Tag Archives: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

In us the dead still belong.

Today, about a week before our Orthodox beginning of Lent, is Saturday of Souls, or Memorial Saturday. In Divine Liturgy we commemorate all those who have “fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and life eternal.” Father Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent:

To understand the meaning of this connection between Lent and the prayer for the dead, one must remember that Christianity is the religion of love. Christ left with his disciples not a doctrine of individual salvation but a new commandment “that they love one another,” and he added: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is thus the foundation, the very life of the Church which is, in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the “unity of faith and love.”

I was able to attend Liturgy this morning, and many things contributed to my great joy in participating. Saturday morning is not an “easy” day to make it to church, and I probably could count on one hand the number of these memorial Saturdays that I have attended over the years. They are celebrated often during Lent, and other dates on the church calendar.

Today many of us had offered our contributions to the list of names of the departed that were read aloud as we all prayed. My dear godmother was present with me this morning, which made me feel more complete 🙂 and it happened to be the exact date that my uncle was killed in a plane crash long before I was born — the uncle I wrote about once here.

Today we were also praying especially for two men who more recently fell asleep in Christ, one just 40 days previous. George and Nikolai, memory eternal! Romanian women brought koliva, one made of barley instead of wheat, and other commemorative foods.

Just to stand in church, to stand in Christ, to stand with my departed loved ones — it was awfully sweet. Because of this reality that Metropolitan Anthony speaks of in Courage to Pray:

The life of each one of us does not end at death on this earth and birth into heaven. We place a seal on everyone we meet. This responsibility continues after death, and the living are related to the dead for whom they pray. In the dead we no longer belong completely to the world; in us the dead still belong to history. Prayer for the dead is vital; it expresses the totality of our common life.

Blessed is the kingdom…

Pantocrator OW Hagia SophiaIn The Eucharist, Fr. Alexander Schmemann lays before us the glories of the faith, which “manifests and grants that to which it is directed: the presence among us of the approaching kingdom of God and its unfailing light.” The very Kingdom of God seems to shine directly from the pages of Fr. Alexander’s book into my heart; it feels that way because he brings to mind what I have experienced in our services.

Jesus himself referred to the kingdom as something present on earth when He was among his disciples; as something within us; as something for whose coming we ought to pray in The Lord’s Prayer. Truly the Divine Liturgy is where we both experience heaven and anticipate the fullness of the kingdom to come.

The Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, begins with the announcement, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”

What does it mean to bless the kingdom? It means that we acknowledge and confess it to be our highest and ultimate value, the object of our desire, our love and our hope. It means that we proclaim it to be the goal of the sacrament — of pilgrimage, ascension, entrance — that now begins. It means that we must focus our attention, our mind, heart and soul, i.e., our whole life, upon that which is the “one thing needful.” Finally, it means that now, already in “this world,” we confirm the possibility of communion with the kingdom, of entrance into its radiance, truth and joy. Each time that Christians “assemble as the Church” they witness before the whole world that Christ is King and Lord, that his kingdom has already been revealed and given to man and that a new and immortal life has begun. This is why the liturgy begins with this solemn confession and doxology of the King who comes now but abides forever and shall reign unto ages of ages.

– Father Alexander Schmemann

A need for rhythm, detachment, slowness.

mo read to children OF“I am quite convinced that the fundamental error of the contemporary man is his belief that thanks to technology –(telephone, Xerox, etc.)– he can squeeze into a given time much more than before, whereas it’s really impossible. Man becomes the slave of his always growing work. There is a need for rhythm, detachment, slowness. Why can’t students grasp all they’re taught? Because they do not have time to become conscious of, to come back to, what they heard, to let it really enter their minds. A contemporary student registers knowledge, but does not assimilate it; therefore that knowledge does not “produce” anything. A downpour of rain is immeasurably less useful for a drought than a thin, constant drizzle! But we are all the time under a thunderous downpour –of information, reports, knowledge, discussions, etc. And all of these flow around us, never sticking to us, immediately pushed away by the next deluge.”

-Alexander Schmemann, 1977, from Journals

The most fragrant dispensation.

Since Pascha I have been reading The Eucharist by Father Alexander Schmemann. It is so much more than I expected; I don’t know what I did expect — maybe with such a simple title I imagined something “dry and scholarly”? We can count on Fr. Alexander to be scholarly, but we can also count on his words to be infused by the Holy Spirit and to convey his own obvious joy in the Holy Spirit.

My priest was graced to hear these words as seminary lectures; the author died before he could finish the English edition of his book, but use was made of the original Russian and the French translation in the publishing of the edition I am reading, in 1987.  It’s another of those many lasting gifts that Fr. Alexander has given us.

Much in the section on “The Sacrament of the Kingdom” is especially fitting for the celebration of Pentecost this week, so I share from the riches I’m receiving:

…Through his coming on the “last and great day of Pentecost” the Holy Spirit transforms this last day into the first day of the new creation and manifests the Church as the gift and presence of this first and “eighth” day.

Thus, everything in the Church is by the Holy Spirit, everything is in the Holy Spirit and everything is partaking of the Holy Spirit. It is by the Holy Spirit because with the descent of the Spirit the Church is revealed as the transformation of the end into the beginning, of the old life into the new. “The Holy Spirit grants all things; he is the source of prophecy, he fulfills the priesthood, he gathers the entire church assembly” (hymn of Pentecost). Everything in the Church is in the Holy Spirit, who raises us up to the heavenly sanctuary, to the throne of God. “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit” (another hymn of Pentecost).

Finally, the Church is entirely oriented toward the Holy Spirit, “the treasury of blessings and giver of life.” The entire life of the Church is a thirst for acquisition of the Holy Spirit and for participation in him, and in him of the fullness of grace. Just as the life and spiritual struggle of each believer consists, in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so also the life of the Church is that same acquisition, that same eternally satisfied but never completely quenched thirst for the Holy Spirit.

I can imagine that there are writings about the Holy Spirit that are “dry,” if the writer is not skilled, or has not experienced life in Christ. But the Holy Spirit himself cannot be dry — he is sent to water our souls with divine life. At the close of this section Father Alexander gives us a prayer from the compline canon of the Feast of the Holy Spirit:

“Come to us, O Holy Spirit, and make us partakers of your holiness,
and of the light that knows no evening, and of the divine life,
and of the most fragrant dispensation….”