Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In Remembrance of Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann (may his memory be eternal) died on 13 December 1983. His writings and example, more than any other I venture, are responsible for my attraction to Orthodoxy, and I honor him and his memory. He coined the term "winter pascha" for the winter fast preceding Theophany, as is recounted in Thomas Hopko's book about the fast, The Winter Pascha. It is meet, right, and salutary that we remember this man by re-reading some of his words -- words that helpfully move all Christians to a proper celebration of the Nativity and Epiphany of the Son of God and to a proper sense of what it means to be the Church:

The purpose of Christianity is not to help people by reconciling them with death, but to reveal the Truth about life and death in order that people may be saved by this Truth. . . . If the purpose of Christianity were to take away from man the fear of death, to reconcile him with death, there would be no need for Christianity, for other religions have done this, indeed better than Christianity.

The Church is the entrance into the risen life of Christ; it is communion in life eternal, "joy and peace in the Holy Spirit." And it is the expectation of the "day without evening" of the Kingdom; not of any "other world," but of the fulfillment of all things and all life in Christ. In Him death itself has become an act of life, for He has filled it with Himself, with His love and light. In Him "all things are yours; whether ... the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:21-23). And if I make this new life mine, mine this hunger and thirst for the Kingdom, Christ is Life, then my very death will be an act of communion with Life. For neither life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. I do not know when and how the fulfillment will come. I do not know when all things will be consummated in Christ. I know nothing about the "whens" and "hows." But I know that in Christ this great Passage, the Pascha of the world has begun, that the light of the world to come:" comes to us in the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, for Christ is risen and Life reigneth.

Finally I know that it is this faith and this certitude that fill with joyful meaning the worlds of St. Paul which we read each time we celebrate the "passage" of a brother, his falling asleep in Christ:

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:16-17).

Thus, Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World, pp. 99, 106.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

1 comment:

-C said...

Memory eternal!