Prince Vladimir of Kiev, while still a pagan, desired to know which was the true religion and therefore sent his followers to investigate. They traveled to various countries of the world in turn. They went first to the Muslim Bulgars of the Volga, but observing that these when they prayed gazed around them like men possessed, the Russians continued on their way dissatisfied. “There is no joy among them,” they reported to Vladimir. Traveling next to Germany and Rome, they found the worship more satisfactory, but complained that here too it was without beauty. Finally they journeyed to Constantinople, and here at last, as they attended the Church of the Holy Wisdom the envoys discovered their true heart’s desire. Writing to Vladimir, the envoys stated, “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their services surpasses the worship of all other places, for we cannot forget that beauty.”
My own conversion to Orthodoxy story was like the Russian envoys. I went here and there until being caught off balance by Orthodoxy worship that seemed to cross over that line separating heaven and earth. The Liturgy is so other-worldly. I had been all over the Roman Catholic, Charismatic, Baptist, Episcopal map. I was ready for something transcendent. I had been through enough worshipless worship and chaos and cold-hearted pomp. The mystery of beauty and the beautiful mystery drives human worship and my soul was restless.
Those envoys could not forget how beautiful the worship they experienced was. Most worship in America today has nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is on my mind. AND I have always shied away from a thinking about beauty and theology. I intend to write some about Beauty. I have recently ordered two books (“The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth” by David Bentley Hart and “Mortal Beauty, God’s Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins”) that were recommended to me. Love to hear you comments or thoughts.