Russian Church Stuff
He liked to tell of his experience as a boy seeing his uncle ordained to the priesthood. In the Byzantine service, the deacon is actually covered like a corpse while he lies face down and prostrate on the floor, and then is uncovered and emerges transformed into a priest. (Not that simple, I know, but let's leave it like that just for the sake of brevity.) This was one of his first exposures to the theatrical, but to a transcendent theatrical that would inspire him for the rest of his life.
He would make a sumptuous feast for his friends at Pascha (Orthodox Easter). He was a very good cook, so good that he could cheer up his friend Igor Stravinsky just with the promise of making him a good meal. In fact, a week before Stravinsky died, Balanchine went to visit his friend on his death bed. Stravinsky was barely able to speak at that point, but Balanchine promised to make him some Russian delicacy, and Stravinsky's tortured response, trying to muster enough strength to speak, was, "WHEN?!"
For both Stravinsky and Balanchine, however, both Orthodox Christians, there was a profound sense even in their most innovative work that they were not creating, but rather assembling. Only God creates. The artist has more in common with a craftsman than he does with God. The material is already there. All man does is to put it all together, with God's help.
The Russian Church, and thus the Russian soul, has given me a keen sense of the beautiful. There was a time in my life I spent more time in Russian Orthodox churches than I did in any other kind of church. The beauty, objectivity, and seriousness of what goes on at an All-Night Vigil or Divine Liturgy can transform you if you let it do so. Most of the time the services were all in Old Slavonic, but I really did absorb much of it like a sponge.
I will always be a foreigner there, but it was beautiful while it lasted. That is why I say sometimes that the Orthodox liturgy is almost too beautiful: it's beautiful, but it's not home. In some ways, it will always be theatre to me. But I do like theatre.