According to Gregory of Nyssa, virginity is a sign to us of spiritual detachment, which is itself the restoration of the human creature to a state of order, purity, and peace. The goal of detachment is contemplation of the perfect and infinite beauty of God and participation in it.
Evangelicals are not known for their attention to beauty. The other transcendentals, truth and goodness, have a clear place, but at least on a popular level, beauty rarely seems to make an appearance. The reason for this lies to a certain extent in our Protestant heritage. The Reformers were eager to strip away the aura of mystery that seemed to give so much power to the priests. Beauty was regarded by many as suspicious and deceptive, and so it was divided from truth. Today we waver between iconoclasm and spectacle.
Gregory is one of the first and greatest theologians of divine beauty, and perhaps we may look to him to begin to recover a robust doctrine. To discuss the beauty of God is to enter into another theological conversation too vast for me, so I will content myself for the most part with describing Gregory’s use of the language of beauty, as Gregory invokes the very archetype words can never truly capture.
Today, August 6, the western church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The eastern church will celebrate the same feast in thirteen days. In much of the east, including Georgia, custom dictates that growers of grapes and other fruits and vegetables present their harvest to be blessed on Transfiguration Day. Most of these grapes, which depending on their geography reach peak ripeness in August, will be turned into wine.
What does this custom, dating back to late antiquity, have to do with the transfiguration of Christ described by the synoptic gospels?
The title of this and future meditations on Scripture, In Horto Fragranti, means “in the fragrant garden” and refers to John of Damascus’s description of the Bible as a fragrant garden in which are the fountains of life.
In Genesis 18, Moses describes a meeting at the oaks of Mamre. Three “angels,” one of them the concealed Lord, pass near where Abraham, a wealthy nomadic chieftain, has pitched his tents. Abraham looks up and sees three travelers caught in the heat of the day, and urges them to partake of his hospitality before continuing on their way. They agree.
Abraham was recently circumcised in covenant with God. Thus Abraham legally and sacramentally committed himself and his descendants to God; he was reborn under a new name which God gave him, as God had given Adam his name. Now Abraham was consecrated as the father of many nations, biologically the father of Israel through Isaac, and spiritually the father of the Church through Christ. God has already made the shepherd-prince great promises.
Now the cosmic sovereign orchestrates a more intimate encounter than has yet taken place between himself and his new vassal. Food is of no material use to spiritual beings, let alone the transcendent Creator; yet the Lord consents to share bread, curds, milk, and the meat of a calf, and also to have his feet washed. (Years later, Christ returns the favor.)
Here is how to say the Nicene Creed in Georgian. The translation is based on the English and may not be exact (I don’t speak that much Georgian yet). As Christian refugees pour out of ISIS-occupied areas in Iraq, it is a good time to remember our real and mystic unity with the international Body of Christ.
Mrts’ams erti Ghmerti,
I believe in one God,
mama q’ovlisa mp’q’robeli,
the father all-powerful,
shemokmeti tsata da kveq’anisa,
maker of heaven and earth,
khilulta q’ovelta da ara khilulta;
of all things visible and not visible;