Valuing Beauty in Orthodox Worship
Orthodox Christians, throughout their entire journey on earth, may attend thousands of church services and visit hundreds of different churches. The novelty of Orthodox ecclesiastical beauty may simply wear off after a certain number of visits or church services, but for those professionals who work to create Orthodox art and structures, the struggle is to make their fellow Christians more aware of the heavenly greatness of our churches.
Vestments are part of our theology of beauty
Khouria Krista West is a professional seamstress and has been running Krista West Vestments for over 18 years. Invited by Father Philip Zymaris, Professor of Liturgics at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Khouria Krista gave a lecture in the school’s Reading Room entitled: “Facets of Orthodox Aesthetics.” She discussed the theology of beauty in the church and the significance of liturgical textiles in services.
Khouria Krista explained that beauty must be experienced noetically, that is by not only physical senses but by spiritual perception. Truly beautiful icons, hymns, or adornments strike a chord in the depths of the human person and aid in Orthodox worship. One powerful quote from Khouria Krista was that: “Art charms us into the Kingdom.”
It is important to note, she pointed out, that good art unfolds over time. The more you look at a piece of art, the more layers of depth and beauty are revealed. She also added that, as our nous becomes more sanctified by the grace of God, the world becomes more and more beautiful in our enlightened perception.
The world certainly does not hold this same, Christian view of beauty, and it manifests itself in our behavior toward art. Khouria Krista remarked that we are a very impatient culture. We do not take the time to digest beautiful art, so, for example, we end up “running through museums,” as she put it, when museums deserve to be crawled through.
Perhaps this speaks to our spiritual state. If truly great art has the ability to tug us into the Kingdom, and we habitually avoid beauty, then maybe we do not yet have a fervent desire for the Kingdom.
Beauty unfolds over time, so it is necessary for us to stop, take a few minutes, and breathe in the deep gracefulness of our church’s artistic tradition. If our church does not have items that are beautiful, that should bother us. We should pursue graceful beauty in our liturgical services and allow ourselves to be charmed into God’s Kingdom.
(Photo Credit: Claire Barden)
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