Sundays with Schmemann

Sundays with Schmemann August 2, 2015

2008-1208-schmemann

My work has been very heavily influenced by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and I think he has a great deal to say on the subjects of liturgy, sacraments, and the church.

For those of you who may not know him: Fr. Schmemann was a priest of Russian descent in the Orthodox Church committed to liturgical theology and renewal. After a teaching period in Paris (1946-1951), he joined the faculty at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York where he remained until his death in 1983. Married to Juliana, he was awarded the title of Protopresbyter, the highest accolade available for a married priest in the Orthodox tradition. His writings cover the liturgical life of Orthodox Christianity and call people to a deeper understanding of and participation in the church’s worship and sacraments. I don’t think it is a stretch to claim that Fr. Schmemann is to liturgical studies/theology what N. T. Wright is to New Testament studies.

According to Fr. Schmemann, it is in the liturgy that:

the Church is informed of her cosmical and eschatological vocation, receives the power to  fulfill it and thus truly becomes ‘what she is’–the sacrament, in Christ, of the Kingdom. In this sense the liturgy is indeed ‘means of grace’…in the all-embracing meaning of the means of always making the Church what she is–a realm of grace, of communion with God, of new knowledge and new life. The liturgy of the Church is cosmical and eschatological because the Church is cosmical and eschatological; but the Church would not have been cosmical or eschatological had she not been given, as the very source and constitution of her life and faith, the experience of the new creation, the experience and vision of the Kingdom which is to come. And this is precisely the “leitourgia” of the Church’s cult, the function which makes it the source and indeed the very possibility of theology. – “Liturgy and Theology,” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 17 (1972): 92.

Fr. Schmemann wrote about the need to revive a “liturgical consciousness.” He wrote:

In order to sense worship as something more than a “public cult” it is necessary to see and sense the Church as something more than a “society of believers”…The revival of a liturgical consciousness, of a new and in fact theological interest in the liturgical tradition, has therefore accompanied the revival of ecclesiology, that genuine return to the Church what has marked the last few decades. – Aleksandr Shmeman, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 3rd ed., trans. Asheleigh E. Moorhouse (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir, 1986, ©1966), 13

He essentially connects an understanding of the church with an understanding of worship. That is, the church is most truly the church when she gathers together for the corporate worship and praise of her triune God. Any true study of liturgy or liturgical theology will also always be a study in the sacraments and the church.

Finally, for anyone wondering what liturgical theology really is, “Theology is above all explanation, ‘the search for words appropriate to the nature of God’…Therefore the task of liturgical theology consists in giving a theological basis to the explanation of worship and the whole liturgical tradition of the Church.” Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 17.

Photo Source: Christ the Savior – Holy Spirit Orthodox Church

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