Saturday, February 18, 2012

Through A Glass Darkly

"Yet it is here, at the margins of society and the borders of earthy existence, that the church is most intensely itself. In ministering to the poor, the sick, and the dying, it will naturally find the right balance between ritual identity and local inculturation. For the church can best realize its identity by looking beyond it."

As some may know, I hold in high esteem Andrew Sorokowski, who contributes regularly to RISU's rubric "Expert Opinion". His newest piece, "Beyond Identity", does not disappoint. He does a masterful job of analyzing just what is at stake today in the search by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (and not necessarily just in the diaspora) for its identity as the Catholic standard bearer of the Kyivian-Byzantine tradition and culture. Sorokowski points out rightly that Church is there to bring people to God; evangelization is indeed the name of the game.

What amounts to a foregone conclusion for the author inside his own tradition is still very much an adventure of discovery for me, even in its most elementary components. There is much to observe and assimilate in an attempt to understand the uniqueness of Church in this Land. I was able to consolidate some of my own cultural gains this week as I escorted family around and we were treated to some marvelous English language tours of Kyivan holy places and museums. 

Let me risk possible ridicule by art historians and the people of the Land by expressing unbounded enthusiasm for Ukrainian Baroque iconography and by stating that the remnants of this period which have somehow survived two great wars and Soviet barbarism are my window of appreciation for the Kyivian-Byzantine tradition. No one set of aesthetic criteria can sum up a tradition, but I think Ukrainian Baroque says some things about the soul of this people: beautiful flowers and drapery; healthy, full faces. We're going beyond the canon of what makes for beauty here and saying something important about what constitutes sanctity and heavenly glory.

Cultures, which are necessarily rooted in family and custom, are bearers of the Good News. The sublime, which finds its proper stage in faith life, goes beyond family, never leaving family or small community behind. In the high liturgy in our best churches, our identity, our greatness or dignity before God and in His eyes is mediated or disclosed and necessarily so but on the firm foundation of the faith experience, day in and day out, of the little church, of the family. 

I guess coming from the Upper Midwest of the U.S. and having lived elsewhere I may be overly prone to have reservations about the word "inculturation". The tilma of Juan Diego, bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is not an insertion or substitution which mediates, but an exchange carried out in a certain way among the Spanish conquistadores and in a very different way among the indigenous population drawn to the small chapel and Juan Diego's personal witness for the rest of his days. Two very different peoples found themselves at the feet of the "Morenita", both drawn by beauty and love.

As I say, I deeply respect the insights of Sorokowski, but beyond the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, it is divine worship, music and art that must be there to help us find ourselves in Christ for the sake of the life of the world. I do firmly believe that along with the Kyivian-Byzantine tradition and its beauty, our images make a difference and profess a profound and unique truth. We all find ourselves as we gaze into the face of Christ, as we contemplate His beautiful Mother, and all the Saints.

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