Tag Archives: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

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….”

The hours of the ultimate hour.

In 2018 Orthodox Easter, Pascha, falls on April 8th, a week later than Easter in the West. So today is our remembrance of Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. Saturday evening I am writing after attending our Vigil service for the feast, where  toward the end of the service we were given palm branches to hold, to take home and bring back tomorrow morning and hold them all through Divine Liturgy.

This morning, on the feast of Lazarus Saturday, another feast of victory, five catechumens were baptized and received into the church. The scent of holy chrism drifted over to me as they were being anointed in chrismation and I began to weep.

All week the Newly Illumined will wear their white robes to services. I caught a picture of one of them receiving a hug. What a gloriously happy day for us all!

You can see how even before palms were given into hands, the cathedral was fully decorated with them. Blooms are opening to decorate the church gardens about now as well.

I wanted to share an excerpt from a pamphlet on Holy Week by Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

But as in Lazarus we have recognized the image of each man, in this one city we acknowledge the mystical center of the world and indeed of the whole creation. For such is the biblical meaning of Jerusalem, the focal point of the whole history of salvation and redemption, the holy city of God’s advent. Therefore, the Kingdom inaugurated in Jerusalem is a universal Kingdom, embracing in its perspective all men and the totality of creation.

For a few hours – yet these were the decisive time, the ultimate hour of Jesus, the hour of fulfillment by God of all His promises, of all His decisions. It came at the end of the entire process of preparation revealed in the Bible: it was the end of all that God did for men. And thus this short hour of Christ’s earthly triumph acquires an eternal meaning. It introduces the reality of the Kingdom into our time, into all hours, makes this Kingdom the meaning of time and its ultimate goal.

The Kingdom was revealed in this world – from that hour – its presence judges and transforms human history. And at the most solemn moment of our liturgical celebration, when we receive from the priest a palm branch, we renew our oath to our King and confess His Kingdom as the ultimate meaning and content of our life. We confess that everything in our life and in the world belongs to Christ, nothing can be taken away from its sole real Owner, for there is no area of life in which He is not to rule, to save and to redeem.

– Fr. Alexander Schmemann

It is because He wept.

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

Icon from Sinai, 12th century

What honesty reveals of mystery…

I read a list “of the best poems for New Year,” and Christina Rossetti’s “Old and New Year Ditties” was among them. The second stanza reads:

New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.

This reminded me of a prayer that we pray at every Divine Liturgy, “All things good and profitable for our souls, let us ask of the Lord.” When we realize that as the poet says, whatever comes our way has the potential to “help me on my…rugged way to heaven,” even what is “ill” is transformed.

That isn’t to deny the “honest face” we need to have in ourselves, and which some part of us longs for from everything and everyone we encounter in life. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “If there are two heretical words in the Christian vocabulary, they would be ‘optimism’ and ‘pessimism.’ These two things are utterly anti-biblical and anti-Christian.” What we need is reality, the reality that “Our faith is not based on anything except on these two fundamental revelations: God so loved the world, and: The fallen world has been secretly, mysteriously redeemed.”(From the lecture “Between Utopia and Escape.”)

As we face the gifts of the new year 2017, may God’s grace flow through each one. My love goes out to you all!

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