Friday, December 13, 2013

Two 'no's,' one 'yes,' and the Kingdom of God.

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Father Alexander Schmemann, a twentieth-century Orthodox theologian and longtime dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. Father Alexander's words have been featured here before, notably at Christmas, during Lent, and at sundry points during the church year. As I have written before, two of Father Alexander's books have been particularly influential in my own life: his brief book on liturgical theology For the Life of the World and, to an even greater extent, his Journals. I won't say anything further about the writings of Alexander Schmemann in this post, beyond pointing you to to the text of his final sermon, given less than three weeks before his death.

As a second way of marking this anniversary, I would like to present The Spirit of St. Vladimir's, a television documentary about Father Alexander's life and legacy produced not long after his death. I believe that this film offers a good sense of what Alexander Schmemann was about, perhaps above all in these words from his son-in-law Father Thomas Hopko:
Father [Alexander] once summed up his worldview in the simplest way. "When I die," he said, "you can write my 'in memoriam' in one brief paragraph. You can say that my vision consisted in two 'no's,' one 'yes,' and eschatology - two 'no's,' one 'yes,' and the Kingdom of God." His first 'no' was to secularism in all its forms, to any attempt to define man and the world without reference to God. His second 'no' was to what Father often called 'religion' - by this he meant religion as one part of life, one sacred compartment, as opposed to all the rest considered as profane and worldly. "Christ did not come to bring religion," he would say. "Christianity is not religion. Christ brought the Kingdom of God, the righteousness, the peace, the joy in the Holy Spirit." And here we meet Father Alexander's 'yes' - 'yes' to Christ and the Church, 'yes' to Christ's church understood not as an institution or an organization or an agency of any sort, however helpful or laudable its purposes, but 'yes' to the Church as the sacramental presence in this world of the eternal life of the world to come. 'Yes' to the whole of God's creation, to all of life, as found and fulfilled in its God-given substance and purpose in Christ and in the Church.
On this thirtieth anniversary of Father Alexander Schmemann's repose, I hope that the legacy left in his writings will continue to bear fruit in the world. If this post leads one or two people to encounter his work for the first time, I believe that I will have done some good. AMDG.


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