Saint Lydia's Book Club

About writing Orthodox Christian novels.

Orthodox Writers, Readers, and Artists: Emma Cazabonne, “Beauty will save the world.”

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“Beauty will save the world,” wrote Dostoevsky in The Idiot, first published serially in 1868-1869.

Many Orthodox writers and thinkers have since used the phrase. I encountered it about 25 years ago in a book by Paul Evdokimov, and it never left me. At the time, I was just discovering Orthodoxy; but I had been exposed to art for many years and was doing a bit of drawing and painting myself.

After two world wars, numerous ecological disasters, and ugly terrorist acts all over our planet, we may be tempted to despair. But I believe “beauty will save the world.”

To attract your attention, whether on paper, on the little screen or on your monitor, the media focus almost exclusively on ugliness and catastrophes. But beauty will save the world.

Now an official member of the Orthodox Church, I believe in the saving beauty of Christ’s redeeming death and Resurrection.

I also believe that following Christ means participating in His redeeming work, at many levels. I will only speak here about one level. As an Orthodox believer, I feel particularly called to spread beauty in our world. And I strive to do it through my artwork and my writing.

Born from French parents gifted with talents for drawing and painting, I started painting in grade school; I even remember nailing old sheets on a piece of wood to make my own “canvas.” I was not 10 at the time.

A few years later, an art teacher introduced me to the fascinating world of colors, and I attended weekly art classes until university. After some low years in art production, I discovered rock painting. I have now been painting almost exclusively on rocks for 10 years. I paint things I find beautiful and believe will introduce beauty in the life of others. Seeing the joy of my customers when they discover my rocks brings me a lot of hope, as they have a glimpse that everything may not be rotten and in our world.

Beauty will save the world.

 

I paint birds, flowers, landscapes, etc, memorial rocks for deceased pets, from pictures taken by the pet owner, and icons and Orthodox stain-glass style designs.

Beauty will save the world.

God’s saving Beauty was made visible in the flesh: “The Word was made flesh.” John 1:14. We have access to this multi-faceted beauty in our daily contact with the Word in the Scriptures.

I believe we can find and propagate beauty not only through visual arts, but also through The Word and words. I have loved words since I was about 4, when I started reading by myself. Since then, I have grown into a passionate lover of words and books.

It is not only fascinating to read, but also to share with others the beauty I find in books, whether they are fiction or non-fiction works. I started a book blog a year ago, and it has been a deep experience to interact with others on the beauty and depth of words. I entitled my blog Words And Peace, to convey the idea that you can reach some peaceful depth in yourself through reading and sharing, and of course I could not miss the opportunity of introducing a pun, on War And Peace, as you would all have guessed. My blog’s address is: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com. The last Orthodox book I reviewed was:

You can read my review here.

I write a lot every month through my translation work of articles and books, mostly from English to French, and occasionally from French to English. The world of translation is absolutely fascinating. I deeply believe we still need bridges in our global world. The image of the world as a village is still a myth, not exactly yet part of our daily reality: we still need help communicating with each other on our planet, and that is the beautiful role of translators, among others. The more we understand each other, the easier we will be at peace. I believe part of my mission as an Orthodox believer is to be a “beauty and peace maker,” by helping people understand each other.

I believe I contribute to this bridge building also through my online French classes, geared to students of all levels, from total beginners to Ph. D. students and proficient learners who just want to keep up with their French conversation skills.

Beauty will save the world.

More creatively, I have given lots of conferences focused mainly on monastic spirituality, both for Western and Eastern Christians. Some of these conferences I have published as articles. The most relevant to our topic here is my article on Gregory Palamas. Discovering that few Western Christians knew about him, I tried to write an accessible presentation of his life and works. I initially wrote and published it in French, then in English and Spanish. The English version is available in the Cistercian Studies Quarterly 37:3 (2002): 303-333 .

Who better than Gregory Palamas wrote about the beauty and depth of our faith? I discovered Gregory through the mystery of the Transfiguration back in the late 80s, and since then I have striven to propagate this beauty.

And last but not least, I published a book a few years ago focused on light. Early on, I discovered that as much as Eastern Fathers and Mothers, writers pertaining to the Western Christian tradition focused a lot on the topic of light. I decided then to publish an anthology of short spiritual texts related to the theme of light in Cistercian Fathers and Mothers:

A Light to Enlighten the
Darkness: Daily Readings for Meditation during the Winter Season
Selected by Emma Cazabonne (Cistercian
Publications, 2008) ISBN: 978-0-87907-227-8

Beauty will save the world.

Some of our contemporaries may think beauty, whether in art or in words, is something totally irrelevant to our busy and efficient modern world, where the main goal seems sometimes to make money and buy things. Just as we need our daily bread, I believe that more than ever, we need our daily portion of beauty to survive and thrive.

To paraphrase a passage by Nina Sankovitch in her latest book Tolstoy and The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (Harper: 2011), I wish for all of us that beauty may become “an escape, not from, but into living.”

_______________________

Note: I am referring to this passage:

“Cyril  Connolly, twentieth-century writer and critic, wrote that ‘words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.’ That was how I wanted to use books: as an escape back to life. I wanted to engulf myself in books and come up whole again.” p.20

 

Emma Cazabonne is a French tutor, an English-French translator, and a rockpainter. She was born in France and has been living in the US for 10 years. After 20 years as a Trappistine nun, she converted to Orthodoxy. With her husband, a clinical counselor combining Orthodox spiritual elements and psychological principles in his practice, she attends a small ROCOR parish in the Chicagoland.

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Author: Saint Lydia's Book Club

Melinda is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of Letters to Saint Lydia, released in 2010 by Conciliar Press. Her second novel, The Other Side of the Bonfire, will be released in August 2012 by Lingua Sacra Publishing.

9 thoughts on “Orthodox Writers, Readers, and Artists: Emma Cazabonne, “Beauty will save the world.”

  1. Pingback: Cistercian publications | Eyesoftheeast

  2. Emma,

    Thank you for this substantial reflection on beauty!

    I was especially taken by your repetition of Dostoyevsky’s phrase, “beauty will save the world,” (it is a favorite of mine, too). The rhythm of your repetition reminded me of breathing, and that got me to thinking: the biggest disconnect I see in my own life between the desire to experience and be a reflection of Christ’s salvific beauty and actually doing so is making the time to be contemplative.

    I wonder if you have any additional thoughts to share about the importance of fostering contemplation as an entrance to that “escape…into living” and how to do that?

    With Gratitude,

    Jon

    • Thanks for your comment.
      As you know, living at this depth does require contemplation. A common image, but that is valid is that if you want to really enjoy friendship with someone, and live this friendship at a deep and nourishing level, you need to spend a lot of time with your friend.
      In the same way, I believe it is essential to dedicate some time daily to foster your connection with the Lord.
      Use what works best for you, and this can change with the weeks, the months, the years of your life. It can be praying a liturgical hour, praying the Trisagion, reading the Gospel chosen by your Church for that day, and then taking some time to meditate on it, or taking some time to pray the Jesus Prayer.
      The best is probably to start by a short period, even if it’s only 15 n, but to try to absolutely stick to it everyday. Maybe the best for you is to take that time of prayer early in the morning, before your children wake up, or at the end of the day, when they are asleep. Of course you can also have some time of family prayer, but you need some time just for you and the Lord.
      Try to insert it at a specific time and place in your daily schedule, and keep at it. If you can, you can go to 30 mn or more, but the important thing is to do it daily, whether you feel like it or not.

      Other ways of nourishing this connection can be to pray the Jesus Prayer as you wait for your commute, or wait for the lights to turn green, or when you are stuck in traffic, or waiting on line at the grocery store. There are lots of “empty” times in our lives, and you can just use them for that connection.
      When a passage of Scripture struck me in my meditation of the daily Gospel, I write one line or one word of it on a little card board piece that I keep in my pocket or put near my computer when I work. This helps as a reminder, and helps situate yourself in the presence of the Lord, whatever you do.

      These are possible ways of integrating this contemplation in your daily life. I hope this helps. Blessings on you and your family. Emma

      • More sage advice!

        I do have both family prayers and my own longer prayer rule. Often, though, I find that I’m finishing my prayers as I’m driving to and from different commitments. The overwhelming sense I have of my life right now is one of fragmentation. I know the truth of your words, though, because I can tell the difference in my day once I have finished my prayers.

        I like your idea of writing down reminders. I’ll have to use that.

        Thank you!

        Jon

  3. I have had sometimes to reduce my prayer rule, because I was doing it as something I absolutely had to do, but was not really spending that time trying to listen to the Lord and connect with him. I have noticed it was more beneficial have shorter and more quality times. Otherwise you had more fragmentation. But that’s just my own experience. Emma

  4. I also remember being quite arrested by that quote when first I encountered it, shortly after becoming Orthodox, in 2003 (have I really been Orthodox now for that long?).

    And it struck me immediately as being the ultimate positive vote for optimism that I had ever heard. Now, I knew that it was also employing a definition of “beauty” that was not coterminous with the modern and secular understanding. Perhaps the Greek “Kalos” was grasping at the sense. And in all likelihood the secular world knows deep down that it is true. Renaissance painters were able to depict the human body as a thing of beauty. While modern society has lost a bit of balance in its consumption of the human form, the impulse toward appreciating that beauty is still a part of God’s natural order.

    Tonight I stood in a group of the faithful and we sang a hymn and able singers of all four parts were present. As the harmonics wrapped around and caressed my soul, I felt the Beauty that will save the World. God bless your continued ministry of art and love and beauty.

  5. Thanks Keith. Yes, unfortunately, the word “beauty” has been so many times ill-used in our society that you need to have had some deeper experience to understand what I was really talking about. I’m glad you have. With you in prayer on our world. Emma

  6. Pingback: Beauty Will Save The World « Words And Peace

  7. Excellent, really interesting post. Emma is my sister and I am very proud of her :)

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