By Liz Hamilton
Today I would like to share my contemplations upon these lovely Russian Icons: ‘The Inexhaustible Cup or Chalice’, ‘The Unfading Eternal Bloom’, and different ‘Madonna and Child’ icons showing the two Jesus Children from the Matthew and Luke Gospels. I am not promoting Marion devotion, however, I feel these images can reveal many esoteric mysteries about the Divine Sophia.
The Inexhaustible Chalice
This Russian Icon appeared in a Russian monastery in 1878 – though it was probably much older. It looked like this version (above) ….and here (below) are a few other later versions:
It was called ‘The Inexhaustible Chalice – or Inexhaustible Cup’ and has the Christ child emerging from a chalice like the Holy Grail. It is a very powerful image!
According to Rudolf Steiner, the reign of Michael as Archai Time Spirit began in 1879. ‘The Inexhaustible Chalice’ appeared in the Russian people’s awareness in 1878. We know from Steiner that Michael can be seen as the ‘son of Sophia’. Sophia is the Divine Feminine Cosmic Wisdom. The Michael age calls for the cosmic wisdom, the Divine Sophia, which has come to earth and into our hearts, to be awakened in full individualised consciousness.
This Russian Icon blesses us with the streaming ‘Orans’ gesture of prayer in Mary Sophia’s outstretched hands. Images of mother and child, or the Divine Mary Sophia, always depict our higher self or ‘Spirit Self’. The Spirit Self state of consciousness is when we have transformed our astral body, when all our feelings, thoughts and actions are purified and we create more consciously. We already create now, but our creations are not always what we like to see!
By Sophia’s heart, arises the pure Christ Child from out of the Grail Chalice of our Higher Self. This is our ‘True Cosmic Self’. We have three aspects of our self: our lower earthly self or ordinary daily ego, our more noble higher self seeing from a more expanded spiritual perspective that guides us in life and especially during sleep when we journey into spirit, and our true eternal self which is our Cosmic Christed Self.
The Christ Child is the everlasting ‘Inexhaustible Cup’ and shows the stage when we not only operate out of our higher Spiritual Self but also out of our transformed etheric body that becomes ‘Life Spirit’. This stage of creation is when we become so purified and mature that ‘Love can generate new Life’. This is behind the symbolism of the ‘Tree of Life’ that was withdrawn from our power in the Garden of Paradise until we could grow wise enough to create consciously out of Love.
The Madonna and Child are crowned with the golden radiance of creative living thought. This shows how, when we can embody our Higher Self, our Earthly Ego then radiates outward as a living mirror of our higher being in radiance. This becomes a conscious Michaelic Grail. Surrounding the Icon are golden plant forms of the etheric forces. Our thinking is enlivened to be a creative force. We will elaborate upon these thoughts, but now I would like to tell the story of this icon’s history:
The History of Icon of ‘The Inexhaustible Cup”
This Russian Orthodox Icon was called a ‘wonder-working Icon’ of the Mother of God. “The Inexhaustible Cup” appeared in 1878 in Serpukhov (Seer- pu -koff) a town some 100 kilometers/c.62 miles south of Moscow) and kept at Vladychny (Vlad-chin-ee) Convent of the ‘Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple’. The Inexhaustible Cup is ‘the one who draws up joy from the source of immortality, the source of consolation, healing, life, happiness, spiritual gifts, hopes and cures.’
The story goes that in 1878, a peasant of the Tula province, a retired soldier who had a passion for alcohol for many years, saw in a vision a certain elder who commanded him to go to Serpukhov (Seer–pu-koff), to find the Icon of ‘The Inexhaustible Cup’ and to hold a prayer service before it.
The old, exhausted and penniless soldier, had absolutely no strength to go to Serpukhov (Seer-pu-koff). Soon the vision occurred again impelling him to go and the poor soldier literally crawled his way to the convent on all fours. On the very first night of his journey the man suddenly felt that his legs began to obey him and he could walk again.
Finally reaching the convent, he put its nuns into great confusion as they knew nothing of an icon with this name. Then they remembered that an icon hung in one of the convent passages: on it was the Infant Christ blessing the worshippers as if coming out from a chalice for Communion; behind Him the Mother of God raises Her most pure hands—in the same manner as on icons called ‘The Sign’.
Everybody was greatly amazed when they saw the inscription on the back of the icon read. ‘The Inexhaustible Cup’!
Remarkably, when the man then came up to the shrine of St. Varlaam (Var-lum) in the convent, he at once recognised in him the holy elder who had appeared to him in his vision and commanded him to go to the Mother of God for healing from his alcoholism.
The news of this wondrous miracle rapidly spread over many towns and villages. People flocked to see this miracle-working icon and venerated ‘The Inexhaustible Cup’; thus peace, healing and harmony began to reign in their homes and further stories of healing miracles arose!
Saint Varlaam is also Known as Saint Barlaam
According to the legend, King Abenner (Aben-near) in India persecuted the Christian Church in his realm that was founded by the Apostle Thomas.
When astrologers predicted that his own son would some day become a Christian, Abenner had the young prince Josaphat (Jose-a-fat) isolated from any external contact. Despite this imprisonment, Josaphat met the hermit Saint Barlaam (Bar-lum) and converted to Christianity.
Josaphat kept his faith even in the face of his father’s anger and persuasion. Eventually Abenner (Aben-near) converted, turned over his throne to Josaphat, and retired to the desert to become a hermit. Josaphat himself later abdicated his throne and went into seclusion with his old teacher St. Barlaam.
This story is a Christianised version of one of the legends of Gautama Buddha as Prince Siddhartha. Even the name Josaphat is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, (Jo-a-saff) which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasaif (Buddha -saff) or Bodhisattva.
St. Barlaam of Antioch was an early 4th century martyr with a glorious story of fortitude in the face of torture and an unlikely champion of the Church.
St. Barlaam was an elderly, uneducated peasant jailed for his Christian faith in Caesarea (Cesar-ia) as part of the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. When his trial arrived he was scourged, racked, and tortured for days in an attempt to force him to confess. After each inhumane trial he was asked to renounce his Christian faith. He refused.
The judge became frustrated with Barlaam’s refusal to renounce his faith. He contrived a plan to trick him into rejecting Christ. The judge placed Barlaam in front of a pagan altar and a red-hot censer of incense was placed in his hand. The plan was to force Barlaam’s hand to flinch with the pain of the scorching heat. Any movement from his hand would cause the incense to fall, and the judge could then proclaim it as a public act of sacrifice to the idols.
Instead, Barlaam endured the pain in perfect stillness. His faith never faltered, and his hand never flinched! He held still until his hand burned off completely! Irate, the judge ordered his immediate death.
St. Barlaam was not a high ranking church official or a member of the clergy. He had taken no official vow to the Church nor sworn himself to Christianity through his vocation. He was an ordinary peasant, without education or wealth. An isolated country labourer, he had no community waiting to question or hold him accountable had he renounced his faith at the hands of such torture. His vows to Christ were those he made in the stillness of his own heart. His heroic fortitude is all the more awe-inspiring because of these circumstances. In carrying out these vows to the death, he became a Church martyr in 304 A.D. His feast day is November 19th.
Who is the Divine Sophia?
Sophia is the Cosmic Soul, the Divine Holy Wisdom of our eternal Soul. It is very good to see wisdom as a being. This brings abstract knowledge into life. The root-word SOPH means wisdom. It comes from the Greek sophos which also relates to ‘clear’. IA – is the feminine gender.
She is often called the Heavenly Sophia, Divine Sophia, Isis Sophia, Mary Sophia, Christos Sophia, and Anthroposophia. Sophia is said to operate at the level of the Kyriotetes, the Spirits of Cosmic Wisdom, as well as through representatives down through the Hierarchies.
Mary Sophia, the Divine Feminine, is our soul, whether we are female or male. It is that aspect of us that knows and feels the eternity of our soul beyond birth, life and death. This feminine force is ever creative, generative and evolving. She has many faces in different Goddesses, but is all one. She is the one who offers her qualities in different and infinite names and ways manifesting creation.
There were four main images of Mary Sophia in tradition:
- Virgo partura (Heavenly Pure Virgin)
- Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven carrying the Cosmic Star Wisdom)
- Mater Speciosa (Mother of All, Madonna with Child–Creating, Generating and Manifesting Life)
- Mater Dolorosa (Pieta, One who carries the suffering of the world. Also Quan Yin (China) and Tara (Tibet) are in this category from the Eastern traditions. ‘Hearing the cries of the world.’
Wisdom is not mere knowledge or intellect but embracing all, deepened, lived and experienced. A wise person is one who has matured and ripened the knowledge of life into truth of the heart for living.
Sophia’s consciousness encompasses and unites all beings. Because of her lofty nature as ‘Wisdom of the Cosmos’ she communicates through representatives to inspire humanity for our evolution. Her Divine Cosmic Wisdom is pure and gives us the capacity to discern what is true, right and everlasting as our eternal being. She is our divine soul.
Sophia lives as a seed in our heart knowing. We can feel her wisdom and guidance. That is how we connect with her. We cannot find her with our intellect, but with Wisdom that is infused with Love.
In Russian Icons, Sophia is often depicted with her three daughters: Faith, Love and Hope. Sophia gives birth to these beings, these capacities in us!
In the amazing story of ‘Eros and Fable’ by Novalis, Sophia is depicted as a Goddess bearing a sacred bowl of heavenly refreshing waters that brings rejuvenation.
Drinking from this water brings new life. Sprinkling drops of this water upon children and warm hearted people create a blue mist which contain a thousand intriguing visions, always in living movement, and hovering at hand as inspiration for them!
The Scribe (representing our intellect) writes down everything he hears in the world very exactly, but he has to give his papers over to Sophia to be tested for their worth.
She dips the Scribe’s pages into her sacred water and if it is everlasting truth, the page emerges in shimmering gold letters of light and may be then put into a sacred book.
The Scribe gets very upset that most of his many hours of laborious writing produce blank pages when they are lifted out of the sacred water!
If a droplet of Sophia’s sacred water chanced to hit the Scribe, a cascade of numbers and geometrical figures poured out and fell to the ground. Industriously, he would string them on to a thread and hang them round his neck by way of adornment.
Here Sophia is pictured as true ‘Wisdom infused with Love’. If one is only operating with the intellect, all comes out blank. Even cosmic correlations of sacred geometry and number are but empty adornment if not made living in the soul!
Mother and Child as Devotion of the Heart
We see Mary, the Madonna, as the ideal pure mother but she is nearer to us, more in our human realm than the more cosmic vision of the Heavenly Sophia. She is the nurturing force that gives birth to our inner new child, the Christ within. It is the same nurturing relationship that we might have with our Angel or Higher Self toward our daily earthly self. Our higher aspect sees the wholeness, the goodness, beauty and truth of our eternal soul. Our higher aspect watches over us which is an activity of devotion. She does not judge the mistakes made from our ordinary ignorance. Just as a mother does not judge her young child who might misbehave out of immaturity.
Mary imparts a feeling of devotion and care for another. Devotion is a quality which develops true empathy where you do not disturb the heart beat of the other by your reaction, but allow the other to live in you.
This is true spiritual listening that grows out of inner silence. You silence your opinion, your prejudice of like or dislike, and quiet your own emotional reaction no matter how justified you feel this to be. This is true devotion which grows as a force of spiritual perception.
In devotion, you must dive down into an experience and be able to unite with it. Your own powers, wishes and desires are muted. The joys and sorrows of another arise in your soul to behold and for you to carry them as a mother carries a child in her arms.
Love germinates with compassion. You must be able to do this to such a degree that you see yourself outside your own nature and feel yourself within another being. Your own being transforms into the being that you are experiencing. This is the basis for all true knowledge. Otherwise, we distort truth through our subjective personal reactions.
Love is an experience of the other in one’s own soul. Whenever love and true empathy are active in life, we can perceive the spirit glowing through you. You surrender to what is before you. This is very different to what we usually do, reacting emotionally to another person or situation. In true empathy, you have no gesture of grasping, wishing to influence the other, no emotional reaction. You become free from all sympathy, antipathy and prejudice of your personal ideas.
A light is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another. You open to the world which speaks. You allow full Presence to be. You become a vessel, a Holy Grail.
An important note we might mention here is that in order to have true empathy and compassion, you first require a strong, secure and centred heart. Otherwise, you will lose yourself unconsciously into the experience of others with over-sensitivity or what is called ‘empathic instability.’ You would then become overwhelmed by another’s emotional state of suffering and could not help them. Love requires inner strength.
We lost sight of our Mother force in today’s modern world, but she is always there active in healing and restoring us, gently prompting our soul for inner listening, inner growth and inner knowing.
The seeds of awakening are in our heart, planted by Divine Sophia. We always have an inner guidance system. When we ask and seek, the teacher appears, the book appears, life answers you and you find your way!
The Sophia State of Initiation
Sophia is also known as the ‘Sophia state of consciousness of the personified All-Wisdom of the World’ which is also the consciousness state of a Bodhisattva.
A Bodhissatva is an advanced human master who has a fully formed Manas or Spirit Self (transformed astral body) and in whom the spark of Buddhi or Life Spirit (transformed etheric body) is developing. It is usually their last incarnation before they attain Buddhahood.
Instead of Enlightenment and release from further incarnations on earth, a Bodhissatva often chooses to incarnate again and again upon earth to assist mankind’s development rather than ascend to bliss in higher realms. We are in reality ONE UNITY. There is no Enlightenment until ALL are enlightened! True Wisdom teaches that.
The consciousness of such a person at this level is permeated by SOPHIA (inner wisdom infused with love) and they are able to assess realms that the ordinary human being cannot do as yet. In Initiation language, this was called the ‘Sophia State of Consciousness’.
The Sophia State in Initiation means that our astral body of desires and feelings has come under control of conscious mastery and generates harmony. This is also referred to as the ‘Masters of Wisdom and the Harmony of Feelings and Sensations.’
In Initiation, whether you are a man or woman, the stage of Sophia degree was when a person acquired this transformed state. The reason this state is feminine is the secret of what it means to be virginal.
Cosmic energies stream into the newly formed Spirit Self in a feminine creative dynamic. Isis, Mary, Sophia were considered to be virginal creating new life. This new life was not derived from earthly parents or by their own astrality, but fresh and pure from out of the Divine realms. The astral body is transformed to be governed only by the Spirit Self. The Holy Spirit (which is feminine) is often depicted as a descending dove which fructifies the vessel of the Holy Grail or fills a person or group with spirit as in the experience of Pentecost.
The Sophia degree of Initiation often had a rather androgynous countenance in people looking more feminine – or, more accurately, with a perfect harmony between the masculine and feminine.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of ‘The Last Supper’, the Beloved disciple, John, looks almost female and was even confused to be Mary Magdalene. He was at the stage of Sophia Consciousness since his Initiation by Christ.
Or, in Leonardo’s amazing image of ‘Salvator Mundi, the Saviour of the World’, he painted Christ appearing in a perfect balance of male-female form, similar to his ‘Mona Lisa’.
This painting shows the profound inner radiance and harmony of perfect peace as Christ raises his hand in blessing. You are brought to an inner stillness. The cross piece of his garment also appears to the eye with a gesture like a chalice with the jewel above at his heart.