Posts Tagged 'why do we need beautiful churches?'

John Michael Boyer: “Why do we need beautiful music in church?” “So that it gives us joy in church”

We had Andrew Gould’s answer a bit ago as to why we need beautiful churches; last weekend, we got John Michael Boyer’s answer to the question, “Why do we need beautiful music in those churches?” What John said is of a somewhat different tone than what Andrew told us; it is less theoretical and more practical, but to that extent I think the answers complement each other. John provides an excellent patristic reference for his practicality, and I think he says a number of things worth thinking about. I’ll have more to say shortly.

(I will note that, thanks to how the acoustics at All Saints work, or rather don’t work, I had to be a bit creative in figuring out how to edit this so that it could be heard. There are still a couple of spots that are wonkier than I’d like, but I think it’s all audible. It looks like every second of decay in the proposed new temple will cost us approximately $1 million, so please pray for our building project!)

Andrew Gould on why we need beautiful churches (updated with transcription)

I will have more to say about the context in which Andrew told us this when I have more time, but for the moment I will say only that this is the best answer to the question I have ever heard, and I’m really glad that I was recording his presentation for other reasons.

Update, 19 January 2010, 10:36am: Lucas Christensen was good enough to transcribe this (that’s my godson!). Here we go:

Q: Would you mind telling us a little bit of your philosophy on why we need beautiful churches?

A: The question of ‘why this sort of architecture?’ really brings me back to why I started becoming interested in Orthodoxy. I had previously been Anglican and I was interested in designing Anglican churches in gothic style; when I was in college, I studied gothic architecture quite intensively. But as I started to learn about Orthodoxy and Byzantine churches, I was really impressed by the degree to which architecture, iconography, music and liturgy are integrated in Orthodoxy, as one common vision. The way the liturgical movements connect to the different spaces of the building, and then the way the liturgical movements address the different icons, the way in which the icons are painted on the particular surfaces of the buildings in the proper order where they go, and then the way the hymnography refers to all of these saints and to liturgical actions. All of these things work together as an icon of the Kingdom of God in its entirety. Panel icons of saints are not the whole story. They represent the saints, the angels, Christ—but the Kingdom of God is a lot more than that.

If you read the end of the Book of Revelation it describes the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the City of New Jerusalem: it has foundations made of precious stones; it has columns and arches and beautiful pavements; it has domes—all of this is described. And it has ever been the practice of the Orthodox Church to understand church architecture as iconographic. That it, along with the icons and saints, makes for the full representation of the Kingdom of God, and then that must be filled with liturgy, music, incense, to represent we who make up the Kingdom of God along with the saints and angels worshipping God therein. So if you don’t have that, if you have a room like this {indicates a nave in a temporary office-space – ed.} with icons hanging on the wall, you’ve only got half of the picture. To me, honestly, seeing this situation of a mission church without a church, looks like the Kingdom of God in exile. We have worship, and we have music, we have saints, but where is New Jerusalem? Where is the City?

That’s why you need beautiful architecture. And that’s why the architecture needs to be honest, and solid and sincere. We don’t want to have a stage set, we don’t want to have a building that superficially looks like an Orthodox church, because that’s a stage set, that’s sort of what Baroque architecture is. That’s sort of trying to use plaster and ornament to give a theatrical impression of the Beatific Vision. But Orthodoxy’s not about that, Orthodoxy’s about building something absolutely solid, and permanent and honest that conveys the real ethos of the eternal Kingdom of God.


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