A small note on the relationship of Christianity and performance (art)

10.04.2021

In this note I aim to briefly address the relationship between Christianity and performance (art) which is also a key topic of my upcoming dissertation. To me such relationship seems to be characterized by differences; it is challenging and yet occurring. My note's main points of reference are performer and clergyman (e.g. priest), performative act, and Christian spirituality and service.

The first difference we can present is that in Christianity, each believer (a layman or a clergyman) is a Christian based on acceptance of what makes Christianity a Christianity. Apostles' Creed - symbolum apostolicum, the original Nicene Creed, and other elements that we cannot examine here due to the length of the text could be, in the scope of their ecumenical orthodoxy, considered as such fundamental beliefs.

However, Christianity is not just some philosophical school of which one would become a part of if one (only) professed its doctrine. A Christian becomes a Christian by participating in the sacramental life of the Church, participating in holy mysteries (tajiny), and being a part of the mystical Body of Christ, the holy Church. Being a Christian does not mean professing a particular theory or philosophical school but living our life as a testimony for Christ and coming into communion with others who are grafted onto the mystical Body of Christ.

In contrast, not only is the performer not obliged to profess the apostolicum, but also the performer's theoretical foundation might be completely absent (some performers often don't even know about their performance and don't even feel the need to reflect on it).

In general, a performer doesn't have to be a Christian. However, regarding the clergyman's performance, there is an assumption of subordination of performance under Christianity (a clergyman is firstly a Christian and then a performer). Some performances even show denotations of anti-Christian tendencies, such as a variety of cultic, magical (satanic) rituals. From the perspective of traditional theology, these spiritual practices could be potentially dangerous (!). Other performances might come close to the performative prayer that is not hurtful to anybody and even brings the Good into the world.

Each time I'm thinking about such things, some of the performances by prof. Tomáš Ruller come to my mind, performances where the "content" of the performative act is spreading in the temporality of the flow, pointing to the implicit content of the Christian spiritual experiences, such as devotion to God and trust in the actuality, that is floating through the whole performative act, or more precisely, the performer himself is being carried by the actuality as performer surrenders to its flow. However, I am afraid such occurrence is relatively rare on the Czech (or Czechoslovak) scene. In most cases, the performance points us towards spectacular experiences, and the Christian spirituality remains unnoticed.

In a sense, performance can also be perceived as a service, Mass, Divine Liturgy, the service of God. The service course may be affected by the liturgical order, the gesticulation of the liturgist or clergyman, and the responsory character as a mirror of the gathered community. Aside from that, the spiritual performance is happening there, not only the materially visible one, often based on ordinances and ritual practices that can be impenetrable to the contemporary man (although it is a part of the tradition dating back to the Apostolic times).

During the service, the gathered community participates in the Eternal Heavenly Liturgy where all the angels, far and near the Throne of God, celebrate the unflagging Eternal Liturgy, approached non-temporarily, and the gathered community participates in the timeless strain of beauty in eternity that is also personally eminent! It is not a matter of participating in something non-personal, as some non-personal energy. It is participating in something that is purely Divine (and in such sense personal) - as well as for the community of angelic choirs that "come" towards us to earth - so that the liturgy performatively permeates, and like an icon, creates a way into the divine realm! For that, glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.