This poem, from St Nikolai’s Prayers by the Lake is in fact a passionate defence of all things material, through which God works wonders: icons, nature, and particularly the relics of Saints. It is offered here specifically because of its mention of Holy Images, but generally because it is a beautiful piece…
You work wonders through created things, O Lord, while men have lost the gift of wonder working.
You take fire and water for Your servants, while people refuse to serve You.
To wood and metal You give Your power, while it is returned to You, despised by people.
Through earth and grass You bestow mercy on Your chosen ones, while people make themselves too impure to be channels of mercy.
Through fabric and paper Your might shines, while human carnality dominates the spirit.
The bones of the saints proclaim Your name and Your presence, while the tongue of people has been struck dumb by disbelief.
When generals have forgotten how to achieve victory, You make the rank and file the victors.
You have filled dead objects with fire, so that they may shine, when darkness closes the eyes of the stars.
When there is no sun, the fern and the hawthorn assume the duty of shining.
When the blind begin to lead the blind, You surrender the army to the horses and dogs.
When sick men foist themselves upon the sick as healers, You make healers out of dead bones and mud.
When Your image in the human soul vanishes, You give power and might to Your image in wood.
Those, who in the end will weep bitterly, laugh and say: “How can dead objects work wonders, which even we cannot work?”
Are these objects not alive, if You bring them to life? And are people not dead, if You abandon them, O Fearful Lord?
Your angels know, yet people do not know, that all powers are Yours, in You and from You, and that You manifest them through pure channels. What if a stone is pure while a man is impure? Will not the Lord’s might be manifested through the stone rather than through the man?
Only a righteous man laughs with the laughter of joy. The laughter of the unrighteous man is malice.
The unrighteous man laughs at the relics of the saints, and he is consumed by malicious laughter. Oh if he only knew that the dead relics of the saints contain more life than his own flesh and blood!
Truly, malice is distant from the Most Merciful Lord , just as malice is always distant from virginity, rationality and sanctity.
Indeed, the Logical Lord is always ready to do good to men through men. But when men become impure, and become bereft of logic and holiness, the All-Merciful rushes to help people through dead objects.
O All-Merciful and Long-suffering Lord, do not leave the world without channels of Your might and mercy.