And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole “beauty” of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.
Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the “necessary.” Beauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.” And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love… As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will “represent” it and signify it, in art and beauty.
Anyone with an interest in aesthetics could quibble with Schmemann a bit here over the utility and necessity of beauty. It IS necessary for life as we want to live it. It IS useful for a host of things, not least breaking us out of our self-centeredness. But why quibble? We know what he means.
The church does get by, for a while at least, without beauty, so long as love is present. The ugliness of improvised meeting spaces (such as the school cafetorium of the start up church, or the catacombs of the early church) possess a certain spiritual beauty. But not all churches are scrappy start-ups or persecuted into hiding. A young lover’s gift may be a bunch of plucked wildflowers. But don’t we expect more from the married man of 40?