I have visited many cathedrals and grand churches in many countries around the world. And no matter the location I am always in awe of their grandeur and decadence. I usually end up rendered speechless by their overwhelming size and opulence. And while I always appreciate the aesthetic beauty and the sheer accomplishment of creating something so grand and monumental (especially considering most of these churches were built before the existence of modern machinery), I also typically feel a little uneasy. It seemed so strange to me to think that the church in those time periods would build something so grand, so expensive and so elaborately coated with gold while there were people starving in the nearby villages and cities. It never set well with me.
It didn’t seem like the churches back then really understood the point of Christianity. As someone who grew up as a non-denominational Christian I have often had a hard time understanding these grand traditional views of religion that is based on hierarchy of man and full of man-made traditions. It always seemed so formal and distant and not at all consistent with the Jesus that I knew who fought against a deeds based/ self glorifying concept of righteousness. I often wonder what he would think of these palatial cathedrals. The Jesus I know didn’t grow up in a palace surrounded by gold. He was born in a stable. He was real and probably dirty and smelly in comparison with current social norms. His hands were most likely rough and callused by years of hard work as a carpenter. He lived a life of true humility and loved everyone without judgment. He, who was fully man and fully God, was the only one worthy of glory and honor and yet he received none.
I was thinking all of these things as I entered into St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia. I was instantly struck (and I say struck because it hit me like a two by four to the stomach) by the beauty of the church. I stepped inside and I couldn’t move or breath for a moment. I know I talk often about being overwhelmed by beauty, but this time I literally was. I just stood there in the entryway with my mouth open not really able to take in the grandeur and extreme beauty and over the top decadence that was displayed on every inch of this magnificent cathedral. It hit me more than any other cathedral I had visited before. And I began to wonder that if I feel this in awe of this place, how overwhelmed will I be of Heaven. That is when it hit me…..I understood something about cathedrals that I had never understood before and for the first time I had an emotionally spiritual moment in one of these grand churches. The below video captures what I was thinking and feeling.
After that video I went into the holy prayer room. There I truly communed with God in prayer and worship. I thanked him for all he did for me. I thanked him for choosing an ugly humiliating death on a cross instead of the life of decadence he deserved. I thanked him for loving a sinner such as myself and allowing me, even with all of my imperfections, to glorify him with my life. Then I just sat in reverent worship of Him and His perfect and beautiful plan for the salvation of man.
When I left the prayer room it was amazing to me to see how just being in the very presence of God through prayer and worship transformed my perspective of the church. The building that had before seemed so striking seemed dull and insignificant in comparison to the glory of God. I suddenly saw it for what it was…a beautiful building that will one day waste away. However, God’s glory is eternal and the only thing worth our adoration and praise. And one day when I have been cloaked in the complete righteousness of Jesus, I will be able to enter into His very perfect and indescribable presence and behold Him in all of His glory, not because of what I have done, but because of Christ had done for me. And in that place, because of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross, I will be able to abide and dwell in God’s presence and worship Him forever and ever. That is worth my worship and honor and praise….not a building made of stone.