On one level, host Todd Wilken and I talked about church buildings and sacred architecture. You know, the whole idea that church architecture is theology expressed in (List A) stone, timber, brick, stucco, copper, iron and glass.
Ah, but is the theology different if the materials being used are (List B) sheetrock, galvanized steel, plastic, concrete, rubber and plywood?
What if you built a Byzantine, Orthodox sanctuary out of the materials in List B and accepted the American construction-industry norms that a building will last about 40-50 years? Contrast that with a church built with List A materials, using many techniques that have been around for centuries and are meant to produce churches that last 1,000 years or more.
These two churches would look very similar. The provocative issue raised by church designer and art historian Andrew Gould — of New World Byzantine Studios, in Charleston, S.C. — is whether one of these two churches displays a “sacred ethos” that will resonate with the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, while the other may be both modern and more temporary.
Here’s another question along those same lines: Why did farmers, merchants and peasants in places like Greece, Russia, Serbia and Romania for many centuries insist on building churches that would last for generation after generation of believers? Also, why are the faithful in many modern, prosperous American communities tempted to build churches that may start to fall apart after a few decades?
Here’s the end of my “On Religion” column about Gould and his work, based on a lecture he gave at my own Orthodox home parish in Oak Ridge, Tenn. — which is poised to build a much-needed new sanctuary.
“If you build something that looks like a Byzantine church, but it isn’t really built like a Byzantine church, then it isn’t going to look and sound and function like a Byzantine church — generation after generation,” said Gould.
“The goal in most architecture today is to create the appearance of something, not the reality. ... When you build one of these churches, you want the real thing. You want reality. You want a church that’s going to last.”
Now, is this a very newsworthy subject?
Maybe not. But some of these issues can be spotted looming over big headlines some big stories in places like New York City.