Sundays With Schmemann

Sundays With Schmemann August 9, 2015


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.

Given that the Revised Common Lectionary has placed us in John 6 for an extended period, these quotes from For the Life of the World seems particularly poignant.

On viewing the world as divine gift and presence, he writes:

“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He created, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.'” – Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 14.

Fr. Schmemann goes on in the same section to right about the vocation of mankind. This is akin to what Bishop Wright did in After You Believe. It should be noted here that while this quote has opted for male language it is (or should be) indicative of the priesthood of all believers and therefore regarding both men and women. He writes:

“The first, the basic definition of man[kind] is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God–and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with him.” Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 15.

He continues elsewhere:

“We also know that to offer this food, this world, this life to God is the initial ‘eucharistic’ function of man, his very fulfillment as man. We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God.” Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 34.

I’ll leave you with one more quote that should challenge every student of theology and member of the Christian academy: “As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will ‘represent’ it and signify it, in art and beauty.” Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 30.

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