Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Does The Church Denounce The Performing Arts?

Excerpt from The Orthodox Pastoral Service by Professor Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) Translated from Russian by Tatiana Pavlova:

The Gospel clearly indicates that the world lies in the evil, that the sin penetrates everywhere, that it is necessary to observe ourselves and to walk “not as foolish, but as wise” and not to become a part of the affairs of darkness. All temptations of the heathen world of “the disorderly cries and drunkenness” must be removed away from Christianity, especially from each pastor. But must we add to this all pleasure, happiness or normal human entertainments? Does the Gospel oppose all merriment? Must we then forbid all happiness, and turn the sermon of salvation thus to a gloomy cloud covering all life? Is it instructive to banish from the whole life or only from priestly habit all entertainment, merriment and searching for the beautiful in life? Must Savonarola be acknowledged as the ideal of the priestly service?

It is hardly necessary to prove that rigorism is not characteristic of the spirit of the Gospel. The example of the Savior, Who attended the suppers of simple people, marriage meals and nowhere denounced merriment, beauty, innocent pleasures of life, — does not justify of the gloomy attitude of the pastors of Savonarola’s type, typical of the Latins, Archimandrite Photius (Spassky) and Constantine Matveevsky.

But if merriment, pleasures, entertainment, and beauty are not forbidden for the simple people, for the flock, then how will a pastor who condemns everything, except piety in the narrow sense, soul saving literature and divine services, be able to understand his flock, how will he not repel it from himself? A priest who values music, theater, exhibitions of pictures and literature only as the evil charms of the devil, will never understand his flock, which lives by these interests. The flock will only stand away and fear such a priest, afraid of his censure and strict scolding at every turn. Such a priest will never be able to understand his flock, or give useful advice about whether one or another phenomenon is good or bad, if they ask him for such advice.
The sharpest is the question about the theater. In writings of the fathers, especially in Tertullian and Chrysostom this kind of art meets only irreconcilable and extreme denouncement. How many bitter words Tertullian said to the lovers of theatrical shows! How he condemns all the actors, gladiators, and musicians into eternal fire! Chrysostom is not much softer. But it is necessary to recall what the theater of their times was and whether there exists a certain difference with our operas, dramas and comedies.

If the theater of the second to fourth centuries were, as the folk shows of the Byzantine middle ages, full of rough and sensual details, resembling heathen bacchanalias, this is why the Apostle could speak at that time about “the disorderly cries, yelling and drunkenness” that could not serve to the ennobling of dispositions, and why the church condemned all this and warned the faithful not to fall into this explicit temptation. But theatrical art has something else; if offers medieval mysteries, different religious dramatizations, known in the West and East. These arts came to us through Kiev and Little Russia, but it happened absolutely legally, and the Church was sufficiently opened-minded to tolerate them and even to patronize them. Furthermore, it is necessary to have a look at the historical perspective: the theater of Tertullian’s epoch was full of erotic, immoral elements. The repertoire of our days contains many vulgar and obscene things. However, along with the frivolous repertoire and tempting plays, theatrical literature gave us an enormous number of excellent, purely artistic works. Shakespeare, Racine, Sheller, Pushkin, Chekhov and many others raise the soul above rough feelings, force us to think about something higher, take the spectator away into some other world, distant from banality and prose. It would not occur to sober thinking people to place the opera of our days, the Artistic Theater and serious symphonic concerts with those plays by mimes, gladiators and Bacchanailan dances. If we add to this that the artists themselves very frequently were and are deeply religious persons (Savina, Yermolova, Butova, Sadovskaya, etc.) who served the theater as a form of art, then any generalizations must be made with caution.

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