As most of you already know, my family and I recently joined the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church! I come from a devout Protestant family: my father has been a pastor for over thirty years, my sister is a missionary in Southeast Asia, and I, too, pastored for several years. As you can imagine, our decision to join the Church was not easy. Our journey was filled with years of angst, hours upon hours of discussion and introspection, mountains of books, and, intensive prayer. While all of these activities played a role in our conversion it was our first hand experience of the Church that had the most lasting impact on us. The great Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky once said, “Only by relying on immediate experience can one survey the spiritual treasures of the Church and come to see their value.” This was certainly true in our case.
I still remember the first night my wife Rosie and I secretly attended vespers at an Eastern church near my parents house. Up to that point, we had only rationalized about “the Church.” We had loads of objective information, from piles of books, rattling around our heads–but no subjective experience. We were like blind beggars crying out on the side of the road–our first encounter with eastern liturgy was like the miracle of experiencing sight for the first time.
One day I will share the whole story with you; until then, please enjoy these beautiful photos. Perhaps they will give you a taste of the beauty and richness of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; perhaps they will stir your soul and fill you with an intense desire to experience ecclesiality for yourself . . .
1) Does beauty truly exist?
2) Perhaps beauty is merely a feeling; an inner subjective experience; my impression of a perception . . . an emotion. Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. If this is the case, it is false to believe anything truly is beautiful. When I look at the sunrise and exclaim in awe, “how beautiful!” I am merely expressing a feeling—I am communicating something private. For the sunrise is not beautiful in any objective, concrete, sense; it is just an object within space and time. Like all objects, it has no intrinsic value, no purpose, no meaning, it conforms to no pattern. I, the observer, give it meaning . . .
3) If beauty is simply a subjective experience, a feeling, then to speak of beauty is no different than to speak of indigestion. In effect, the expression, “how beautiful,” is functionally equivalent to the expression, “my stomach hurts.”
4) How wretched life would be if beauty did not exist! I look at my wife, an angel, the radiance of the sun instantiated in human form . . . yet, this isn’t real. The beauty of my wife is nothing but maya—an illusion. In reality she is the endless shifting of atoms, the constant flux of matter and energy; as am I. To say that my wife is beautiful is really to say that one shifting batch of atoms (my wife) collided with another shifting batch of atoms (my eyes) creating a chemical response in my brain and producing a particular emotion. Her beauty is but one euphoric chemical reaction—an animal instinct, a sexual desire.
5) In a world devoid of intrinsic value, beauty is degraded—it becomes something base.
6) But surely beauty must exist! Surely the sunrise is more than the endless shifting of atoms; more than the sense of awe engendered by a brute biochemical response to perception. Surely such reactions occur in the presence of great beauty—a beauty woven into the very fabric of reality. A form . . . an idea . . . a logos . . .