Tuesday, June 10, 2008

“Sanctify Those Who Love the Beauty of Your House”-Part I

When people first enter the Orthodox Church they often comment about the beauty of the experience. This happens whether they attend a baptism or wedding, Vespers or Divine Liturgy, or even if they walk into a church. For Orthodox Christians beauty is a key element of the spiritual life. So important is beauty to the Church's spirituality that the 19th century Russian author Fydor Dostoyevsky goes so far as to say, "Beauty will save the world."

Another great Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his Nobel prize lecture says of beauty that it

bears within itself its own confirmation: concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one. Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power- and no one, ever, even in a later age, will presume to negate them. And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.

For Solzhenitsyn Beauty, has he says, "a special quality." Beauty "is absolutely indisputable" and is able to tame even the heart that is "strongly opposed" to it. While a "political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system," might be well constructed and well argued, these are "built upon a mistake, a lie" that often remains "hidden." The "distortion" at their core is not necessarily "immediately . . . visible," and indeed the polemic, the social organizational theory or elements of a philosophical system often are "well constructed and . . . smooth, . . . everything will seem to fit. As a result, we will have "faith in them—yet [in so doing, we have] no faith" at all.

"It is vain to affirm," Solzhenitsyn "that which the heart does not confirm." This is not meant to be a defense of relativism, but rather an affirmation that beauty, consonance, harmony, communion (these are, if not synonyms, so closely related that one cannot be understood apart from the others) is the fundamental character of creation because creation reflects the character of God.

Unlike polemics, Beauty invites me to come along, to step out of myself; Beauty woes the heart, it inspires me to be more than we are. Like polemics, Beauty can challenge me; it can even break my heart. But again, and unlike polemics, when the beauty of the Beautiful breaks my heart it does so with a certain joyful melancholy which, if I allow the pain to do so, can move me to repent of all that is Ugly, Wicked and False in me.

More tomorrow…

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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