A Crisis of Beauty

IMG_1353There is a crisis of beauty within my culture. That is a very kind way to say that much of the world around me, at least the civilizational part, is ugly. It is not an ugliness born of poverty (though poverty is very ugly around here) – unless we understand that there is a poverty within the human spirit that begets ugliness. My thoughts on my environment are not just my opinion. In the late 1940’s, John Gunther, author of Inside USA, dubbed Knoxville (the hub of our metro area) the “ugliest city” in America. The city has worked hard to overcome the moniker.

Such a designation only makes our city the “ugliest of the ugly,” for the truth is, it looks like most of America. American towns have been driven by utility. There is no central, cultural notion of what a building should look like. The cozy villages of Europe were the products of a cultural consensus. American architectural landscape is best described with words like “sprawling,” and “franchise.”

The small town I live in, built in the 1940’s to house the “Manhattan Project,” America’s effort to build the first nuclear weapon, bears some of the marks of its wartime heritage, but is mostly just a collection of successful and unsuccessful franchised America. The unsuccessful ones tend to leave their “bones” behind (empty buildings). There’s a former Pizza Hut with its uniquely shaped windows that is now, I think, a medical clinic. It was a jewelry store for a while. At least the roof is no longer red.

Of course, I also live very near one of the most wonderful National Parks in America: the Great Smokey Mountains, part of a mountain chain that is perhaps the oldest in the world. Much of it is unspoiled – a treasure-trove of natural beauty.

It is tragic to associate human activity with ugliness. In our part of the world, those who champion beauty are also committed foes of development and the expansion of the human habitat. They have a point.

Beauty is a reflection of the Divine Nature. From the greatest expanse of stars to the most microscopic parts of creation, beauty is woven into all that exists. Human beings are beautiful as well – inherently so. It is for this reason that our modern penchant for the mundane, banal and empty is so striking.

I was recently interviewed by someone collecting opinions from area leaders about their take on our local needs. I was asked about “crisis” areas. I surprised myself when the first words out of my mouth were, “We have a crisis of beauty.” Surely I think something else is more important. But I’m not sure that I do. Our lack of beauty is both symptom and the lack of a cure. For the lack of beauty can only be healed by the presence of beauty. My region of the nation was also recently dubbed as the most “Bible-centered” city in America. This combination of civic distinctions is tragically ironic.

One of the instincts of Orthodoxy is that of beauty. Orthodox Churches are not accidentally beautiful. They vary across the world, but their beauty, even when simple, is as intentional as any aspect of the Liturgy. The doctrine of icons – their making and veneration – is a liturgical incarnation of the doctrine of beauty. Icons are not art – they are representations of beauty in the Truth of its Existence.

We are now in the season of Great Lent. It is a serious season – a time of fasting and of intense prayer. But it is not a season in which the Church is stripped bare and nakedness allowed to reign (I reflect on such tendencies in a number of Western Churches). Oddly, my Lenten vestments may be the most beautiful set that I own. They are dark (black) and intense. But on the night of Pascha, a rich hymn of beauty will be sung. We sang it (as a sort of farewell and remembrance of our goal) last Sunday during Forgiveness Vespers as we began the journey of Lent. It is a song of Pascha:

Pascha of beauty, the Pascha of the Lord, a Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us.
Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. O Pascha, ransom from affliction!
For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shown forth from the tomb and filled the women with joy saying:
Proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.

This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

A Pascha of beauty begins in the soul. It is there above all that I find the crisis of beauty. Lord, have mercy.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


152 responses to “A Crisis of Beauty”

  1. Eric Avatar

    Where else can a crisis of beauty come from, if not the human soul?
    Lord have mercy on us all
    Thank you so much for this post Father
    It highlights the plight of our condition
    I was especially caught by your remark about the tragedy of our penchant for ‘the banal, the mundane and the empty’ – we in whom Beauty resides

  2. Stephen Martin Reynolds Avatar
    Stephen Martin Reynolds

    Oh, does this ever hit the mark! I watched with great sorrow the progressive uglification of the Pennsylvania town I lived in off and on in the first two decades of my life. The same pattern has been replayed in various ways all over the country. In the 1960s I lived for a couple of years in Los Angeles and watched in horror as several attractive residential neighborhoods were devastated by widening the streets that passed through them to accommodate commuter traffic–the neighborhood’s fate was determined by people who drove through it twice a day, and to hell with the concerns of those who lived there. Farm land that future generations are going to need to supply them with food is eaten up by deadly monotonous housing tracts. Probably ninety-five percent of new buildings fall in the range between dull and butt-ugly. James Howard Kunstler’s _The Geography of Nowhere_ is now twenty years old but still applies to our sorry model of “development.”

    There was a time when farmers and shopkeepers knew about the golden section and wanted it to be applied to their houses. Now we have no generally accepted standards against which we could measure what we produce. And it must be admitted that not every Orthodox church built in this country is fittingly beautiful (it is generally true that local companies that specialize in building for Protestant congregations tend to the the worst designers in the area). Historically the religions of people have inspired their best artists. And there are still some wonderful examples of this today, but now a newcomer to our civilization would have to look diligently to find them.

    The Orthodox person is blessed by a tradition that maximizes beauty because it knows that God is not only just, not only compassionate, not only all-wise, but also all-beautiful. Any beauty we see or hear is the gift of God, and Orthodoxy does everything possible to present us with beauty that directs us to its source. Of course it is possible to get lost in aesthetic pleasure, but in the Church the beauty is inseparable from wholeness and responsibility. The Psalmist calls us to worship in the beauty of holiness; how good it is to find it!

  3. Dino Avatar

    Your words reminded me of a difference I often see between the traditional Orthodox and the more westernised notions of how to go about making things ‘beautiful’:
    In the ‘westernised’ manner we see great big impressive structures -eg Churches- with an outward majesty but an inward nakedness, many even have acquired a utilitarian angle to their previous architecture that can nowadays accommodate various functions. That would be unheard of in the traditional Orthodox east… And the main characteristic would there (in the East) be a quite low, humble exterior (usually wider than it is tall – while in the West it can be taller rather than wider) and a huge emphasis on the inside beauty – the norm is to not have a single surface inside the Church that has not got iconography on it…

  4. Tikhon Chapman Avatar
    Tikhon Chapman

    Thank you, Father. A beautiful reflection.

  5. Mark Avatar

    I didn’t know at the time, but God was prompting me in my visits to the woods. I would sit on a rock and take in the sound of wind in the leaves, smell the sweetness of the earth, see the dappled shades of sun and light dance on the floor and then become aware of something special visiting within in me.
    I pray for the day when our culture can embrace all that we do with the sensitivity of our Creator.

  6. Jeremy Avatar

    Greetings from Asheville, Fr Stephen.

    Thank you for this post. It is sad that the most “Bible-centered” city in America was also known as the ugliest city in America. We have lost something, and it seems it is visible to all but us.

  7. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    As you said, humans are created beautiful. But I think we are created to be attracted to beauty, also. As we work out our salvation and, in the process, aquire the Holy Spitit more in more in our lives, we become more beautiful. And as we become more beautiful, we become more atractive to others. This is true evangelism.

  8. Syphax Avatar

    Such a good point. I think this is related to our “throw away” culture where people generally purchase items at the lowest cost and lowest quality (often made overseas in a factory with deplorable conditions), fully expecting to just throw it away in a year or two. The alternative would be to seek out hand-crafted, durable items that an expert made – who put his whole soul and life experience into. The result is that we don’t have many professional craftsmen left in the country. If we could only reverse our belief that cheap, quick, easy, and ugly is the way to go.

  9. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I live in one of the older neighbor in Orlando. The houses here were built in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The have nice back yards and frontyard and space between the house. More and more my wife and I are seeing these perfectly good houses torn down and replaced with large, boxy minimansions that fill the lots almost completly. Ugliness replacing beauty!?!

  10. Mark the Zealot Avatar
    Mark the Zealot

    Father, Bless.

    I pray that, God willing, you will soon visit our new temple at St. Ignatius in Franklin. Although I believe the Beauty of Holiness is present at every Divine Liturgy, or any Holy Service, wherever held, our new temple building is so beautiful. Glory to God! And we do not even have icons written on the walls or dome yet.

    As a former Anglican, you are probably familiar with the Cambridge movement of the 19th Century that emphasized the importance of church architecture in worship. I could rant for hours about “modern” ugly church buildings. There is a church (non-Orthodox I hasten to add) in the Washington, DC area that was designed by an architect of the “Brutalist School.” The name speaks for the building. The congregation can’t tear it down, however; it’s historic!

    The contrast between natural beauty and man-made ugliness you posit is interesting. I recently read a Catholic work from the 1950s that emphasized man’s role in working with and improving nature – sort of as co-creators with God. Maybe we have lost that.

    And maybe I am a romantic, but I subscribe to the “truth is beauty” adage.

  11. Rick Avatar


    Perhaps you have seen this BBC documentary with Roger Scruton: Why Beauty Matters
    It is very good.


  12. Nicholas Dujmovic Avatar
    Nicholas Dujmovic

    We Orthodox love beauty, no doubt. And beauty is divine. We also love liberty. It is a divine attribute as well.

    Before we self-righteously bash America too much, it might be appropriate to thank God we live in a country the thesis of which is liberty, where we are free to make bad choices, even those that produce ugliness. And then we live with the consequences of our freedom.

    Sure, we could live in a country that mandates beauty–or its concept of it–on our behalf. I’d rather live in freedom with the occasional (or more than occasional) ugliness than in a beautiful prison.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have seen it and it was good. I’m not sure that the connection between art and God is clearly seen and understood by most. The West has long tended to see art as a separate category (Plato certainly did not – but later philosophy does). Orthodoxy does not have a philosophy of aesthetics. Rather, the understanding of iconography, and its relation to beauty is deeply embedded in Orthodox theology. Indeed, the Orthodox faith cannot be separated from the veneration of icons (certainly it cannot after the 7th Council).

    There have been recent efforts, such as that of Von Balthasar in the West, that restore beauty as a theological category. It makes Balthasar relatively Eastern in most of his work. I’m not sure that it’s possible to have a Western-based theology in which Beauty is truly integral. But that’s just a wondering on my part.

    I think that it is certainly possible to analyze religious belief through its “art” or the expressions of beauty found within them. It is among the reasons that I rail so loudly about secularized Christianity. It is not only not beautiful, it seems to have a love affair with that which is not beautiful. It seems dangerous somehow.

    As globalization sweeps the world, it is carrying a secularized culture sanitized of all beauty other than that associated with the urge to consume (sex, food, stuff). In its wake it will destroy cultures (and peoples with it).

    As an American I don’t hear much protest about globalization (since we’re one of the great driving engines of it). But in the Orthodox Third-World and in the non-global economies, there is a very loud critique of globalization in which it is viewed as the virtual anti-Christ. I have noted as well that the newly-elected Pope is a critic of globalization (of course he’s Third World, too).

  14. aTp Avatar


    How did we go from the tragedy of the crisis of beauty in the soul to self-righteously bashing America?

  15. easton Avatar

    thank you, father stephen. it seems that we’ve come to a place where we would rather walk through a department store of shoes, etc. than on a beautiful path of nature and paradise…but we do have the freedom to choose which path. beauty is so important to my daily life(i will find it no matter where i am).

  16. PJ Avatar


    “Before we self-righteously bash America too much, it might be appropriate to thank God we live in a country the thesis of which is liberty, where we are free to make bad choices, even those that produce ugliness. ”

    Mind you, there is a thin line between liberty and license, between freedom and chaos, and I believe our country crossed over long ago.

  17. Margaret Avatar

    This post reminded me of the book by Nickolai Velimirovich, The Universe as Symbols and Signs, which I’ve recently read through and as it is an easy-to-read Essay, I will read and refer to it again.

    Your writings about beauty and the Orthodox Church are daily becoming more “real” to me, Fr. Stephen, Glory to God for All Things!

  18. drewster2000 Avatar

    I will admit that it still difficult for me see all the beauty of a long liturgical service. I can appreciate one. On a good day I can really like it, but the thought of gong to such a service for another 2-3 hours of standing participation will probably never make me jump out of bed.

    I know and have known people who do love it and gush over it. Most of these people I have great love and respect for. As I gaze at them in wonder, it’s easy to wonder what must be wrong with me.

    You can judge me.

    You could say that my Protestant upbringing probably greatly slanted my view of religious beauty – and you could be right.

    You could say that lots of negative reinforcement in my past and present understanding of blinded/wounded me so that I’m unable to appreciate the beauty of the liturgy. You could be right again.

    But no matter how I came to be here, here is where I am. And I can’t help thinking that there is a place in the world for people who cannot harmonize themselves with the traditional Orthodox church service. There must be a place for those who keep chastising themselves inside, “This must be beautiful; everyone says it is. I’m just not looking hard enough. I don’t have enough faith. My sins are getting in the way. I just don’t want it badly enough!”

    I do see beauty in the Divine Liturgy, but when I hear others go on about it, I envy (in a good way) and admire them, but it also makes me realize I have nothing to compare to them. The two of us aren’t even in the same room.

    These experiences lead me to believe that people must experience beauty in different ways, like some adore the coast while others love the mountains. I can’t imagine Taco Bell and Walmart ever being made beautiful, but among those things of true beauty, it must be that some appeal to one person more than another.

    I don’t despair against those who see beauty in the Liturgy – honestly I’m happy about anyone experiencing of expressing beauty – but I also do hope that I can be numbered among them.

  19. CoffeeZombie Avatar

    drewster2000, I won’t presume to address most of your post, but I just wanted to pick up on this bit: “I can’t imagine Taco Bell and Walmart ever being made beautiful…”

    Walmart is actually the paragon of conusmerist utilitarianism! As an Orthodox Church is intentionally beautiful, a Walmart is intentionally not beautiful. The store throws aesthetics out entirely, because aesthetics supposedly mean more cost. Walmart is the icon, so to speak, of our consumerist “drive toward the bottom,” stripping away basically everything (including, I’ve heard it alleged, basic employee morale) in the name of lower prices (and, well, getting the consumer to spend more time in the store and, therefore, buy more). Walmart, as a store, *feels* cheap. In fact, it feels inhuman. I once walked into a Walmart, and felt like I had stepped into the zombie apocalypse (the florescent lighting, frankly, makes people look dead), only, instead of brains, we zombies were craving low prices!

    I don’t mean to just pick on Walmart, since it gets enough criticism as-is. Then again, perhaps it receives that criticism because it stands so starkly as the end result of what a consumerist utilitariansm looks like. Perhaps, we criticize Walmart because there is something inherent in our nature that sees this and is appalled, though we combine that with a failure to see how Walmart is not the problem, it is just a symptom, that we are a part of the kind of a culture that would produce something like Walmart in the first place.

  20. Gregory (a.k.a. Ed Smith) Avatar

    This brings to mind some remarks of Dostoyevsky on beauty. There is a real hunger in all of us for beauty and this is a longing for God Himself.

    I was not aware you live near Knoxville. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Smoky Mountains, often on multi-night backpacking trips. I wish I lived closer–it’s about a 5 hour drive which can be tough after two or three nights sleeping in the woods and hiking 30-40 miles around the mountains.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would gladly bash other places, but I live in America. My ancestors have been making the place ugly for generations. From a little of my European experience I’ve noticed that the ugliness of globalism is creeping in there as well (not surprisingly). I am grateful for American liberty, but we do well to remember St. Paul’s admonition, “Only use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

    It is also the case that beauty, like truth, cannot be forced. The crisis is within us. How is it that in a land of freedom and wealth, we would prefer something less than beautiful when we could have beauty? There’s something wrong within us – not within the premise of liberty. I think I identified the crisis of beauty as a crisis within the soul and not as a political crisis.

    Perhaps your life experience has made you sensitive to America-bashing. In some circumstances I am as well. But I was appointed by God to preach in America.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Perhaps what is “too Protestant” in your experience of long services is a perceived need to stay put (like an audience). Monastics can do this (sometimes). As for me, I’m glad I’m a priest. If I didn’t get to move around a lot in a service, my ADD would drive me crazy and I’d be miserable! (True confessions of a priest). Orthodox across the world are often seen to come and go and come again during the service. They are an offering and sacrifice of praise to God – but they can be interminable and very hard work for those of us who are not yet like the angels (who unceasingly cry, “Holy…”). Be easier on yourself. You sound fairly normal to me.

  23. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Part of the lie of secularism is the belief that we can fix the crisis ourselves through politics and social programming.

  24. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    The dream of my generation ( I’m an old retired hippie)was that we could save the world. I became a part of the peace movement in the late 60’s. We have no peace. I became part of the environmental movement in the early 70’s. The environment is still deteriorating.
    I was part of the counterculture back then. Now that that counterculture has become the culture, as a Orthiodox Christian, I am counterculture again.

  25. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I sing in the choir. So that keeps me busy, but I will often step forward or step back or from side to side. I have some edema in my feet and ankles. So I have to pump it out by contracting my muscles. No one has ever scolded me or looked askance at me for that behavior. As Father said, be gentle with yourself. Most people would assume by looking at me that I am totally present and with the service, but my mind wanders much of the time and I have to bring it back.

  26. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your response, and your vote on my sanity. (grin) I think there is truth to what you say. I serve as a deacon in our church, but I am also a teacher in their midst and continually seeking to make the connection between the gospel and their lives. Therefore I try to keep a foot on both sides of the chasm so that I can bridge the gap. So I speak for myself, but also for others that don’t have the advantage of moving around.

    But it is not only this. To some the phrase “Pascha!” evokes strong and joyful images. To others it evokes nothing. I don’t think the goal is to make that word be a happy place for everyone, but that the reality behind it (if you will forgive me for misusing the word symbol) would come alive for all.

    As with CoffeeZombie’s Walmart shoppers, many of us being like walking dead men, having had the meaning of everything being stripped away and now relying solely on the fumes of the passions to make us rise each day.

    I want to live, not stumble around in a numbing daze, looking for my next fix. But how to access beauty, truth, wonder, joy? Again I envy those who can soak up goodness and life from a long liturgical service, but for those of us who can’t, how to translate? How to access the source of that unspeakable joy?

    That is the challenge I face for myself and those I serve. I’ve found many, many wonderful treasures in Orthodoxy, and yet the services are as much a hindrance as they are a help. In the past few years I’ve come to understand the answer is not “Americaning” them – that in fact they already have been compared to their European counterparts – and yet the dilemma still remains.

    I see beauty in many things, but Orthodox services still withhold their riches from me and others, and I’ve come to think that for some perhaps they always will.

  27. Eleftheria Avatar

    -About that perceived need to stay put…
    Back at our parish in NY, folks came in, sat, stood, occasionally walked an unruly child out to the narthex, etc, but by and large, movement in the church during liturgy was frowned upon. In fact, there were even parish council members assigned to “police” us.
    Here, in Cyprus…the movement is constant! It’s not unusual to see folks venerate the icons during services; people come and go and come in again (as Fr.Stephen points out). I once asked a priest here about the movement. His answer: The people should feel free – they’re in their Father’s house.

    Is this a cultural thing Father?

  28. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Just keep coming. I have been Orthodox for 20 Years and this last Sunday the Eucharist became real to me as it never has before.

  29. Barbara Avatar


    You might find this posting helpful. Our priest posted it today. It is in answer to your question about where to look.


  30. drewster2000 Avatar

    P.S. I just finished watching the documentary “Why Beauty Matters” suggested above: Excellent.

  31. TLO Avatar

    The cold hard truth is that there are just too many human beings. Period. What could possibly follow but environmental ugliness?

    Can’t wait for the robots to take over.

  32. Anna Avatar

    “unless we understand that there is a poverty within the human spirit that begets ugliness”

    Father, bless!

    You are so right about this! Also about the globalized ugliness creeping up in the “Old World” as well.

    For the traditional man, the world is beautiful because it is a divine creation; taking materials from the world in order to build and make things can only produce more beauty.

    For the secular western man, the world is but a collection of material resources to be used and abused for profit. Creating beauty is bad business, unless we’re talking about luxury items that cost singificantly more than the Walmart variety.

    It’s frightening.

  33. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I remember reading many years ago that anthropologists estimated that for mos of human history the human population for the entire world stayed arounr 350 million. We now have 20 times that many people. I see no way we humans can save ourselves. It will take outside intervention.

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    Too many human beings? Sorry, that argument doesn’t wash.

  35. Lasseter Avatar

    Too many human beings? Sorry, that argument doesn’t wash.

    And that, my friends, is why we call them the unwashed masses.

    Ho ho ho. Malthusian comedy.

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is a deep darkness in the heart of the Malthusians – and the darkness is the source of ugliness. A human being is an infinite value. They’re doctrine of scarcity becomes an excuse (ultimately) for justified murders. And strangely, it’s almost always too many dark people, poor people, stupid people, etc. I don’t trust any of them.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The ultimate ugliness of utilitarianism is the degradation of the human person. It replaces craft with the machine and the human being becomes part of the machine.

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    Batteries for the Matrix…

  39. Lasseter Avatar

    I was just making a little joke, Father. A little play on your choice of words. I didn’t expect a serious response, since I was being jocular myself.

    Or trying to anyway. 😉

    *tap* Is this thing on?

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Lassiter, sorry. I was responding to TLO’s comment. I through the reference to Malthus as a general thing.

  41. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Lsseter – I thought your joke was funny 🙂

  42. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I agree with the many comments – that this post touches on something very important that is happening to the American “soul”.

    I had a nice office and I worked to keep it beautiful and calming for my patients by hanging nature photos I had taken. Many people liked the photos and this led to discussions of taking time to be in the moment and see the beauty around us.

    They “remodeled” my office with a huge desk and weird colors and declared that we were not allowed to hang anything on the walls. I almost quit immediately but I tried to adjust. However, I decided to leave my job of 20 years about 6 months after the remodeling – not because of the physical ugliness but because of the spiritual ugliness I had been increasingly experiencing in the organization.

    I am glad I left, even though I am earning much less money. (Or maybe because I earn less money.) Money – or rather our over-attachment to it – is a major source of the ugliness.

  43. Rhonda Avatar


    Relax & breathe, boy, relax & breathe! I agree with Fr. Stephen…you seem normal. There is a place for you in Orthodoxy 🙂 Don’t worry about what others are saying/feeling. That is merely judging yourself by an false ideal & that is not what we are supposed to do. Receive God’s loving grace as you are able & don’t worry about the rest. Fr. Stephen himself has said that the major part of being Orthodox is just showing up (or something like that). Relax & I’ll be you’ll start enjoying things a lot more.

  44. Rhonda Avatar


    that was supposed to be “Relax & I’ll bet you’ll start enjoying things a lot more.”

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


    “This mission is far too important to be entrusted to humans.”.

    We are less efficient than machines. Beauty is not efficient and somehow I doubt that machines can fulfill our priestly function since they are not in the image and likeness of God.

    Machines can make things, but they cannot craft things. Craft gives life.

  46. Karen Avatar

    I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
    Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.

    Ogden Nash

    Smokey Mountains–one of my favorite places!

  47. Rhonda Avatar

    My husband & I used to take 2-week vacations horseback riding in the Smokies! Until me & my horse fell off one of the mountains. Other than that, the vacations were amazing & wonderful 😉

    We always took time to visit the museums & sites as well. I remember us seeing pictures of the Smokies from the 1940s & 50s in which they had been strip-mined & deforested totally by the New Deal work camps for the war & industry. Talk about ugly! Now they have been restored & are once again beautiful.

    Our country is growing in ugliness. Greed for profits does this because more money is considered beautiful. Before the housing market bottomed out, houses were springing up everywhere by speculative housing contractors. They too were ugly as well as shoddy because they were built to turn a quick buck. Despite greatly reduced prices, they remain unsold. Many are now >5 years old & have never been lived in.

    A different view of Wal-Mart: This company was a god-send to my single mother as I was growing up. We were dirt-poor as there was $0 child support from my father. Despite her education, experience & hard work we were “left behind” by the economy & society around us. The liberals channelled loads of welfare into the inner cities while the conservatives told us that we deserved to be poor & to get a job. In the meantime there were no jobs get outside of the government unless you were 16…I was & became the money earner for the family holding down 2 part-time jobs while attending high school.

    I remember her spending $100 (which was a lot of hours for a 16-yr. old cashier earning minimum wage $2.85/hr before taxes) & getting me enough clothes to last the week as well as all of my school supplies. Before Wal-Mart $100 would get me 2 shirts & maybe 2 sets of pants; forget about supplies. Back then the quality was good at Wal-Mart, but not now. I have noticed that there is no quality anywhere now that is affordable. I am no longer dirt poor, but I am still a Wal-Mart shopper. I just don’t believe in paying more money for the cheap junk sold other places. Also, I cannot see driving 2-3 hours one-way to avoid Wal-Mart & still end up buying the same cheap junk.

    Remember Wal-Mart came into existence & continues to exist because our American society has yet to address some very ugly issues caused by the ugliness of greed which preys on the poor–politically, socially & economically. We just don’t call it greed anymore as that is just too harsh, & well, ugly; we much prefer the more politically correct term “capitalism”.

    Well said that ugliness is that of the heart.

  48. […] Daily dose of Fr. Stephen, who is on an edification roll: […]

  49. dino Avatar

    Malthusisnism might make some “sense” to some but it makes me think thus:
    The fact that a miniscule percentage of the world’s population lives on the vast majority of the world’s resources, while on the other hand, the vast majority of the world’s population has to make do with a truly tiny portion of the world’s resources -this is an uncontestable fact BTW- would make anyone (no matter what their beliefs), highly suspicious of Malthusianism. No?
    I mean that if we lived like the 1% wealthiest in the world we could only have a few million around -if that- while if we lived like the poor 20% (not the dying 5%-10%) of the world (which is not as poor as some ascetics but is very close) the world could easily sustain 4 times what it is now.

  50. EPG Avatar

    I don’t accept Rhonda’s proposition that market capitalism is the problem. There was greed before the development of market capitalism. There was greed under the Roman Empire, there was greed under feudal systems, there was greed under mercantilist systems. There’s an old joke, “The problem with capitalism is the capitalists. The problem with socialism is socialism.”

    As Fr. Stephen noted earlier, a blindness to beauty, a willingness to accept ugliness, is a deeper problem than that. It arises from a hollowness in the human soul, not as a side effect from any one political or economic system. If you doubt that, think of Soviet era city planning in Russia, Romania, or many other countries.

    What I find interesting is the apparent acceleration of the spread of ugliness in the last century and a half or so. It’s not just the strip mall (or the strip mining). It’s our literature (a few decades ago, Ellis’s “Less than Zero,” and the way in which it was lionized, woke me to the ugliness of our literary culture). It’s our music — both in the academy’s a-tonal drivel, and in what infects the popular culture. It’s our architecture — not just the thoughtless product of the sprawl, but the more serious work, the stuff that wins architects awards (the mere fact that there is a “Brutalist” school of architecture should tell us much).

    Now, a lot of this ugliness came from (and continues to come from) the Left. The academy is almost exclusively made up of members of the left. The members of the Bauhaus school and their students were mostly on the Left (architects probably are very tempted by central planning — it leads to commissions). The film industry, the music business, and publishing lean left.

    Can market capitalism contribute to the ugliness of our world? You bet. Capitalism will be vile if practiced by vile capitalists. As Fr. Stephen pointed out, the problem comes from the abuse of freedom. It does not come from the freedom itself.

  51. PJ Avatar

    If you all want to see the ugliness of our culture, I suggest you look up the trailer for the film “Spring Breakers,” which is a vicious, mindless cacophony of drugs, sex, violence, all with a veneer of youthful beauty. It is getting rave reviews. When I saw it, I thought: “So this is how it ends…” Caution, especially for the men: It contains a significant amount of scantily clad female flesh. The sad thing is, I found it while searching, “Pope Francis kisses crippled man.” I also suggest that everyone watches that wonderful moment: The care is truly evident. The two are night and day — heaven and hell.

    I went to the Akathyst of the Virgin Mary last night. How wonderful, especially the last part, wherein the priest relates the narrative. Of course, as I said earlier, I find beauty in the “elegant terseness” of the Roman Rite, as well as in the “ebullience” of the oriental rites (Fortescue again).

  52. PJ Avatar

    Actually, re: “Spring Breakers,” I thought: SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI.

  53. Susi Avatar

    drewster, for myself, finding the beauty of the liturgy came with the understanding of the reasons behind each movement. For example, the preparation of the Prosphera particularly captivated me. (What a contrast it is to the passing of the little silver platter containing disks opened from a bag!) I considered each of these things while acclimating to Orthodox worship. Now I can set my mind aside and allow the beauty to “speak” for itself, lifting me up into another world. The worship I once knew as normal has now become absolutely foreign and empty. I pray that you, too, will discover the beauty of Orthodox worship as you continue to experience it. FWIW, I agree that you are completely within the realm of normalcy.

  54. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    I found the following in a youtube video called ‘ the six kinds of temptation’. I found it very useful. Numbers 1 and 6 were new to me but quit helpful in my spiritual journey.
    Elder Arsenie Papacioc

    Wanting to know more than God has revealed to you
    Pretending to know more than what God has revealed to you
    Thinking you can or do understand the infinity of God with your finite mind

    Not doing as much as you are commanded to do
    Not using your talents for the glorification of God and the well-being of your neighbor
    Having wings and not flapping them

    Past memories you revive in your mind
    Reliving old sins and temptations
    Using your imagination to rectifying old situations either by sinning when you did not sin or by not sinning when you did sin

    What is in front of you
    What your senses perceive
    Conforming to the world

    Departing from the church order and doctrine
    Compromising the Orthodox position

    Leading what you think is a good spiritual life but it is not
    Being so spiritually minded as to be no earthly good
    Shunning or neglecting earthly duties for “spiritual” reasons
    Pride in your “spiritual” accomplishments or level
    Spiritual one-upmanship
    Spiritual severity beyond what is necessary

  55. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    It’s not a hollowness of soul but no soul at all. The religion of the academy/the left is scientism which denies the existence of anything but the material. That makes us humans nothing but highly complex reactions of chemicals and any concept of soul, or any concept in our brains, for that matter, nothing more than chemical change in the brain.

  56. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    IN the arts, everything is dummied down. I especially notice this in music. Whether it is country, white pop, black pop, or contemporry Christian all have become more and more very simple similar melodies and lyrics with the same beat. They are even becoming more and more similar to the point it is often difficult to tell which genre I am listening to.

  57. Joseph Avatar

    I hope this is not too off topic,, but I was reading a couple of your responses on America and our society. My question is related but in a different way. What has it meant for you father and everyone else to lower your expectations in life?
    I ask because I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I noticed that a lot of what we do is based on society, even the kind of women we should date; that is the biggest struggle I’m dealing with, finding the perfect girl, nice looking, smart, no kids, etc.
    I just wonder if I’m shooting to high. Again I may not post constantly on this blog, I’m a graduate student; but it is great to read time and again.

  58. Rhonda Avatar

    My undergrad degree is in Business. Of my 32 years in the labor force 14 have been in the business world if one does not count the business I once owned as well as the business my husband & I still own. The remaining years have been in the military & criminal justice system. Capitalism produced in America one of the richest countries with one of the smallest populations in the world in all of history. Capitalism has greatly improved our standard of living, but in doing so it has also greatly crippled our quality of life.

    It did so because greed became idealized & exalted as an ideal throughout society. This idealization & exaltation ironically came through multiple influences, just one of which was the religious work ethic. When I was young the American dream was to be able to provide a comfortable living for yourself & family by getting educated, working hard & being honorable in your dealings; the means justified the end. Now the American dream is to be wealthy, & very wealthy at that, at any cost & by any means; by contrast the end now justifies the means. It does not matter who you trample on or harm as long as you amass more & more as did the rich man of Luke 12. His sin was not that he was wealthy, but rather that he was greedy.
    Ugliness does not come from the left, nor the right, nor even the middle. It comes from the human heart that continues to refuse the love of God. It does not come from governmental political form or financial economic system or governmental form or even from cultural literature/art. These are merely symptoms of the real problem which is the heart. A problem which began in the Garden of Genesis 3 when Adam—mankind—greedily took & ate that to which he had no right.

    The insidious part of capitalism, which is nothing more than the newest political-economic-social-cultural form of greed, is that its “ethic” is not merely greed on the part of the “vile capitalist”, but also greed on the part of all classes by thinking that they must too become wealthy. Everybody now thinks that they have the right to be or become wealthy. Now even the poor judge & ignore the poor symbolized by Lazarus of Luke 16.

    The reality is that there are enough resources to go around for all to live comfortably & meet basic necessities. Unreality is that there are enough resources for all to become wealthy. Socialism is too just another form in which greed & ugliness prevails. Capitalism & Socialism in the end are not all that different from each other. It also fails because while it says that all are to be treated equally, some are treated more equally than others. Resources are still funneled to those in power at the expense of the powerless who are taught to work for the greater good which is controlled & determined by the government rather than God. To get capitalism one only needs to substitute “man” for “government”.

    With both systems God is still omitted out from the big picture; which results in ugliness & hence, Fr. Stephen’s crisis of beauty.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The problem is the worship of the created thing rather than the creator. Rhonda what you describe as capitalism is the twisted ideology that deifies wealth and personal power as it denies the sacred and the human. It need not be that way. What you describe as capitalism is more properly fascism, economically speaking.

    Socialism and communism deify the material and the state and are fundamentally Godless

    You are correct in your assertion that the problem lies in our heart which we all too easily give over to the material, the utilitarian and the inhuman.

  60. Nicholas Skiles Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your post resonates deeply. I have recently begun blogging on this topic specifically. I always enjoy what I read on Glory to God for All Things.

    God’s Peace


  61. Joseph Avatar

    Socialism is not deifying the state. If anything big business is worse then socialism. Google Nordic countries,, their way of life is quite nice!Yes I dare say it even a majority of the people are equal 🙂 Communism in reality was a reaction to capitalism,, even the New Deal was not about helping the average man, but saving business. FDR could have nationalized the banks but he did not. Michael question for you…
    Capitalism in principal is about making profits,, it’s very closely related to the Calvinist mindset. If your poor you deserve to be poor because you did not live your life the right way, granted these people were the very ones who enslaved Africans and the Native Americans; even I might add my own eastern European background folk ,,, ask them if capitalism has helped??

  62. Greg Avatar

    What Rhonda describes as capitalism is just that – the basic system in which we live here in the US. It has nothing to do with fascism, but the prevailing market veneration and individualism. Suggesting she is talking about fascism is not only wrong but obscures the reality in which we live by trying to associate the dominant chararaterics of our time with a scary and foreign ideology.

  63. TLO Avatar

    Too many human beings? Sorry, that argument doesn’t wash.

    “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”

    ― Jonas Salk

    Or, as Agent Smith put it:

    I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

    But here’s the crux of the matter for me, if every human being were to die and there is an eternal reality, then how would the humans be any worse off?

    To me, it seems like a win-win situation. The Earth wouldn’t be raped and mutilated and humans wouldn’t have to contend with a “sin nature” or whatever.

    My mom passed away a few days ago so you can bet I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject recently. No matter how I look at it, I cannot comprehend a religious view that does not eagerly seek death since what lays beyond it is a hell of a lot better than here.

    To my mind, the only people who should be trying to prolong their days are people who think there is nothing but this life.

    Yet the reality is that no religious person wants to rush headlong toward death. They fear it as much as anyone without an eternal worldview. I find it very perplexing.

    Add to this that people have made this world an ugly place in their arrogant pursuit to conquer nature and what do we find? Entire regions covered in concrete and tar, rampant deforestation, the extinction of many species caused by mankind, and crimes against one another because we are packed like too many rats in a cage.

    How can you not say that there are too many of us? If there were fewer of us and we had the sense to keep the population at a level that maintains “a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment” then there would be no “crisis of beauty” to lament.

  64. Lasseter Avatar

    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony. Viruses could not compose the Aeneid. Animals often exhibit some basic level of pity for each other, at times a marvelous thing to behold, but they lack the higher forms of empathy exclusive to man in this world. We stand apart from the rest of the living world in some affirmative ways that your remarks do not touch upon.

    And man is also often cruel and foolish. Seems to my memory, though, TLO, that you were the one who gave that marvelous comment on another post about how Protestantism inevitably leads to some form of mental illness. Yet you sound as though you are preaching a doctrine of total depravity.

    I say that of course somewhat in jest, and mostly just to note that I remember that prior remark.

    Above all, I’m very sorry about your mom. My condolences for your loss.

  65. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton


    I don’t think it would make sense for a religious person to want “to rush headlong toward death”. (Makes me think of Jonestown and Kool Aid, though that wasn’t in the name of religious faith.)

    However, I believe that a person of faith, trusting in the unconditional love of God, may accept both death and life, as St. Paul expressed. I would love to transcend this life and live in the fullness of God’s love. However, I also love living in this life, discovering God in and around me, attempting to serve His people.

    I don’t know if I will be afraid when my time to die approaches – I might, though I don’t think of it fearfully now. Like many people, I fear suffering more – as that is the most challenging time to remain faithful…

    Many blessings to you and your family in your time of loss. My prayers are with you.

  66. Joseph Avatar

    If some of my questions are very blunt,, I apologize. I tend to like questioning viewpoints since I learn from them.

  67. […] to hit a bases-loaded home run each time he steps out of the batting box.   With his latest post,  A Crisis Of Beauty, he does precisely […]

  68. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar

    I commented on this magnificent post on my own blog. Father has said more here than I can even begin to comment on, though. Best, and saddest, post in a long, long time

  69. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Greg, economic fascism is not foreign to the US, but if it makes you feel better call it state or crony capitalism. What we have in the US is a twisted form.

    The point is that any economic system that looses a sense of the sacred will produce ugliness and become inhuman because wealth and power become more important than community and craft

  70. EPG Avatar

    Exactly. My objection to the portions of the thread blaming capitalism for the problem Fr. Stephen outlines is that they seem to be under-inclusive — they do not account for the profound ugliness generated by, or under the influence of, other economic or political systems. The advantage of market capitalism is that it can leave space for the practice of virtue. That does not mean that it will, or that individuals living in a market capital economy will practice virtue. The U.S. economy is a distorted form of capitalism, just as our political system has been distorted from its original form of a federal republic. But, in the end, those distortions reflect our lack of virtue, and our collective and individual loss of the sense of the sacred.

  71. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    EPG: that’s right. Blaming capitalism is still economic determinism

    TLO’s solution of getting rid of the human virus is the materialistic answer and from that point of view, it makes sense.

    Both are products of the two-storey mindset.

    The solution is for us to take up our priestly vocation, live sacramentally, and allow the grace of God to transform and balance. We won’ t know the fullness of that until He returns, but we can know some of it.

    Its just easier not to.

  72. PJ Avatar


    This world is our home. We are ensouled bodies and we are meant to dwell on earth among the plants and animals, cultivating the ground and husbanding the beasts. It would be sick and ungrateful to spurn this wonderful gift. True Christianity loves and cares for the creation. Witness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gPBkkDViWNI

    “It is a pleasure to be Your guest.”

    And God is with us here. He will manifest Himself fully at the resurrection, when all creation shall be transformed and renewed and glorified and brought into total communion with the Godhead.

  73. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


    I empathize with you. I’ve lost my mother, my father and my wife. It is excruciating, numbing. It is also the times when I’ve felt nearest God.
    My wife died during Lent. Pascha that year was the most extraordinary experience of joy transcending grief. It did not remove the grief, but it left me knowing life more intensely.

    I pray that God will bless you as you mourn and bind up your wounds.

  74. fatherstephen Avatar

    Despite statistics, facts and figures, the arguments over economics are at least as interminable as arguments about religious faith. Regardless of how an economy is structured (and I suspect that our freedom should allow for a variety), the crisis of beauty will remain so long as the crisis of the beauty within the soul is addressed. While it is true that outward beauty is a necessary component for nurturing the inward beauty of the soul, it remains true that the hunger for such beauty is mercifully born in each of us, thus ugliness is never completely triumphant. But I am certain that no economic system is utterly to blame or able to cure the problem. But the battle remains in the heart.

  75. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost both of my parents over the past 4 years. It is a sorrow – I miss them both. May your mothers memory be eternal!

    I have witnessed the individual deaths of over 400 people and been part of their lives as they approached that moment, having served 3 years at one point as a hospice chaplain. My observations on religious people and death is different than yours – perhaps because my experience is likely broader. Actually, most people of faith that I’ve been privilege to serve near their death did indeed welcome it, and with few exceptions, met it without fear. Even those that feared it, with good pastoral ministry, were able to meet it better than they would have otherwise. Thus your observation that “no religious person wants to rush headlong…” is simply inaccurate. Many also recognize that their passing will be a grief to those who remain and don’t rush headlong in a manner that would be selfish. Strangely, they seem to care about those whom they leave behind. Again, your observation is inaccurate.

    Are there too many of us? For what? Too many to sustain. Not yet. There are problems of distribution, but we do not have the repeated predictions of the Malthusians and the Club of Rome coming to pass of a “massive die-back.” In the 20th century, the death-dealing famines were fatal invariably because of political unwillingness either to help, or, in most cases, to quit causing the famines themselves. Famine is an ugly, very ugly form of war. But, as illustrated by the story of Cain and Abel, war isn’t brought on by over-population. Wars are generally the work of evil leaders (maybe not always). Most people would like to be left alone to go about their daily lives.

    Over-population is not a cause of ugliness – it is not caused by lack of supply. Beauty is not the product of abundance – but is the product of a willing soul. We are not devoid of beauty – it is pretty much ineradicable. But it can be suppressed, particularly if it is being suppressed in the soul. It is, I think, a crisis within cultures.

    Of all the cultures of beauty the world has seen, among the most beautiful can be found in Japan – which by no means is an island on which the population yields an easy abundance. America, on the other hand, has had a crisis of beauty at many times in its short life, despite amazing resources and a modest population by comparison.

    Someone said of the Smokey Mountains that they were denuded during the FDR administration for industrial purposes. That is actually historically backwards. Appalachia, particularly here in East Tennessee, was denuded before the FDR administration, by ignorance and misuse. I’m not a fan of socialism in general, but FDR’s programs did massive replanting of trees and taught conservation skills to farmers, built hydroelectric dams that controlled flooding which were annually devastating to the area. It would be almost impossible in East Tennessee, despite the fact that this is an historically Republican area (even during and after the Civil War), to find anyone who would criticize what Roosevelt did for East Tennessee. The before and after pictures do not depict a Depression-Era problem. It was a Depression-Era solution. I had to correct the record in gratitude.

  76. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    This may be a bit of a sidestep but it may still be relevent:
    In the Philokalia, one of the fathers says that in the process of purification, at the beginning when one is faced with the emensity of ones sins and unworthiness, the desire is often for God to end the stuggle and take them out of this hell. In other words, die. As one progresses and God’s grace overcomes the darkness and sin, then the desire is to stay alive as long as possible to do God’s will and to be His witness to others.

  77. TLO Avatar


    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony.

    I’m certain the tigers (who are all but extinct) would weep over this loss.

    you sound as though you are preaching a doctrine of total depravity.

    Not really. But I do advocate that humans should find a way to reach that natural equilibrium either through birth control or some other means. Instead, we try to prolong life as much as possible and increase the population for our own selfish reasons. It’s a pipe, dream, I know, but at some point we’ll reach a critical mass and billions will die as a result. It’s a mathematical certainty.


    True Christianity loves and cares for the creation.

    I think someone forgot to mention this to the invading Europeans.

    Michael: Thank you. It is a very strange thing, this loss. At times, it’s unbearable. At other times though it causes me to think back on all our days together and reflect how truly blessed I was to have such a person caring for me. If I had simply known her as a person, I would have felt honored. But being her only son is something special. I vacillate between sorrow and gratitude.

    Life is painful. But there are people who come into our lives whose presence alleviates some of that pain. Mom was that person to a lot of people. I think that there are many in this little online community who are like that as well. That’s why I keep coming back and making outrageous statements just to test you to see if you’re really all as cool as I think you are… 🙂

    Fr. Stephen

    Of all the cultures of beauty the world has seen, among the most beautiful can be found in Japan – which by no means is an island on which the population yields an easy abundance. America, on the other hand, has had a crisis of beauty at many times in its short life, despite amazing resources and a modest population by comparison.

    True. I often wonder if the blight is actually white people in general. The natives of the Americas lived in harmony with nature as have many other cultures. Not that they were devoid of the “sin nature” but it seems that Europeans and those of European descent have rushed to proclaim dominance over other people and even nature itself.

    To my mind, the true ugliness is found in the American psyche as exhibited in many modern television programs, particularly “reality” shows.

    Thanks to all for the condolences. My mother’s sister just called me and said, “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that your mom died. What a bummer.” She delivered this message with the passion of a total stranger. My mom was as close to being a saint as any person I have known. This message from her sister would be like watching Peter being crucified upside down and saying “Dude, that sucks. What’s for dinner?” How anyone could be so soul-less baffles me. But it seems to me to be yet another symptom of the ugliness around us. (When the robots take over, I hope people like her are the first to go…)

  78. TLO Avatar

    Fr. S – My last post didn’t make it to the site again…..

  79. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for correcting my “facts” on the denuding & conservation measures taken in the Smokies. They are beautiful once again & that is what counts 🙂

  80. Dino Avatar

    your saying concerning ‘population adjustment’: ” I know, but at some point we’ll reach a critical mass and billions will die as a result. It’s a mathematical certainty.” reminded me of a Patristic equivalent (well- kind of).
    It states that, although this is not desirable, a quarter of the Earth’s human population is every so often lost to a calamity.
    The first time this happened was in the story of Abel’s murder ( a “quarter” of the population) , and the last time this will happen is described in Revelations (a quarter of the population again). I had forgotten this before and it just re-emerged – don’t ask me where it is from (although Saint Andrew of Crete of the Great Canon comes to mind).

  81. Dino Avatar

    If man lived according to his original calling, even if half of the population lived up to half of their original calling perhaps (therefore, in my spcualtions with about half of those – ie a quarter of the entire population- monastics) no such “adjustments” would ever need considered by any of the 100% of the population…

  82. PJ Avatar

    “I think someone forgot to mention this to the invading Europeans”

    To be fair, I think they were largely ignorant as to the possible negative impacts of unbridled human progress. And the true devastation didn’t set in until much later. Really, the worst destruction — with a few notable exceptions: carrier pigeons, buffalo, etc. — was unleashed not by “invading Europeans,” but by American urbanism and industrialism in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. Indeed, humanity has only recently become aware that it has the potential to destroy creation. Until quite recently, man was much more likely to be destroyed by nature than nature by man. Those “invading Europeans” weren’t too many generations removed from a plague that erased 1/3 to 1/2 of population of Christendom, nor from the Little Ice Age, which regularly blanketed the whole continent in ice and snow for the greater part of the year.

  83. fatherstephen Avatar

    Whenever anyone reading feels that we’ve sufficiently and accurately affixed historical blame for the crisis of beauty, then take a few breaths and do something beautiful. Please.

  84. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Like kiss my wife? or praise God? or both?

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I praise God every time I kiss my wife

    When she smiles–that is beauty!

  86. TLO Avatar

    humanity has only recently become aware that it has the potential to destroy creation

    I don’t know that I would go that far. We can’t destroy the sun or Jupiter. Technically, we can’t destroy the Earth either. We are limited to destroying the life forms on our own little cosmic petrie dish and no more. But the Earth will still be around, even if it becomes as barren as Mars.

    Perhaps at that point god will pull us aside, metaphorically place an arm across our shoulders, look down at Earth and say, “OK. So, what did we learn here?”

    take a few breaths and do something beautiful

    I abstained from telling my Aunt what I was thinking when she called. Is abstinence a form of beauty?

  87. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    TLO – at least you didn’t add to the ugliness! That’s beautiful.

  88. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    To do something beautiful:
    (1)turn off (or throw out) TV’s.
    (2)take a walk with your camera, write a poem, paint a picture, meditate and/or play a musical instrument (the process will be beautiful, regardless of one’s talent).
    (3)and, yes, kiss someone you love.
    (4)for all of the above and more, praise God.

  89. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


  90. fatherstephen Avatar

    For the last six weeks I have been building a small seat for use in the altar. It’s slow because I’m learning woodworking and because I’m taking time for it to be beautiful. Today it will be very close to finished, God willing. Then I’ll start making something else beautiful. One thing at a time.

  91. Karen Avatar

    Father, would you post a picture of your handiwork when it is done?

    TLO, so sorry for your loss. May your mother’s memory be eternal! Since my folks and my in-laws are in their 80s and slowing down, I’ve been thinking about this inevitability a lot lately. Your mom sounds like a wonderful person. Nice to think I may meet her some day (or I guess I should say some Day). 🙂

  92. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen;

    My husband also is a wood worker & even has a bachelors degree in woodworking. Several times over the past 20 years I have asked him to make me something that I needed for the house. I am always amazed in that he tries to do the same as you–incorporate beauty. As I see him “get into” the project, I often tell him that is unnecessary as I am just needing an item that is useful, but he won’t settle for that. Ironically, when he builds something for himself he does not do this & builds with only utility in mind. As a result our home is filled with beautiful & well as useful woodworking while his shop & barns are filled with sheer utility. Ah, the love of a spouse! 🙂 I agree with Karen, please show us your handiwork which I am sure that you will incorporate with some words of wisdom 😉

  93. Stephanie Avatar

    Father, bless. Thank you for your blog, it is helping me to learn about Orthodoxy. This post has been inherintly interesting to me as we just recently adopted two little special needs girls in Ukraine.

    My concern is for the empty echoes of beauty when love is devoid. My particular concern is for the lives of special needs children in Orthodox, Eastern bloc countries. Speaking on behalf of these children, the mental institutions are horrid places for countless children to listlessly waste away until death, locked and hidden away from view. There is a documentary done by the BBC called “Ukraine’s Forgotten Children” that can be seen on this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs42-5HnQRQ We adopted a little girl who is blind from an institution and our anonymous story about our encounter with the institution can be read about here, along with the experience from another adoptive family: http://askingwithfaith.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-reality-part-two.html

    What was so hard for me on our adoption trip is learning about the massive amount of money to restore the beautiful, glistening domed historic churches, and knowing that our daughters were living on an allotment of $100 a year, give or take a little, for their food and bare needs. I stood for a long time in one of the most beautiful churches I have been in, in Kharkiv. It was glorious, and I worshiped God, feeling His majesty and beauty as I worshiped in such a beautiful place, but the walls also echoed back at me in emptiness. The empty echoes I felt were resounding at me because of the children hidden away, “disposed of” by society, and completely forgotten in a rundown concrete building out in the country beyond the sunflowers. Our daughter was the first to ever be adopted from her institution. I will never forget the harrowing images of suffering children that remain as snapshots in my memory forever. In the midst of this “crisis of beauty”, I am forever grateful for the freedom I have in this country to care. Freedom to love in action and in truth. I never knew how beautiful this was before. I believe the beauty of this world is but a shadow of the things to come. Our heavenly homes will be built with the precious beauty that is left from the purification of the refiner’s fire. When love is absent, when orphans are forgotten, when ingratitude permeates the heart, the materials that create a beautiful shadow of the heavenly can resound with empty echoes. But when love is present, it fulfills the beauty.

  94. CoffeeZombie Avatar

    TLO: If you think that “white people” are alone in proclaiming dominance over other peoples and so on, then you are ignorant of anything other than Western History (the neglect of teaching true World History, itself, being a “European” act of proclaiming dominance over other peoples). Let us take the Japanese as simply one example! Certainly, on the one hand, they have created much beauty. I, personally, find many things about traditional Japanese culture quite beautiful, and admire that they have managed to hold on to many of these things despite the modern influences they have been subjected to over the past century.

    However, the Japanese have been, historically, a very warlike, brutal, and supremacist people. The Chinese still, today, remember the atrocities committed by the Japanese imperialist invaders at the dawn of World War II. In addition, their culture holds much ugliness, as well. The practice of seppuku (or harakiri), for instance, where, to preserve his honor in the face of defeat rather than be captured by his enemy (or, to restore it, when he has committed a transgression), a Samurai ritually disembowels himself (and this is not merely a “falling on one’s on sword”, but an entire ritual was developed around the act). To the Japanese, this may have even been seen as quite beautiful, but those “brutal” Europeans/Americans who have witnessed it, often military men, not unacquainted with great ugliness, have been horrified at seeing this ritual.

    Not that the Chinese, themselves, have never been the imperialist conquerors, either. Generally speaking, there is no culture on Earth that is more pure in this regard than any other; every culture, every people, when they have been in power have, as Christ said, lorded that power over those below them. In fact, they have seen their ascendancy as evidence of God’s (or the gods’, or whatever divinity’s) favor upon and approval of them.

    Rather, what you say in your comment comparing Europeans to other peoples strikes me as simply the “noble savage” idea, itself a hallmark of Enlightenment-era European supremacism.

    However, it is worth noting the various cultural attitudes toward the environment. It seems to me that more paganistic views of the world, while outwardly admirable, are rooted in a subservient attitude toward nature. The same sort of attitude that results in personifying various elements of nature as various gods, whose favor we may attempt to gain (through sacrifices and other means), and whose disfavor we avoid. Other, more “mystical” forms of this are still, ultimately, subservient. We are merely one more part of nature, our lives ruled by the seasons, the tides, etc., and we must learn to flow with this natural patter, or whatnot.

    The Scriptures, however, present us with a different way of relating to the natural world. Man was not created to be subservient to nature, but to rule over nature, as a good and benevolent king. Man was created to be the priest, offering the natural world to God. Man tends the garden, cares for nature, nurtures it, tames it, perhaps even sanctifies it (by offering it to God in thanksgiving, and so on). We are called to care for nature, because we are put in a position over it.

    Christianity freed us from subservience to nature. But, now, we have been freeing ourselves from Christianity, and what does that leave us with in regards to nature? On the one hand, many have attempted to return to a sort of neo-paganistic relation to nature. Sadly, for many modern Christians, at least, the modern environmentalist movement has largely come to be identified with this sort of philosophy. On the other hand, many remember that we are to rule over nature, but have forgotten, or distanced themselves from, God (or distanced God from this world), and have become the kind of rulers Christ told us not to be: ones who lord their authority and power over those under them. They say nature exists for us, and we should exploit it in every way possible.

    It is fitting, however, that the current Ecumenical Patriarch has been referred to as “The Green Patriarch” because of his emphasis on environmental issues. Environmentalism is, indeed, an important Christian concern, and it is my hope that we, as a Church, can stand as a witness to this world that they need not choose between neo-pagan Gaia worship on the one hand, and the raping of the environment on the other hand, but that there is, indeed, a truly Christian environmentalism that is not subservient to nature, but respects nature as God’s good creation and transforms it.

  95. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Even the primitives are not necessarily benevolent to the environment. The Plains Indians would stampeede a herd of bison off a cliff, collect what they wanted from the mass of bodies at the bottom, and leave the rest. Primatives usually do these kinds of acts on such a small scale that nature can recover.

  96. Lasseter Avatar


    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony.

    I’m certain the tigers (who are all but extinct) would weep over this loss.

    About as much as they weep over the possibility of their extinction. Animals suffer, and species go extinct, even without any cause by man. Nature is replete with pain and brutality. Man’s absence would not transform the world into Paradise. It would, however, remove all of man’s unique goodness. And suffering and death would remain for brute beasts with no rational comprehension of it.

  97. drewster2000 Avatar


    Thanks for your response. Indeed I do believe you’ve hit upon one of the biggest problems concerning the beauty of the liturgy being withheld from me and others: translation.

    For example, you mention the Prosphera. I draw a blank. Could I go read a lot of Orthodox books and know what you’re talking about? Sure but I’m not going to. I’ve been going to liturgical services for 30 years. I’ve read many books along the way but those terms never stick because they have no reality in my space. If I am to ever speak that language, I need someone to make it real for me.

    I’m very familiar with the Orthodox encouragement to “come and see!” But I have come and seen many times. It might as well be in Latin. While I applaud Orthodox liturgies for their sights, smells and bells that allow some participation through the senses, they are still closed by definition and sorely in need of translators.

    I understand that a lot of this probably comes from their historical role of guardian and protector of the faith, but perhaps they’ve gotten too proficient in that role, unable to actively draw people in. This isn’t put-down, just a possible observation of what is. Some will always be drawn in by the experience, but others will always need a relationship to make it happen.

    Or maybe Orthodox worship is for some but not all – and others will simply end up at the Pentecostal church down the street and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe it takes many different parts to make up the whole Body and that’s why their liturgy simply doesn’t work for me.

    Or maybe both. Who know? Just some thoughts….

  98. drewster2000 Avatar

    CoffeeZombie: (clap, clap, clap) Sincerely, good words.

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