AlexanderSchmemannFor the Lifeof the World
FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLDSacraments and Orthodoxyby ALEXANDER SCHMEMANNThis book was originally written to serve as an outline for students in adiscussion of the Christian "worldview." It suggests an approach to theworld and to man's life in it that stems from the liturgical experience of theOrthodox Church. Such issues as secularism and Christian culture areviewed from the perspective of the unbroken experience of the Church, asrevealed and communicated in her worship, in her liturgy-the sacramentof the world, the sacrament of the Kingdom. According to Thomas Merton,writing in Monastic Studies, For the Life of the World is "a powerful,articulate, and, indeed, creative essay in sacramental theology.Schme mann can allow himself to go to the very root of the subject without havingto apologize for his forthrightness or for his lack of interest in trivialities."The author, Father Alexander Schmemann(ti983),former Dean andProfessor of Liturgical Theology at St Vladimir's Orthodox TheologicalSeminary, was educated in France at the University of Paris and theOrthodox Theological Institute of St Sergius. Known as a dynamic andarticulate spokesman for Orthodox Christianity, Father Schmemann'spowerful and perceptive writings have been instrumental in conveyingOrthodoxy to an ever-growing audience.Other books by Father Schmemann published by St Vladimir's Semi nary Press include Church, World, Mission; The Historical Road of East ern Orthodoxy; Great Lent; Introduction to Liturgical Theology; Of Waterand the Spirit; Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Russian ReligiousThought; The Eucharist; and Celebration of Faith, volumes I throughCover design by June MagazinerST VLADIMIR'S SEMINARY PRESS3.
FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD
FOR THE LIFEOF THE WORLDSacraments and OrthodoxyAlexander SchmemannST VLADIMIR'S SEMINARY PRESSCRESTWOOD, NEW YORK 107071998
library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataSchmemann, Alexander, 1921-1983For the life of the world.Rev. and expanded ed. of: Sacraments and orthodoxy, 1965.Includes bibliographical r eferences.1. Orthodox Eastern Church-Liturgy. 2. Sacraments-Orthodox EasternI. Tide.BX350.S361982ISBN 0-913836-08-7Church.264'.01982-17033Copyright 1963, 1970, 1971, 1973by Alexander SchmemannAll Rights ReservedISBN 0-913836-08-7First Published in 1963Second revised tznd e:xpllnded editionSecond printing 1977Third printing 1982Fourth printing 1988Fifth printing 1995Sixth printing 19981973PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
ContentsPreface1 . The Life of the World7112.The Eucharist233.The Time of Mission474. Of Water and the Spirit675. The Mystery of Love816 . Trampling Down Death by Death957. And Ye Are Witnesses of These Things107Appendices1 . Worship in a Secular Age1 17Sacrament and Symbol1352.
PrefaceThis little book was written ten years ago as a "studyguide" to the Quadrennial Conference of the NationalStudent Christian Federation held in Athens, Ohio, inDecember 1963. It was not meant to be and it is certainlynot a systematic theological treatise of the Orthodox litur gical tradition. My only purpose in writing it was tooutline-to students preparing themselves for a discussionof Christian mission-the Christian "world view," i.e.,the approach to the world and to man's life in it that stemsfrom the liturgical experience of the Orthodox Church.It so happened however, that the book reached a reader ship far beyond the student circles for which it was written.Reprinted in. 1965 by Herder and Herder (under the titleSacraments and Orthodoxy), then in England (World AsSacrament), translated into French, Italian and Greek, itwas even recently "published" in an anonymous Russiantranslation by the underground samizdat in the SovietUnion. All this proves, I am sure, not any particular qualitiesof the book itself-more than anyone I am aware of itsmany defects and insufficiencies-but the importance ofthe issue which I tried to deal with and whose urgency,evident ten years ago, is even more evident today and theonly justification for t.his new edition.These issues are none other than secularism-the pro gressive and rapid alienation of our culture, of its veryfoundations, from the Christian experience and "worldview" which initially shaped that culture-and the deeppolarization which secularism has provoked among Chris tians themselves. Indeed, while some seem to welcomesecularism as the best fruit of Christianity in history, some7
8For the Life of the Worldothers find in it the justification for an almost Manicheanrejection of the world, for an escape into a disincarnateand dualistic "spirituality." Thus there are those who reducethe Church to the world and its problems, and those whosimply equate the world with evil and morbidly rejoice intheir apocalyptic gloom.Both attitudes distort, I am convinced , the wholeness,the catholicity of the genuine Orthodox tradition which hasalways affirmed both the goodness of the world for whoselife God has given his only-begotten Son, and the wicked ness in which the world lies, which has always proclaimedand keeps proclaiming every Sunday that "by the Cross joyhas entered the world," yet tells those who believe in Christthat they "are dead and their life is hid with Christ inGod" (Col. 3 : 3) .And thus our real question is : how can we "holdtogether"-in faith , in life, in action-these seemingly con tradictory affirmations of the Church, how can we overcomethe temptation to opt for and to "absolutize" one of them,falling thus into the wrong choices or "heresies" that haveso often plagued Christianity in the past ?It is my certitude that the answer comes to us not fromneat intellectual theories, but above all from that livingand unbroken experience of the Church which she revealsand communicates to us in her worship, in the leitourgiaalways making her that which she is: the sacrament of theworld, the sacrament of the Kingdom-their gift to us inChrist. And it is this experience that I tried, not so much toexplain or to analyse, but rather simply to confirm in thisessay.Had I to write it today I would have probably writtenit differently. But I do not believe in, nor am I capable of,rewriting that which was written once, however imperfectly,with the whole heart. Therefore only a few minor cor rections and alterations were made in this reprint. I havealso added, in the form of appendices, two essays writtenin a somewhat different "key" but which may help, I hope,better to understand some of the implications of this book.Finally I would like to use the opportunity given me
Preface9by this new edition to express my deep gratitude to thosewhose reactions to my work were for me the source of greatjoy : to Mr. Zissimos Lorenzatos of Athens who, of hisown initiative, simply because, as he wrote to me, he "felthe must do it," published a magnificent Greek translationof this book ; to my unknown friends in Russia : learning oftheir humble, typewritten edition of my essay was one of themost moving experiences of my life ; to all those who wroteto me and whose messages were for me the joyful affirma tion of our unity "in faith and love" ; last but not least, tomy friends David Drillock and Anthony Pluth who sparedno effort in preparing this new edition.January, 1973-Alexander Schmemann
ITile Ute of the World"Man is what he eats." With this statement the Germanmaterialistic philosopher Feuerbach thought he had put anend to all "idealistic" speculations about human nature. Infact, however , he was expressing, without knowing it, themost religious idea of man. For long before Feuerbach thesame definition of man was given by the Bible. In thebiblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as ahungry being, and the whole world as his food. Second onlyto the direction to propagate and have dominion over theearth, according to the author of the first chapter of Gene sis, is God's instruction to men to eat of the earth : "BeholdI have given you every herb bearing seed . . . and every tree,which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall befor meat. . . . " Man must eat in order to live ; he musttake the world into his body and transform it into himself,into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, andthe whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquettable for man. And this image of the banquet remains,throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It isthe image of life at its creation and also the image of life atits end and fulfillment: ". . . that you eat and drink at mytable in my Kingdom."I begin with this seemingly secondary theme of food secondary from the standpoint of the great "religious is sues" of our time-because the very purpose of this essayis to answer, if possible, the question : of what life do we11
12For the Life o f the Worldspeak, what life do we preach, proclaim and announce when,as Christians, we confess that Christ died for the life of theworld ? What life is both motivation, and the beginning andthe goal of Christian mission?The existing answers follow two general patterns. Thereare those among us for whom life, when discussed in reli gious terms, means religious life. And this religious life is aworld in itself, existing apart from the secular world and itslife. It is the world of "spirituality," and in our days itseems to gain more and more popularity. Even the airportbookstands are filled with anthologies of mystical writings.Basic Mysticism is a title we saw on one of them. Lost andconfused in the noise, the rush and the frustrations of"life," man easily accepts the invitation to enter into theinner sanctuary of his soul and to discover there anotherlife, to enjoy a "spiritual banquet" amply supplied withspiritual food. This spiritual food will help him. It will helphim to restore his peace of mind, to endure the other-thesecular-life, to accept its tribulations, to lead a whole some and more dedicated life, to "keep smiling" in a deep,religious way. And thus mission consists here in convertingpeople to this "spiritual" life, in making them "religious."There exists a great variety of emphases and even the ologies within this general pattern, from the popular revivalto the sophisticated interest in esoteric mystical doctrines.But the result is the same: "religious" life makes the secularone-the life of eating and drinking-irrelevant, deprives itof any real meaning save that of being an exercise in pietyand patience. And the more spiritual is the "religious ban quet," the more secular and material become the neonlighted signs EAT, DRINK that we see along our highways.But there are those also, to whom the affirmation "forthe life of the world" seems to mean naturally "for thebetter life of the world." The "spiritualists" are counter balanced by the activists. To be sure we are far today fromthe simple optimism and euphoria of the "Social Gospel."All the implications of existentialism with its anxieties, ofneo-Orthodoxy with its pessimistic and realistic view ofhistory, have been assimilated and given proper considera-
The Life of the World13tion. But the fundamental belief in Christianity as beingfirst of all action has remained intact, and in fact has ac quired a new strength. From this point ·of view Christianityhas simply lost the world. And the world must be recovered.The Christian mission, therefore, is to catch up with thelife that has gone astray. The "eating" and "drinking" manis taken quite seriously, almost too seriously. He constitutesthe virtually exclusive object of Christian action, and weare constantly called to repent for having spent too muchtime in contemplation and adoration, in silence and liturgy,for having not dealt sufficiently with the social, political,economic, racial and all other issues of real life. To bookson mysticism and spirituality correspond books on "Reli gion and Life" (or Society, or Urbanism or Sex . . ) . And yetthe basic question remains unanswered : what is this lifethat we must regain for Christ and make Christian ? Whatis, in other words, the ultimate end of all this doing andaction ?Suppose we have reached at least one of these practicalgoals, have "won" -then what ? The question may seem anaive one, but one cannot really act without knowing themeaning not only of action, but of the life itself in the nameof which one acts. One eats and drinks, one fights forfreedom and justice in order to be alive, to have the frtllnessof life. But what is it ? What is the life of life itself? Whatis the content of life eternal ? At some ultimate point, withinsome ultimate analysis, we inescapably discover that in andby itself action has no meaning. When all committees havefulfilled their task, all papers have been distributed and allpractical goals achieved, there must come a perfect joy.About what ? Unless we know, the same dichotomy betweenreligion and life, which we have observed in the spiritualsolution, remains. Whether we "spiritualize" our life or"secularize" our religion, whether we invite men to a spiritualbanquet or simply join them at the secular one, the real lifeof the world, for which we are told God gave his only begotten Son, remains hopelessly beyond our religious grasp.
14For the Life of the World2"Man is what he eats." But what does he eat and why ? Thesequestions seem naive and irrelevant not only to Feuerbach.They seemed even more irrelevant to his religious oppo nents. To them, as to him, eating was a material function,and the only important question was whether in additionto it man possessed a spiritual "superstructure." Religionsaid yes. Feuerbach said no. But both answers were givenwithin the same fundamental opposition of the spiritual tothe material. "Spiritual" versus "material," "sacred" versus"profane," "supernatural" versus "natural"-such were forcenturies the only accepted, the only understandable mouldsand categories of religious thought and experience. AndFeuerbach, f