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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Unnecessary Beauty of the Holy Eucharist

The joyful character of the eucharistic gathering must be stressed.  For the medieval emphasis on the cross, while not a wrong one, is certainly one-sided.  The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber.  And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole "beauty" of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.

Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the "necessary."  Beauty is never "necessary," "functional" or "useful."  And when, expecting someone who we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love.  And the Church is love, expectation and joy.  It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.  In our adult, serious piety we ask for definitions and justifications, and they are rooted in fear - fear of corruption, deviation, "pagan influences," whatnot.  But "he that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 Jn. 4:18).  As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will "represent" it and signify it, in art and beauty.  And the celebrant of the sacrament of joy will appear in a beautiful chasuble, because he is vested in the glory of the Kingdom, because even in the form of man God appears in glory.  In the Eucharist we are standing in the presence of Christ, and like Moses before God, we are to be covered with his glory.  Christ himself wore an unsewn garment which the soldiers at the cross did not divide; it had not been bought in the market, but in all likelihood it had been fashioned by someone's loving hands.  Yes, the beauty of our preparation for the Eucharist has no practical use. ~ Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, pp. 29-30

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