which is also a mystery. i have no doubts that god is in everything and can do anything. i, personally have known those who believed with all their hearts that god would heal them, from disease, cancer and etc. none were healed before their deaths, but i believe they are now!

  16. Jerry Cornelius Says:

    “The presence of God in our lives rests as a weight – not a weight which oppresses us, but a weight which gives a center and orients all things to itself. God’s glory sets all things around it in order as they are drawn towards it.

    The greatest manifestation of the glory of God is surely the Pascha of Christ. It is the center towards which all things are drawn.” – Father Stephen Freeman

    …… that Gravitational Pull – I agree with Micah, a brilliant summing up.

  17. Micah Says:

    If I might then focus on your earlier comment, here:

    “I don’t understand why God would do this for some and not for others.”

    While it is permissible to think of God in terms of what He does or doesn’t do (cf. Psalm 118 [119]:126) it is much more efficacious to know Him in the essence of His being.

    To know Him thus is to know also why He acts — because God is love.

  18. Micah Says:

    Indeed Jerry thanks.

    God’s glory fillest all things!

  19. easton Says:

    micah, i agree that god is love. love for all! i also have learned that i know so very little, if anything.

  20. Kelly Says:

    Lovely post. Thank you.

    (I did see an “Orthodox Icon” in Chicago go from normal to weeping…eyes turned “real” looking…blood-shot veins appeared…wetness…big tears welled up…then, I saw it run down the eye duct to the cheek to the chest…..it was the most wonderful thing of my life….God does exist. Sin exists. Hell exists. We have a beautiful mother, like any good mother, she doesn’t want to see her children going there by their life choices…it pains her to see rejection of the all good God and his all good future for them….there’s a lot to contemplate of course…)

  21. Micah Says:

    I agree, easton. None of us can know anything at all about God, unless He first makes Himself known!

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