Category Archives: Prayer

Change and the Church

Politics used to be about left and right. However, negative attitudes to the EU, for example, Brexit, are supported by both those on the left and those on the right. This is because politics today is no longer a division between left and right, but between patriots who love the people and so are social conservatives who desire social justice, and globalists, who love their passions and so are social liberals who desire personal wealth.

We are living through a period of generational change. Just as the social changes beginning in the mid-1960s resulted in revolutions in Paris and Prague in 1968, the US defeat in Vietnam and revolution in Lisbon and invasion of Cyprus in 1974, just as the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to the collapse of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the invasion of Iraq in 1991, war in Yugoslavia, famine in Russia and the Twin Towers attack in 2001, so today we are going through generational change. We have seen the anti-democratic seizure of power in the Ukraine, the appearance of ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa, terrorist attacks in France, the debt crisis in Greece, the refugee crisis, Brexit and revolt in Turkey.

Who knows what is next? The implosion of the fragile EU as it limps from one self-made crisis to another is just one possibility. After all, Brexit came about because of the refusal of the anti-populist EU bureaucratic elite to be flexible and concede to the popular will. The possible election of Trump in the US or Le Pen in France are others. The collapse of NATO, ex-Yugoslavia and the Ukraine are yet others. And then there is a host of unpredictable events.

In times of generational change, in times of political turbulence, the only thing we can be sure of is the Church, even though it too can be victim of the fashions (‘politics’) of this world. The Church is like a flotilla of fourteen ships, big and small. The Russian Church is the flagship of the flotilla, by far the largest, the multinational 75% of the whole, and attached to it are three small and dependent ships, those of the Church Outside Russia, the Church of Japan and the Church of China, as well as a large lifeboat temporarily launched from the mother-ship for some North Americans in danger. In fairness to those who criticize, it must be said that there are indeed some strange, liberal-looking characters clinging on to the sides of the Russian ship.

Just by it, but quite separately, are the small ships of the Churches of Bulgaria, Georgia and Antioch. Not far off sail the smaller ships of the Churches of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Near them sail the ships of the Churches of Greece and Cyprus. They are followed by the ships of the Churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Serbia. They are followed by the large ship of the Church of Romania, at times in difficulty because of simony, and then the small ship of the Church of Albania. Finally, zigzagging some way behind and bringing up the rear because of damage to its American-made steering, sails the small ship of the Church of Constantinople. If it is still in the flotilla and afloat, it is only because of the prayers of Athonite fathers. For on prayer we all depend.

What is Art?

We can define art in its broadest sense by its etymology: art means something artificial, that is, manmade. However, anyone can see that there are great differences between manmade things, manmade things fit into different levels. Thus, there is a great difference between a spade and an antique vase, or a 1960s block of flats and a palace, a Picasso and a Rembrandt, or heavy rock music and a Strauss waltz. All are manmade, but the former examples reflect a lack of inspiration as compared to the latter. What then is inspiration?

Inspiration is the reflection of the soul. Hence the attraction of art made by more refined souls, who have put thought and effort, technique and skill into art. The nobler and finer the soul, the nobler and finer the art. Here then we have the fundamental difference between two different levels of art – what can be called low art and high art. Indeed, so low are mass-produced manmade items, for instance, consumer goods, that some would say that they are not worthy even of the name ‘low art’. After all, they are not manmade, but machine made. On the other hand, there is art that clearly belong to the world of ‘high art’, art that can move the soul by its beauty. However, there is also a world of art higher than ‘high art’.

Here we are talking not just about art inspired by noble and fine souls, but about art inspired by the Divine Spirit. Here we are in the world of Orthodox Christian art. What is the difference between Orthodox Christian art and all other art, low or high? We have spoken already of low and high art, for example a piece of modern art and a Rembrandt painting. But higher than this there is the icon. What is an icon? It is a painting in front of which we want to pray. I have not yet heard of anyone wanting to pray in front of a painting by Picasso, or a painting by Rembrandt, even if its subject was religious. But people want to pray in front of icons. Why?

This is because an icon represents a Divino-human reality and it is painted not just through inspiration of the soul, but through Divine inspiration acting on the spirit. The same is true of Church music, Church architecture and Church artefacts. They all inspire prayer. However beautiful or interesting high art, a piece of classical music, a palace or an antique vase, it does not make us pray. We admire it or are even moved by it, but no more. We cannot forget the stories of SS officers who listened to Mozart before they went off to slaughter some more concentration camp prisoners. Here is the difference between high art and Orthodox Christian art, much greater than the difference even between low art and high art.
We can conclude that there are three levels of art: low art, high art and Orthodox Christian art.

Low art includes everyday manmade or artificial objects, like spades, mugs, cars, flatpack furniture, blocks of flats. This art is so low that only the broadest possible sense of the word art can include them. Low art contains very little inspiration, very little ‘soul’, rather it reflects the fallenness of humanity.

High art is inspired, it is handmade, it contains thought and soul, effort and skill, it reflects the values, nobility and finesse of the soul of its author and can even move by its beauty – but no more.

Finally, there is Orthodox Christian art. This is the art that can bring us to prayer and repentance. It reflects Divine inspiration, the Spirit of God that has inspired the soul and mind and hand of man. In this respect it approaches the beauty of the Unfallen Creation, of Paradise, which can sometimes be picked up by the soul as it looks at what remains of God’s Creation in even this fallen world, the Divine Inspiration behind the forests and the oceans, the mountains and the stars, for these too can bring us to prayer and repentance.