We Cannot Forget that Beauty

IMG_1371_1Prince 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.

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6 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Christianity

6 responses to “We Cannot Forget that Beauty

  1. I find the peace of orthodox prayer, especially sung prayer in choir, the most beautiful thing I have ever found – it is reflection of the worship of God in heaven. Just as the Holy Table exists in two places, so the prayer does too. This is why I travel frequently to attend Matins and Vespers, as well as the Liturgy, Sundays are just too far apart!

  2. As Richard said, “Sundays are just too far apart!”

    I would love to live down the street from a small parish where I could go every evening after dinner for vespers. I would love to get up every morning to matins before work. Perhaps I could work nearby to hear the 6th hour during lunch!

    Sounds like I want to be a monk. I wonder if my wife would let me. 🙂

  3. I, too, traveled a circuitous route to Orthodoxy. Episcopalian to Charismatic Evangelical…

    Despite my initial zeal, I repeatedly felt like I soon hit the bottom of a shallow pool. Yet with over twenty years as an Orthodox, I have barely scratched the surface. True beauty indeed.

  4. I fully agree with those who have already commented. I, too, find myself longing for the true beauty and depth of vespers and Divine Liturgy after a week of over-exposure to the gaudiness and shallowness within our media-driven culture. I am very much looking forward to reading more of your reflections on this topic. Finding out about your blog, Father James, was a real blessing to me today. Thank you!

  5. Fr. James Coles

    Thank you all for the comments. Honored to have you thinking along with me on this. THANK YOU Molly finding your blog and “meeting” you today has been a blessing for me. The salvation video is important.

  6. Karen

    Phil 4:8 ‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.’

    Good reflection. Thanks 🙂

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