Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Joy - and Ritual

In this time and place where nearly everyone is questioning the value of ritual, and nearly everyone who has been brought up religious has been brought up in a religion of fear and guilt, I thought this quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann a wonderful antidote.

The Liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him in 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 whom 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’ (I 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 evening the form of a 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.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)


William Weedon said...

THAT is one of my all-time favorite Schmemann quotes. You can't get much more to the heart of the matter.

GretchenJoanna said...

oh, YES, one of my favorite passages, too, that made my heart soar when I first read it. Fr Schmemann is so helpful to me. Thank you!

Kacie said...

I attempted to describe to some older friends from England that were visiting the US why many young evangelicals are moving into the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church. I described the longing for the stability of tradition and roots in history, and how even the Anglican church seems historical to Americans. :)

They were totally unable to comprehend seeing tradition as a good thing, something that youth would long for. It seems England is in quite a different place...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. Fr. Schmemann was indeed a prophet of joy. Here is a very brief passage from his diary, dated 12 October 1976: “And for some reason, “religious” people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …” The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart