October 15 – Icon of the Theotokos Multiplier of Wheat; Teresa of Ávila

The Icon of the Theotokos, Multiplier of Wheat (ca. 1890) was commissioned by Ambrose of Optina (Oct 10) as a gift for the Shamordino women’s monastery, which he had founded (GUM was out of chocolates). Ambrose had a childlike faith in the Mother of God, and often prayed to her before this icon and after (see what I did there?). The icon shows Our Lady sitting enthroned on a cloud above a partly-harvested field of wheat.

Ambrose even wrote a new Akathist refrain especially for this icon: “Rejoice, thou full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Grant also unto us unworthy ones the dew of your grace and show us your loving-kindness!” Which I’m sure you’ll agree is fitting, even if it doesn’t mention wheat. The good Father decreed that the icon should be celebrated on this day, and cannily fell asleep in the Lord on October 10 so he could be buried on the 15th. Asked to whom he was entrusting the convent (as he lay dying), he replied, “The Queen of Heaven” (that’s Mary, for catechumens and other noobs). The icon is credited with the abundant harvest of wheat in the monastery’s fields that year, when other croplands were struggling. A copy of the icon is credited with ending a drought the next summer in Voronezh.

Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) was one of those rare monastic saints who was born with the name she was sainted with, which means absolutely nothing but it’s interesting trivia. (What? No? Well, I think it is.) Her grandfather was a murrano, a converted Jew back when converting was a relatively neck-saving action. Only relatively, as he was Inquisitioned for (allegedly) reverting. Teresa’s father bought a knighthood (Sotheby’s made a killing in those days) (metaphorically speaking) and settled firmly into Christendom. She had a crippling illness as a child, which was healed when she prayed to St. Joseph (Mar 19, Dec 26). When she was seven, Teresa and her brother ran away to seek martyrdom among the Moors, but their uncle spotted them and dragged them home. Teresa’s mother died when she (Teresa) was fourteen (or twelve), causing her to seek the protection of the Mother of God (which was good), read raunchy novels (which was less good), and obsess about her looks (which was downright bad).

At seventeen she ran away again, and joined the Carmelites. Her uncle didn’t intervene, and her family eventually accepted her calling. She fell ill, and in her convalescence (she never got completely better) started reading a book on self-examination, concentration, and contemplation. She began to receive visions, culminating in mystical union with God. At some point her friends helpfully suggested her visions were of diabolical origin, but her confessor determined that her visions really were divine, and told her so, and that was that. She was visited by Our Lord in bodily (albeit invisible) form, and an angel drove a lance through her heart, which caused her immense pain that was also sweet. (Your intrepid blogger confesses total bewilderment at this.)

Teresa fought to reform her flabby abbey, eventually leaving to form her own when that didn’t work, naming it after St. Joseph. The rule of utter poverty caused a scandal, and it was almost shut down, but Teresa prevailed (having the bishop and the pope on your side never hurts). Soon daughter houses were popping up like monasteries. There was a tussle with the older Carmelite houses, but that passed.

Teresa died right around midnight on the day Spain adopted the Gregorian calendar, so nobody knows if it was the 4th or 15th of October. She is best known for her work Interior Castle, which sets forth her experiences with and theology of interior prayer, her definition of which is used in the official Catechism: “A close personal sharing between friends.” She was the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church.