Sunday, March 27, 2011


There is a certain moral content to beauty. We do not mean the kind of moralism which is purely religious. The appreciation of and love for beauty is a quality which enhances our humanity and softens our perspectives. Perhaps this is what Dostoevsky had in mind when he said that "beauty will save the world." When we speak about supplementary education we are generally referring to art, art appreciation, music, dance and culture. All of these things have to do with the true meaning of virtue. Virtue (arete in Greek) does not refer to an ascetic mode of life but rather to an aesthetic perspective on life. If a sculptor creates a beautiful sculpture in order to make money from it, then it is business. However, if he is seeking to use his skills to create a thing of beauty then it is virtue. Just as the sharpness of a knife is its virtue so the development and use of our natural gifts and abilities in a creative way is the true meaning of virtue. In all the forms of supplementary education which we mentioned above, the eyes, ears and mind are being trained to see what is not always obvious and to hear subtleties, and to allow them to enhance the mind. Education in these higher forms of culture has an impact on our entire lives, and also can impact on our relationships with other human beings. From a spiritual point of view, the asceticism (training) of the eye begins with the surface appearance of things but takes us deeper into their inner beauty and meaning. This can be seen in the appreciation of canonical iconography, for example, and understanding its deeper meaning and revelation as opposed to the westernized paintings that are often called icons. Training ourselves to see and hear beauty expands our lives and if it is approached properly can also help us to see the inner beauty in other human beings. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest deficits in modern societies. We become so utilitarian and so used to technology that the enrichment that comes from having a deep sense of the beautiful is often lost to us. When we cannot see the beauty in other human beings it becomes more difficult for us to have compassion. Utilitarian education does not always prepare us to grasp the greatness of the ecological catastrophe that is transforming our earth. I would like to submit that a major part of the problem is precisely that we have become utilitarian and technologically minded and we do not really comprehend the beauty in the very life support system that we call "our environment." It is largely through supplementary education that we gain a richer and deeper appreciation for the ecosystem that makes our lives possible. So long as the earth is seen primarily as a source of wealth, material possessions and resources to be exploited for our enjoyment, we cannot respond in a rational manner to its destruction. In addition to enhancing our culture and our humanity, supplementary education in those things which we refer to as the arts can also deepen our appreciation of other human beings and the rest of the creation with which we must share this earth. The person who has accomplished this may come to realise the oneness of mankind, and his unity with the rest of creation. When one has sincerely encountered the energy and the beauty that encompass us he may have an increased capacity to love both creation and mankind and, to minister to them in a compassionate love. He may be able to help heal the wounds of perception, the broken images of life which skew our regard for our world and for humanity itself. If supplementary education in the understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the higher forms is to have its most complete impact upon us, it should not neglect the perception of spiritual beauty. We are not speaking here only about religion, but the sharpening of our virtues and the enhancement of our capacity to love, to cherish, and to nourish the beauty of the created world and of mankind. When we learn through the study of art to see beauty beyond the surface, then we can perhaps also see beyond the surface of our human tragedies, of the reborn nihilism which spawns today’s terrorism and war. We must learn to see beyond these phenomena into the true beauty that lies at the heart of mankind. The capacity to do this is greatly enhanced by a supplementary education in the higher art forms. One is reminded of the words of Paul of Tarsus, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. " In the early 1960s, when I was a student at the University, we had much unrest amongst the students. Part of what concerned us was the direction of the education we were receiving. The teaching of Humanities had a low priority, and we were being taught what we described as a "materialist curriculum." It had occurred to us that the building of a culture and a solid society depended on more than professional training and equipping ourselves for higher income levels. When people speak about "a standard of living" far too often they are speaking about the kind of house and automobile one can afford to purchase. The concept of a "standard of living" is so often limited to the measure of material possessions and does not include the important matter of "the quality of life." The quality of life cannot be measured only in material possessions. It is true that when people do not have sufficient food, adequate shelter and clothing, this impacts on the quality of their lives. However, the quality of life is also dependent upon things that are more abstract. When we speak about supplementary education, we have in mind art, music, poetry, classical dance and other forms of culture which are classified as "the arts." All of these things add to the fullness and quality of life, enrich our culture and strengthen our society. There are other subjects which occupy supplementary education, however I suggest that there is a need for more education in the appreciation and understanding of those things which add a higher dimension to life and society. There can be little doubt that a nation is enriched by a sense of higher culture, but our personal lives, the quality of our interhuman relations and our regard for creation itself are expanded and elevated by our education in the beauty of all the arts, and also of the sciences all of which measure for growth and a maturity as sentient human beings gifted by our Creator with a capacity for the love of beauty and for compassion. Sincere compassion is surest mark of true humanity, and it arises in us especially when we have sharpened our spiritual vision sufficiently to see the beauty in every human person. Archbishop Lazar.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

Bless, Your Eminence. I am not an Orthodox Christian but have appreciated your many podcasts/videos and thank you for them.

I hesitate to make the following suggestion as it may appear impertinent. However, may I most respectfully suggest a formatting change to the layout of your blog posts? It may be easier for some readers with mediocre eyesight, such as my self, to follow Your Eminence's text with the introduction of double paragraph breaks. through the use of double
tags in the HTML coding on Blogger.

Most respectfully, Bruce Godfrey, Baltimore, Maryland, USA