April 2, 2013

Ark of Salvation, House of Wisdom

“Wisdom has built her house…” (Proverbs 9:1)

All this week the readings from Genesis recount the story of Noah and the ark. For early Christians this was an obvious link to the Church as the ark of salvation, and in Roman catacombs this was a favorite depiction.

Noah's Ark
Noah’s Ark, Roman Catacomb

Proverbs 9:1 has also been interpreted in terms of the Church, the dwelling place of the Divine Wisdom—Sophia, whom we identify as the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the famous Haghia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople is named in honor of the incarnate Sophia, and celebrated its feastday on December 25th. Not surprisingly then, this same reading from proverbs has also been associated with Mary, the Mother of God.

Father Lev Gillet in The Year of Grace of the Lord says this about this reading for the feast of her Birth (September 8). 

The final lesson (Prov. 9: 1-11) presents us with personified divine Wisdom: “Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars…. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town.”

The Byzantine and the Roman Catholic Church both have established a link between holy Wisdom and Mary. She is the house built by Wisdom: she is, to the highest degree, one of the virgins sent forth by Wisdom to men; she is, after Christ himself, the highest manifestation of Wisdom in this world.

During the time I was living in Cambridge, England the Faculty of Divinity moved to a magnificent new building. Words from various religious traditions were etched on the glass doors, including Proverbs 9:1. I remarked to the then chair of the Faculty (a Roman Catholic) about this connection to Mary, and wondered if others had noticed. He winked and said, “Don’t tell anyone…”

Orthodox Christians in Colleges and Universities

Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge

In the piling-up of news stories on the website I wouldn’t want last week’s meeting of OCF leaders to be submerged too quickly. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship is the campus ministry of the Orthodox Churches and includes chapters at over 300 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. OCF headquarters are based in Brookline, MA. on the grounds of Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology. Sitting around the table with Jennifer Nahas (Executive Director), Father Michael Ellis (North American Chaplain) and the others I had some sense of the vitality of this work. It’s especially obvious that Orthodox college students are already living out the pan-Orthodox vision that many of us cherish as the single most important goal for the future of our Church on this continent.

For many people, the intellectual, social and moral ferment of college life is a time to question and also rediscover their faith in a new way. That was true for me in the early 1970’s at McGill University in Montreal. I encountered other students, faculty members, clergy, monks and nuns, men and women whose approach to their faith engaged their minds, bodies and spirits in a way I hadn’t seen before (or been ready to see) growing up in the Church.

The academic year is close to finishing and high school seniors are making decisions about where they will go to college, but now is a good time for parishes to get ready to support their college students in the Fall. Every September, OCF promotes “College Student Sunday” and “First Forty Days” to help Orthodox students connect with the Orthodox faith on campus. If your parish needs help organizing this, consider offering your time to this worthwhile project.