The Sound of Silence

On Holy Saturday the Church celebrates Christ victory in the very depths of Hades. I was reminded as well, that this victory happens “silently,” without a witness on the earth – and yet it is a dogma of the faith. It is a silence that overwhelms the world.

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.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





9 responses to “The Sound of Silence”

  1. Jeremiah Avatar

    What a beautiful reflection. Your account of your Journey is not unlike mine (only in much better words than I can come up with). When I first learned of what Orthodoxy was, I was tormented in my mind for weeks on end. I know that torrent of words, arguments and doubts. After reading this post, I can finally put words to that peace that has come over me when I chose to surrender to God in the Church. Holy silence. I hear something new at every service, yet I find that silence in my soul.
    Indeed, glory to God.

  2. Micah Avatar

    Well put Father Stephen!

  3. Nancy Avatar

    “The silence of surrender was frequently followed by another torrent of words only to end again in silence.” Thank you for putting this into words. This is where I am in my journey from evangelicalism, but I didn’t know how to explain it. What I thought would be a 1 year transition, has become much longer as changes are made not just on the outside but the inside as well. As I become more and more aware of my own sins, I have less and less to say. I stand guilty in silence. Perhaps, as a pebble thrown into a pond creates great waves at first which are close together, eventually the waves will become smaller, less frequent and finally dissipate on the shore.

  4. undergroundpewster Avatar

    Thank you. I will link to this post today.

  5. Seraphim Jobbins Avatar
    Seraphim Jobbins

    In truth there is not much left to say except… Christ is Risen!

    Thank you, Father for tis great blog.

  6. luciasclay Avatar

    I know it has nothing at all to do with your post but the title now has a Simon and Garfunkel song running through my head. 🙂

    I stopped by to let you know that this weekend an entire family of five was received into the Orthodox church, long time friends of my families. A significant part of their introduction to Orthodoxy, from protestantism, was through the work of you Fr. Stephen. I wanted to say “thank you” for leading them there.

    I have learned a lot as well. Myself I will probably be heading to the Western Church. I pray for unity in the divisions which separate the halves.

  7. Joanne Eash Avatar
    Joanne Eash

    Father Stephen, Have you published the story of your journey into Orthodoxz? I am a seeker and would appreciate yourstory

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have not published that story, but there is a brief account on a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio.

  9. Joanne Eash Avatar
    Joanne Eash

    Thank you for the podcast. And thank you for “Glory to God for All Things.”

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