Beauty and Nature
November 8, 1997
This city combines the mountains, the forests, the valleys, and the waters, in a divine symphony praising their Creator. This Church edifice stands with imposing symbolical dignity, at the top of this holy and sacred hill. Your altar is dedicated to the Great Martyr Barbara, whom we shall commemorate next month. She is renowned for her miraculous powers of healing the sense of sight. The vision of light is considered to be the most significant of human experiences. The sense of sight was regarded as the most profound sense in the classical Greek philosophical and patristic world. Truth is beheld; it is not understood intellectually. God is seen; He is not examined theoretically. Beauty is perceived; it is not speculated abstractly.
In the brief Service just held, we were reminded of how, when God made the heavens and the earth, He said: “Let there be light.” He made the waters, the land, the sky, and the living creatures. “And God saw that it was good [kalon]” (Gen. 1.4), which literally means “beautiful”. This beauty is, first and foremost, the beauty of divine sacredness, a self-revelation and self-realization of God, who invites us to share in, and to enjoy that beauty. For, everything that lives and breathes is sacred and beautiful in the eyes of God. The whole world is a sacrament. The entire created cosmos is a burning bush of God’s uncreated energies. And humankind stands as a priest before the altar of creation, as microcosm and mediator. Such is the true nature of things; or, as an Orthodox hymn describes it, “the truth of things,” if only we have the eyes of faith to see it.
Realistically, we also know that this vision has been blurred; the image has been marred, by our sin. For we have presumed to control the order of things, and have therefore destroyed the hierarchy of creation. We have lost the dimension of beauty, and have come to a spiritual impasse where everything that we touch is invariably distorted or even destroyed. Nevertheless, through the divine Incarnation, our sight is once again restored, and we are once more enabled to discern the beauty of Christ’s countenance “in all places of His dominion”, and “in the least of our brothers and sisters” (Gen. 25.40). When “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1.14), we were endowed with new eyes, new ears, new senses altogether, in order to see the invisible in what is visible, and in order to experience the uncreated in what is created.
Creation and Icons
This same truth is revealed in the iconography of our Church. They are a necessary expression of the world’s sacredness. “Standing inside the Church, we think that we are in heaven,” as one hymn states, because the Church is the embodiment and sanctification of the whole world, while the created world is called to become the Church. The icons break down the wall of separation between the sacred and the profane, between this world and the next, between earth and heaven.
We are called today to rediscover this iconic dimension of creation. And it is this, which distinguishes us as Christians and our awesome responsibility for the survival of our environment. In the Church, then, “through heaven and earth and sea, through wood and stone, through relics and Church buildings and the Cross, through angels and people, through all of creation, both visible and invisible, we offer veneration and honor to the Creator and master and Maker of all things, and to Him alone.”
All things are sacramental when seen in the light of God. In the Great Doxology that we just chanted, we prayed that “in His light we may see light, for He is the one who has shown us the light.” And this beautiful building, with its traditional Byzantine architecture, and refreshing Mediterranean setting, is a symbol of that original beauty which was restored to us in Christ.
Let us open our eyes to see the world that God has made for us. Let us walk gently on the ground that so patiently tolerates our behavior. Then, as children of God, we can liberate the whole creation. Nothing less is expected of us. Nothing less dignifies us or the world around us. And nothing less is worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus, who is adored and glorified with His eternal Father, and the all-holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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