In worship we also encounter beauty, which as Orthodox Christian Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, will save the world. Beauty saves the world because it overcomes humanity’s tendency to rely on its own rationality and reason. Beauty speaks to humanity of a different logic which exists in the universe which is quite beyond human understanding. Everything in creation is not just practical and utilitarian. Beauty speaks of mystery, and the person who experiences beauty is the person capable of also realizing this non-human, non-rational view of the universe. Beauty and mystery speak to us of God.
To help overcome the human reliance on their own intelligence and rationality (in effect to acknowledge the existence of reason and being greater than humanity), scripture (God’s Word) and tradition are given to humanity. Those who accept these guiding forces in the world constitute the Church. Tradition thus becomes an important means for humans to escape the trap and limits of their own time and place by offering a “timeless” wisdom and understanding which has come down to us through time but which are not limited by the contemporary or the “now.”
For contemporary people whose lives are governed by the newest and latest discovery or idea, and who live by a creed of pragmatism and individualism (in other words, whose lives are totally governed by Enlightenment ideals), it might be hard to understand why anyone would be concerned about any kind of tradition. One can gain some glimpse of how powerful tradition can be in people’s lives (for good or ill) by watching the movie, THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, or the Israeli movie, USHPIZIN. For indeed in Orthodoxy there is a tendency to want to allow tradition to guide all things in the life of the Church. Tradition can serve as a liberating release from the imprisonment to self and one’s own logic which can be created by extreme individualism and enslaving oneself to contemporary culture.
In the modern world, the Orthodox struggle greatly with the ideals of the Enlightenment and its focus on the individual human. Orthodoxy certainly suspects the over emphasis on individualism in modern Western life leads to further human separation, isolation and alienation, all aspects of the fallen world, and all in opposition to the ideal of love. Extreme individualism is seen as being related to the death of the human who is by nature a relational being. Dostoyevsky’s story “The Onion” is an example of an extremely self-centered woman who not wanting others to be saved chooses to stay in hell rather than allow her salvation to also be the salvation of others. For Orthodoxy, individualism is often seen as the very cause of Eve and Adam’s sin. Individualism, when combined with the human’s reliance on their own rationality, is seen as the cause of so much of the world’s suffering. The Orthodox worldview assumes there is a good and right, and also an evil and wrong way of doing things. Love is what makes the good. We are created to be relational beings, not isolated individuals.
In the same way that the sin of Adam and Eve affected all of humanity, so too the salvation in Christ is done for all the world. There is no salvation which is purely individualistic; we are saved in communion with Christ and as part of the world which God so loves and transfigures in Christ. Salvation does not consist in escaping this world and other people, but in being part of the world which is transfigured by Christ.