Continuing yesterday’s thoughts on the saving character of Beauty…
In the catechumen classes at the parish I serve we have been discussing the structure of the Divine Liturgy. This past Sunday we looked at the Prayer of the First Antiphon:
Lord, our God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance;
protect the whole body of Your Church;
sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house;
glorify them in return by Your divine power;
and do not forsake us who hope in You.
As a group our attention was captured by the third petition: “sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house.” In the Old Testament especially, God is holy not so much because He possess moral perfection but because He is free. In God to be holy is to be free of all that would limit Him and constrain His will; as with God so to with us, we are called to be free of everything that would compel us to act against our nature and our vocation.
Growth in freedom, growth in holiness, requires from me that I love the beauty of God’s house.
As we talk about this we began, naturally enough, with the beauty of the church building itself and then of the services. Slowly, however, we began to see that God’s house is really rather more than simply the church building, the services and the Tradition of the Church. All of creation is the house of God. How, we asked ourselves, can we say that we really love the beauty of the church building on Sunday morning if we our indifferent to the beauty of creation?
And, again as we thought about things, how can I say I love the beauty of creation if we are indifferent to the beauty of our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God. And if I say that I love the beauty of my neighbor how can I then dismiss my own beauty?
Stepping back from our reflections, I mentioned to the catechumens (and other listeners) that what we experience in the church can’t be separated from the rest of life. If you will we can think of the experience of beauty in the Church’s worship as a preparation for the experience of the beauty of creation. In fact, I suggested, to try and limit beauty to either the Church or creation is a bit like the young man who told me he didn’t know much about his girlfriend—they were only seeing each other for sex.
To fail to see Beauty, to ignore Beauty, or worse to be indifferent to it, is to be unchaste. God tells the prophet Hosea (1.2):
“Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
By departing from the LORD.”
To see Beauty only here and not there is to limit God, to deny His holiness and so to deny Him as He Is. Once that is done, then everything else in my life falls into chaos and ugliness.
But, to return to Solzhenitsyn, there is a whimsy, unpredictable, unexpected quality to Beauty that makes it such a fit symbol of Divine Grace. Beauty can “soar up,” to quote Solzhenitsyn once more, “to that very place” where I turned my back on Truth and Goodness and, once there, “perform the work of all three.”