Watching eye

Publish date 05-02-2024

by Chiara Dal Corso

An icon for praying Christmas with a new look

Waking Eye, or more literally “sleepless eyes” is the title of a much loved icon in the Eastern Church, which depicts the infant Jesus “reclining” as if to sleep (hence the other name of this icon: Christ Anapeson: reclining ). There are different versions, more or less rich in characters and details; that proposal was chosen because it is among the most complete and allows us to fully understand the meaning of this image. It comes from the monastery of Saint Nikita, in Macedonia, and dates back to the 14th century. It depicts a scene following the nativity and, in fact, in some churches it is placed among the cycles of frescoes linked to the childhood of Jesus, during the flight into Egypt.

Jesus is a child, but - and in this fresco it is particularly evident - he has the seriousness of an adult in his face and larger dimensions to highlight his centrality in the scene. He is "reclining" to sleep, but he does not sleep and with his head resting on his hand he looks at us, as Psalm 121 says: «he does not fall asleep, the guardian of Israel does not sleep». The child then watches over, on a red bed, which we have already recognized as the color that simultaneously indicates his royalty and his passion. He also has his legs and feet uncovered, a clear reference to the crucifixion. The mother who watches next to him is in an attitude of prayer and pain, as we find her in many icons under the cross or, in other cases, her hands are raised in prayer, as in the deesis. As here, often alongside Jesus there is also Gabriel, the archangel who followed his childhood in a special way, from the annunciation to the indications given to Joseph in a dream. In other versions there are other angels who come to worship and bring oil for burial, or the instruments of passion.

A child who does not sleep, a mother who intercedes, angels in adoration and custody, details that speak to us of death, of the sacrifice of the cross. Here is a "version" of the nativity scene to which we are not very accustomed, all the enchantment of the cave seems to cool down, but this is not the case: if we stop and stay a little close to that child, if we listen to the sweet silence of the mother, we realize that its message is deeper, more dramatically true and beautiful than an idyllic and abstract scene.

In fact, the gaze of this child, who is still small and tender, helpless and in need of everything, watches over us, reveals to us how he lived his whole life, from the first days - not only in the last hours of passion - looking at us, that is, giving himself to us fully, offering everything he experienced, even his childhood needs, the hardships he endured from the beginning, the poverty of his birth, his travels, his exile... out of love for us. It tells us the already adult love of that child, the love of God, immediately dramatically aware of what awaited him, of the harshness he would encounter and of the terrible and painful rejection that those for whom he came would have opposed him, and at what price!

And together with him, inseparable, the Mother, who is entrusted to us as ours, totally trusting and abandoned together with her son to the will of the Father, the angels indicating the whole sky, the whole invisible kingdom of love that is rooting for Jesus, for the victory of his continuous love among us and who is rooting for us. Because we are able to trust, because we finally begin to believe in his love, to believe that he really loves us, to believe that he is willing to do anything and to give us everything just to have us as his again, with him again, in peace, in harmony, of a single family, brothers and together beloved children of the same Father, just as we were thought of. Merry Christmas.

Chiara Dal Corso

NP Dicembre 2023

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