Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wisdom from Fr Schmemann

Alexander Schmemann (13 September 1921 - 13 December 1983) was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian priest, teacher, and writer. He was born in Tallinn (Reval) Estonia to Russian émigrés. His family moved to France, where he received his university education. He married Juliana Osorguine in 1943, before completing his theological studies at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris (where he studied with the noted Russian theologian, Sergei Bulgakov, amongst others) and was ordained a priest in 1946. From 1946-51, Fr Schmemann taught church history at St. Sergius. He was invited to join the faculty of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, then in New York City, where he taught from 1951 onwards. When the seminary moved to its present campus in Crestwood, New York in 1962, Fr Schmemann assumed the post of dean, which he would hold until his death. He also served as adjunct professor at Columbia University, New York University, Union Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary in New York. Much of his focus at St Vladimir's was on liturgical theology. (From Wikipedia)

Fr Schmemann's writings contain so much wisdom, which is why Christians of East and West quote him often. I share with you today two particular gems:

From the religious point of view, nothing is more harmful than to live by illusions in an artificially recreated past, seeking in 'ancient, venerable and colorful rites' an escape from a prosaic and burdensome present. Such a religious attitude, quite common in our days, openly contradicts the Christian faith, which is aimed at transforming life and not at supplying religious substitutes for life. To understand this study as an appeal simply to restore the past is to misunderstand it, for there is no simple restoration, nor can there ever be. Equally harmful, however, is the attitude which rejects the past simply because it is past, which, in other words, accepts at its face value modern rhetoric about the radical 'revolution' in man's worldview that makes it impossible for him to 'continue' in any ideas of the past. If we do not believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church today as He guided her yesterday and shall guide her until the end of the world, that Christ is 'the same yesterday, and today, and forever' (Heb. 13:8), then obviously we do not believe in the Church, and she is either a precious 'cultural heritage' to be preserved or an archaic past to be discarded.

If, however, we believe in the Church, then the study of her past has only one goal: to find, and to make ours again and again, that which in her teaching and life is truly eternal, i.e. which precisely transcends the categories of past, present and future and has the power to transform our lives in all ages and in all situations."

From Fr Schmemann's book, Of Water & The Spirit, 149-50.

Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day - Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another - Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.

From Fr Schmemann's article, The Orthodox Celebration of Great and Holy Saturday, which is online HERE.


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