Time of keeping silent and speaking out:
+ The Bible says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; … A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecc3:1,7). The wise is he who knows when to speak and when to keep silent, who knows to differentiate between the suitable time to talk and the suitable time to be silent, and who is able to control his tongue, and his speech. When he speaks, he is able to select every word to avoid stumbling. Such a man was described in the Bible by St. James saying, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (Jam3:2). Thus, controlling the tongue is the measure of human perfection.
St. Mary speaking out
+ Accordingly, we see St. Mary in her perfection and wisdom, wise and decent in her talk and silence. The Bible didn’t mention many of her words, but only in four occasions, very wise but brief:
1. When the Angel Gabriel announced the Divine conception to her; she wondered saying, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And at the end of this conversation, she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38). Her words here revealed her humility, faith and devotion to God.
2. To respond to Elizabeth, she said her famous praise, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:46-55). These words praised God for the great things He has done in her life, as a response to Elizabeth’s talk.
3. She was searching, with St. Joseph, for Jesus at the age of 12 for three days. When she finally found Him listening and asking teachers at the Temple, she said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” (Luke 2:48). These words show her compassionate motherhood, and her marvelous humility.
4. In her conversation with her Son at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, she said, “They have no wine.”… and she said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:3). Her words revealed her love to serve others, and her care about their needs. It also reveals her faith and trust that what she asked is acceptable to God, although she expressed her request very briefly, but effectively, proving the strength of her intersession for her beloved Son.
+ This is what was mentioned in the whole Bible about her words. Although, it is very limited and very brief, it was very effective and impressive. On the other hand, her words were very nice and wise. She was confident in the effectiveness of her speech with her Son and with others.
St. Mary keeps silent:
+ Her silence was full of mysteries, since what was in her heart and mind of the divine mysteries was much greater than what she saw. She is the mother of the Great mystery, and she became herself a mystery that made all minds marvel, as the divine incarnation started in her womb. She is rather the storage of all mysteries.
+ About her silence, the Bible says, “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) “…but His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51) She was trusted over the mystery of mysteries, even over the Creator of all mysteries. What is the greater mystery than Christ the Lord dwelling in her womb, to be born from her unlike all mankind, she became a mother while she remained a pure virgin. He who gives food to all creation was nursed by her, and was fed by her as His mother, like any other child! What mystery is greater than the Magi’s visit to her Son? How did they know the time and place of His birth, and how did they realize the symbolic meaning of their gifts! What was the mystery behind His flight to Egypt away from Herod who was planning to kill Him who is feared by all creation!
What mystery is greater than this to fill her life, and make her marvel in amazement?! She kept silent before all of that, while her heart, thoughts, mind and all her emotions were speaking out leaving her tongue silent. This reminds us with the saying of St. John Saba, “Silence your tongue for your heart to speak; and silence your heart for God to speak.” St. Mary experienced that in her life through contemplation, praises and giving thanks.
St. Seraphim said, “When a man is busy with inner contemplation in the eternal light, his mind will be pure, free from imagining the materialistic things, because he is consumed by contemplating the great uncreated beauty; leaving behind everything related to senses; loosing the desire to look at anything, even himself; otherwise he‘ll loose God.”
If some saints had reached to that level at which their souls were caught up to heaven, to see glorious things, the eternal light of Christ, and honor of the heavenly creatures; how much more is St. Mary, the mother of God, who did not see God, but lived with Him; carried Him in her bosom! How much was she busy with her Son, who is her God, over everything in the world; contemplating, calmly and silently, in all gifts, experiences, and glorious things; which are indescribable by both angels and men.
+ Thus, St. Mary’s speech is full of praise and glorification of God; and her silence is full of contemplation in the marvelous mysteries and wonders.
A weapon with two edges:
+ The tongue is a weapon with two sides, which is used in both good and evil “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing” (James 3:9,10). Were not the few words which the sinner tax collector prayed a cause for his acceptance by God and he went to his house justified, to the contrary of the Pharisee with his proud words because of which he was refused and rejected (Luke18:10-14)? Were not the words of the wicked servant which he said to his master “For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow”, a cause to condemn him and the answer of his master was “out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant” (Luke19:21,22)? Did not the words of the atheist women of Canaan cause the Lord to have compassion on her and heal her daughter, in spite of what He previously said to her (Matt 15:22-28)? Finally were not the few words of the thief on Jesus’ right, hanging on the cross, the cause of his eternal salvation, to the contrary of his colleague who was crucified with him and was blaspheming (Luke 23:39-43)?!
+ The importance and the danger of this small member in that the words and expressions it says, are a measure of the inner state of the person…his goodness or corruption, his wisdom or foolishness, his knowledge or ignorance… “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matt 12:34,35).
+ One word a person says may cause his calamity, trouble and death. Many dangers come to us via the errors of the tongue. This is clearly indicated by the Lord Himself “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt12:37). How many times the Jews gathered around Jesus “to catch Him in His words” (Matt 22:15; Mk 12:13)! The devils also often gather around us to catch us from our tongues and in our words. Hence, we should control and guard our lips, watch our talks, select our words, and raise our hearts with David the Psalmist saying, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps141:3). We should be very careful when we use the tongue, as it should not be a mean to fail us and to destroy us. For this reason, the saints guarded and controlled their tongues by strict exercises, in amazing and astonishing ways. They followed the saying of David the prophet, “I said, I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue” (Ps39:1).
Silence as a virtue:
+ Without exception, all the ascetic fathers practiced silence until they perfected it. History keeps for us the names of those who excelled in it. Among them:
· St. Arsenius, the tutor of the kings’ sons, who loved serenity and silence. He has a famous saying, “Many times I spoke then I regretted, but I never regretted my silence”.
· St. Agathon, when he started to train himself in silence, he put a pebble in his mouth for three years, until he perfected.
· St. John of Assuit (Al-Tabaisy) kept his silence for thirty years, through which he did not utter one word. He lived in a cave without meeting anyone. They gave him his needs through a small opening, and he dealt with them in writing. Once four thieves thought that he kept a lot of money from those who came to him to be healed by his gift of healing. They came to the cave at night to steal, but they became blind and kept standing outside till the morning. Some people caught them to hand them to the ruler, but the saint told them, “If you do not let them go, the gift of healing will leave me”, so they were let go. It was said that it was the only phrase he uttered during this thirty years.
· St. Bemwa asked for advice from one of the elder fathers at the beginning of his monastic life. The elder uttered with the words of David the prophet, “I said, I will guard my ways, lest I sin with my tongue” (Ps39:1). When he heard this verse, he said, “Enough, teacher, do not teach me anything else until I learn that”. He did not go back to his teacher for a long time. When he was asked about the reason, he told him, “Believe me father, I did not learn the first lesson well” After many years he was asked if he finished the first of David’s lessons, the saint replied, “It has taken me 45 years to meditate in this verse, and hardly I practiced it a little”. He said that out of humility, as Paledius mentioned that the saint perfected silence well; and when he was asked about anything, he first lifted his heart to God for guidance about what he should say. God helped him to keep this virtue to the extent that his conscience did not rebuke him, at the moment of his death, for a word he said and felt sorry for it.
· St. John Climacus said, “The silence of Christ astonished Pilate; but a word Peter uttered, made him weep bitterly”.
Some blessings of silence:
Good usage of the tongue:
+ God who created man in His own image, did not create his tongue for evil usage, but to be used in all what is good. Without doubt, it would be a great source of goodness and blessing to us, if we use it perfectly. The wise Solomon said, “The mouth of the righteous is a well of life” (Proverbs 10:11) On the contrary; “The mouth of fools pours forth foolishness” (Proverbs15:2). God created the tongue in us to be a well of life. When we speak the words of God, which are “Spirit and Life”(John6:63), do they not come from the mouth which is “a well of life”?
+ The Christian, as a light of the world and an example to others, has to be a model in good usage of the tongue. St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy, “Be an example to the believers in word” (1Tim4:12). He also said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col 4:6). He also said, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification” (Eph4:29). We ought, all of us, to imitate our mother St. Mary in her silence and speech; and be like our Good Lord, who when he spoke and the people heard Him “Marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” (Luke4:22).