The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Russian Church Stuff

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have formally re-united. Since my experience with Eastern Orthodoxy has been primarily through the Russians, it is significant for me. Father Anastassy of the Russian Church Abroad was sceptical before his death that this day would ever come, and I don't think he was enthusiastic about the prospect. But there it is, the Cold War is over, and the churches are reconciled.

Incidentally, George Balanchine, whose biography I am reading, was a devout Russian Orthodox believer. Like many Christians, however, he was no saint. By his own admission, he liked women and had an eye for beautiful ones, and his numerous marriages and relationships attest to this. Like my note on Lope de Vega in a previous post, however, one should not consider too much the man's style of life in order to judge his sincere religiosity. (Indeed, it would be very beneficial in our day and age not just to read the lives of saints, but also of members of the Christian "B Team": people who were not perfect but still sincere believers.)

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.
(AG has posted something about Balanchine and religion here. It is well worth reading.)


At 7:38 AM, Blogger Archistrategos said...

Years ago our parish had the curious privilege of welcoming a Russian Orthodox priest, who incidentally happened to have Filipino blood. They had an exhibit on the Byzantine rites in the parish hall, and one thing in particular that attracted the attention of many were the vestments.They were theatrical and over the top, and made the polyester napkin the parish priest wore look like... well, a polyester napkin.

There was also another time when we were driving home, and we saw this lone Orthodox priest processing with a huge, 15ft. processional cross to the houses of Congress (we live in an area near that blasted place). I could tell he was Orthodox because he had a long, bushy beard and wore the vestments of the Byzantines, and even carried an ikon of the Theotokos with him. Sadly, that was the only time I saw said priest, but he definitely left an indelible impression on me.

I think the quote you highlighted from van der Leuw explains it all: "The dramatic vanishes from our lives, and we are suddenly once more dead marionettes, to whose countermovement movement is lacking."

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orthodox church has much apology to make in Western World:
protocommunist massacres by Palamite Zealotes under Hesychast
hyperventilatory halucinations, Cantacuzene taxation driving farmers
to embrace Turks, Komyakoviac Obshchina giving birth to soviet
communism as reactionary casuistry opposing Napoleon's
defeudalization, Cosmus Aitalius being patron originator of of modern
genocide as seen by the massacre of Turks in Crete by Venizelos. Is
all masochistic because reject Original Sin.

At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brother, you are right. The Greeks are sending Catholic jobs to India to avenge Serbia. Sarbanes, like Gorbachev, is an archon. Archons are the Greek Politburo, officially "The Knights of St Andrew of the Oecumenical Patriarchate" ( They are a worst conspiracy than, or

At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is must be student of history and listen to Virgin of Fatima ( and of Medjugordje and be part of and fight such evil with

At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How utterly VULGAR and unchristian to judge the Orthodox faith and posit Roman Catholi-schism as a valid alternative (the reference to Fatima's sordid Mariolotry) on a blog dedicated to art,and the numinous in Holy Orthodoxy!

As a former RC, who appreciates that Orthodoxy alone has the pleroma of the Faith, the lack of it, and the perversion by the sodomite factions in the RCC today, completely annul the comments made by the two prior posters.

- Fr. John+

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