By Joel Klepac
The beauty of the icons, the gold-leafed iconostasis, the mesmerizing eternal sounds of the interweaving melodies of five priests with the unseen choir deeply impressed the visitors I took to the Orthodox cathedral in my town in Romania today. The experience was transcendent. The Kingdom we pray for had truly come. The beauty of Christ overwhelmed the senses and seeped into our wayward little hearts and whispered gently, "Yes, I love you this much."
On my way into the cathedral I saw a friend, Geanina. I say "friend" only because I have been saying "hi" to her for over four years, whenever I am near the cathedral. She is in her thirties but looks like she is fourteen. With legs tucked under her skinny body like a bird perching on the steps, her gentle eyes always looks up at me through bloody scabs on her face.
A couple of years ago my wife went with a social worker to this young lady's home to see what they could do. In a one room basement apartment lived eight unemployed siblings, the mother and Geanina. The others living with her explained that Geanina has a scarred and bloody face because she falls so often. In fact there is the possibility she is beaten so that her begging will be more successful and provide more income for the rest of the family. Whether from herself or others, Geanina deserves to be protected.
All through the liturgy Geanina's reddened, scabby, bandaged face was continually before me. I looked through it to the Trinity icon just above the royal doors. Her face was there as we sang "Lord Have Mercy" in chorus with the angels. Through the Creed and the Lord's Prayer it was her mangled, underdeveloped body which permeated my experience. I prayed, "God, let your Kingdom come far enough outside the cathedral doors to offer lasting peace and safety for Geanina."
Walking through the city afterwards I noticed several new Orthodox churches being built. Many churches have risen since the fall of Communism. They start with the basic structure, then the altar. Everything seems to be finished in slow motion as if emanating from the radiating Eucharist on the altar. One Orthodox church I passed today had the outside painted only on the end which houses the altar. I have watched the embossed copper roof being put on the peaks of the cathedral and seen stripes stained into the stone work. Now the work is complete. It has been a slowly unfolding miracle being witness to the revival of the Church in a country where faithful people were persecuted so intensely.
But church buildings are not enough.
Dostoevsky wrote, "Beauty will save the world." Will the beauty of the cathedral save the world? I understand beauty as "diversity in unity." As a person of faith I see the Trinity as infinite beauty, the diversity of the Persons of the Godhead in perfect unity. So much more is required of us than the building of beautiful churches.
Will we let the power of the Eucharist work on us to continue from the transformation of concrete, mortar and paint into our own flesh for the healing for the poor outside the church doors?
Perhaps we need to ask, Is my life an interweaving melody which joins together the beauty of the revelation of Christ with the beauty of my church? Do our activities in the world harmonize with the liturgy even as choir and priest harmonize in perfect unity in the Liturgy?
Perhaps that is a beauty which will save the world: the unity of worship as we stand and kneel before the altar with respect the for the least among us, joined together in suffering love.
Such beauty is a fire lit at the Holy Table to consume the world with the love of Christ.
"Lord have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on Geanina, Lord have mercy on me "
Joel Klepac is an artist and father working among the poor in Galati, Romania. As part of a community, he helps provide a therapeutic home for street youth desiring to take steps off the streets. A few of Joel's paintings may be found at www.wordmadeflesh.com/klepacart0403.htm.