Tag Archives: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Beauty meets death.

LAZARUS SATURDAY

“’It stinketh,’ say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold ‘it stinketh’…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and ‘it stinketh.’

“At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: ‘and Jesus wept’ …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.

“The power of Resurrection is not a Divine ‘power in itself,’ but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: ‘Lazarus, come forth!…’ And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.”

-Fr. Alexander Schmemann

It is the end of Lent in the Orthodox Church. We enter Holy Week with Lazarus Saturday, and though we do fast until Pascha, it’s not technically Lent anymore for us. We now stop thinking about whether we succeeded or failed at Lent, because we need to focus on what God has done and be fully present for these last days of the remembering of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Matins of Lazarus Saturday is a time to remember the whole story of how Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus came into town and his friends said, “If only you had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” And Jesus wept. Then He showed his power over death, and raised Lazarus. And then followed the events that sent Him to His own death, which He also overcame for our sakes. His powerful beauty is still filling this world.

“Despite the effects of the Fall and despite our deep sinfulness, the world continues to be God’s creation. It has not ceased to be ‘altogether beautiful.’ Despite human alienation and suffering, the Divine Beauty is still present in our midst and still remains ever active, incessantly performing its work of healing and transfiguration. Even now beauty is saving the world, and it will always continue to do so. But it is the beauty of a God who is totally involved in the pain of the world that He has made, of a God who died on the Cross and on the third day rose victorious from the dead.”

–Metropolitan Kallistos

christ passion

 

(Old material from the archives, but Life ever new.)

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