Beauty Has Important Role In Eastern Spirituality

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus, November 3, 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the last few days the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed have enabled us to feel the intimate communion linking us to our brothers and sisters who have already entered eternity. They are now having a deep experience of God; they sing his mercy; they celebrate his love. The liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in this heavenly liturgy.

The sense of liturgy is particularly vivid among our Eastern brothers and sisters. For them, the liturgy is truly "heaven on earth" (Orientale lumen, n. 11). It is a synthesis of the whole faith experience. It is an involving experience which touches the whole human person, body and soul. Everything in the sacred action aims at expressing "the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured": the shape of the church, the sounds, the colours, the lights, the scents. The lengthy duration of the celebrations itself and the repeated invocations express the progressive identification with the mystery celebrated with one's whole person (cf. ibid).

The special care that Easterners devote to the beauty of form is also at the service of mystery. According to the Kiev Chronicle, St. Vladimir is supposed to have been converted to the Christian faith also because of the beauty of worship in the churches of Constantinople.

An Eastern author has written that the liturgy is "the royal gate through which one must pass", if one wishes to grasp the spirit of the Christian East (cf. Fr Evdokimov, The Prayer of the Eastern Church).

2. But in addition to its liturgical expression, prayer in the East as in the West has many other expressions. Spiritual authors have a particular partiality for the prayer of the heart, which consists in knowing how to listen to the voice of the Spirit in profound and receptive silence.

The so-called Jesus prayer is held in particular esteem and is popular in the West through the Russian text known as "The Way of the Pilgrim". It is the invocation "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". Repeated frequently, in these or similar words, this rich invocation becomes, as it were, the soul's very breath. Man is thus helped to feel the Saviour's presence in everything he encounters, and he experiences being loved by God despite his own weaknesses. Although recited interiorly, it also has a mysterious community radiance. This little prayer, the Fathers used to say, is a great treasure and unites all those praying before the face of Christ.

3. Let us be guided by the saints, venerated with equal love in the East and West, to rediscover the value of prayer. Above all, may the Blessed Virgin Mary be our teacher. Her "Magnificat" gives us a glimmer of the unique liturgy that she celebrated, adoring the Word made flesh in her womb. May she guide us to the depths of Christian prayer, so that our life may become an everlasting liturgy of praise.

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