The Softener of Evil Hearts
By Edna King
A few nights ago, I venerated the myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God Softener of Evil Hearts when it was visiting a local parish. The icon depicts Saint Simeon’s prophecy and shows seven swords piercing the Theotokos:
The swords symbolize the boundless sorrows the Theotokos would feel in her life. As we prayed, the lights were dimmed, signifying the end of Vespers and the beginning of Vigil. The candlelit room buzzed with soft sounds of people murmuring confessions to priests in two quiet corners, of soft Russian chanting, and of people coming to venerate the icon and then step back to pray a bit more before departing. Being near the icon and praying gave respite from burdens on my heart. When the service ended, I went home feeling peaceful.
“SOFTEN OUR EVIL HEARTS, O THEOTOKOS,
AND QUENCH THE ATTACKS OF THOSE WHO HATE US
AND LOOSE ALL THE RIGIDITY OF OUR SOUL.
FOR LOOKING ON THY HOLY IMAGE
WE ARE FILLED WITH COMPUNCTION BY THY
SUFFERING AND LOVING-KINDNESS FOR US,
AND WE KISS THY WOUNDS;
WE ARE FILLED WITH HORROR FOR THE DARTS WITH WHICH WE WOUND THEE.
LET US NOT, O MOTHER OF COMPASSION,
BECAUSE OF THE CRUELTY OF OUR HEARTS, PERISH FROM THE CRUELTY OF HEART OF THOSE NEAR US,
FOR THOU ART IN TRUTH THE SOFTENER OF EVIL HEARTS”
-TROPARIAN OF THE AKATHIST OF SOFTENING OF EVIL HEARTS
Two days later, I wept as I watched Notre Dame Cathedral burning. I thought of the words Notre Dame, Our Lady, and felt deep sorrow. Many people have written about the cultural significance of this unique historic Cathedral. Some have described its glory and gargoyles, lamenting the loss of such artistry. Others have called it the heart of France. I think of its name, Our Lady, and how personal yet collective that is. For centuries Christians, both the famous and the meek, have prayed and worshipped there, crying out to Our Lady for her intercession.
As I watched from so far away, young people knelt in the streets of Paris that evening, prayerfully singing the Ave Maria. The gentle song brought fresh tears to many even as we were given hope through the faith and resilience shown by the singers.
AVE MARIA! MAIDEN MILD!
LISTEN TO A MAIDEN'S PRAYER!
THOU CANST HEAR THOUGH FROM THE WILD;
THOU CANST SAVE AMID DESPAIR.
SAFE MAY WE SLEEP BENEATH THY CARE,
THOUGH BANISH'D, OUTCAST AND REVILED –
MAIDEN! HEAR A MAIDEN'S PRAYER;
MOTHER, HEAR A SUPPLIANT CHILD!
-SIR WALTER SCOTT
Those simple words sung on an evening of such destruction reminded me of The Softener of Evil Hearts icon. As Notre Dame burned, my heart was softened as I witnessed the simple faith of the singers in Paris. Maybe other hearts were softened too, as we were reminded of our love for Our Lady, for beauty itself, and even for the vulnerability that all material things bear. With faith, we hold fast to the hope of resurrection and new life emerging from the ashes of our grief. May Our Lady hear the people of Paris, and may she hear us as we pray for them.