Posts tagged ‘Schmemann’

October 30, 2012

religion does not want Christianity

For it falsifies the Christian message to present and to preach Christianity as essentially life-affirming–without referring this affirmation to the death of Christ and therefore to the very fact of death; to pass over in silence the fact that for Christianity death is not only the end, but indeed the very reality of this world. But to “comfort” people and reconcile them with death by making this world a meaningless scene of an individual preparation for death is also to falsify it. For Christianity claims that Christ died for the life of the world, and not for an “eternal rest” from it. This “falsification” makes the very success of Christianity (according to official data church building and per capita contributions to churches have reached an all time high!) into a profound tragedy. The worldly man wants the minister to be an optimistic fellow, sanctioning faith in an optimistic and progressive world. And the religious man sees him as an utterly serious, sadly solemn and dignified denouncer of the world’s vanity and futility. The world does not want religion and religion does not want Christianity. The one rejects death, the other, life. Hence the immense frustration either with the secularist tendencies of the life-affirming world or with the morbid religiosity of those who oppose it.

This frustration will last as long as long as Christians continue to understand Christianity as a religion whose purpose is to help, as long as they continue to keep the “utilitarian” self-consciousness” typical of the old religion.

From chapter six in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (96-97).

October 29, 2012

strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word

Today no one, except the peculiar and esoteric race of men called “liturgiologists,” is interested in what was in the past a major preoccupation for Christians: the feasts and the seasons, the cycles of prayer, a very real concern about the “kairos“–the time of liturgical celebration. Not only the average layman, even the theologian seems to say: the world of Christian “symbolism” is no longer our world, all this failed, all this is gone and we have more serious affairs to attend to; it would be unthinkable, ridiculous to try to solve any real “problem” of modern life by referring it, say, to Easter or Pentecost, or even to Sunday.

…The real tragedy of Christianity is not its “compromise” with the world and progressive “materialism,” but on the contrary, its “spiritualization” and transformation into “religion.” …Christians were tempted to reject time altogether and replace it with mysticism and “spiritual” pursuits, to live as Christians out of time and thereby escape its frustrations; to insist that time has no real meaning from the point of view of the Kingdom which “beyond time.” And they finally succeeded.

…We must understand, therefore, that the intensive, almost pathological, preoccupation of our modern world with time and its “problem” is rooted in this specifically Christian failure. It is because of us, Christians, that the world in which we live has literally no time. Is it not true that the more “time saving” devices we invent, the less time we have? The joyless rush is interrupted by relaxation (“sit back and relax!”), but such is the horror of the strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word, “relaxation,” that men must take pills to endure it, and buy expensive books about how to kill this no man’s land of “modern living.”

There is no time because Christianity, on the one hand, made it impossible for man to live in the old natural time, broke beyond repair the cycle of the eternal return. It has announced the fullness of time, revealed time as history and fulfillment, and has truly poisoned us once for all with the dream of a meaningful time. There is no time, on the other hand, because having announced all this, Christianity abandoned time, invited Christians simply to leave it and to think of eternity as of an eternal rest (if not yet “relaxation”). To be sure, one can still adorn the meaningless time with “beautiful symbols” and “colorful rites,” preferably “ancient.”

…The cross of Christ signified an end of all “natural” rejoicing; it made it, indeed, impossible. From this point of view the sad “seriousness” of modern man is certainly of Christian origin, even if this has been forgotten by that man himself. Since the Gospel was preached in this world, all attempts to go back to a pure “pagan joy,” all “renaissances,” all “healthy optimisms” were bound to fail. “There is but one sadness,” said Leon Bloy, “that of not being a saint.” And it is this sadness that permeates mysteriously the whole life of the world, its frantic and pathetic hunger and thirst for perfection, which kills all joy.

From chapter three in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (48-49, 54).

October 28, 2012

the very food of our world became His body

In this world Christ was rejected. He was the perfect expression of life as God intended it. Th fragmentary life of the world was gathered into His life; He was the heart beat of the world and the world killed Him. But in that murder the world itself died. It lost its last chance to become the paradise God created it to be. We can go on developing new and better things. We can build a more humane society which may even keep us from annihilating each other. But when Christ, the true life of the world, was rejected, it was the beginning of the end. That rejection had a finality about it: He was crucified for good. As Pascal said: “Christ is in agony until the end of the world.”

Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. This is because Christianity has forgotten itself, forgotten that always it must first of all stand a the cross.

…In this world Christ is crucified, His body broken, and His blood shed. And we must go out of this world, we must ascend to heaven in Christ in order to become partakers of the world to come.

…He became man and lived in this world. He ate and drank, and this means that the world of which he partook, the very food of our world became His body, His life. But His life was totally, absolutely eucharistic–all of it was transformed into communion with God and all of it ascended into heaven. And now he shares this glorified life with us.

…The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth: here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view. Intercession begins here, in the glory of the messianic banquet, and this is the only true beginning for the Church’s mission. It is when, “having put aside all earthly care,” we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.

…Adam is again introduced into Paradise, taken out of nothingness and crowned king of creation. Everything is free, nothing is due and yet all is given.

…And God has made us competent, as Paul Claudel has said, competent to be His witnesses, to fulfill what He has done and is ever doing.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (23, 42-46).

October 23, 2012

celebrants of the sacrament of life

This is the first meaning of our bringing to the altar the elements of our food. For we already know that food is life, that it is the very principle of life and that the whole world has been created as food for man. We also know that to offer this food, this world, this life to God is the initial “eucharistic” function of man, his very fulfillment as man. We know that we were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life, of its transformation into life in God, communion with God.

…To be sure, it is a sacrifice: but sacrifice is the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being, because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial: it puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (34-35).

October 22, 2012

joy of recovered childhood

The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber. And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole beauty of liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.

Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the “necessary.” Beauty is never “necessary,” “functional” or “useful.” And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy. It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditional and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.

“…It is in the highest sense the life of a child, in which everything is picture, melody and song. Such is the wonderful fact which the liturgy demonstrates: it unites act and reality in a supernatural childhood before God.”

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (29-31), with the last portion being quoted from Romano Guardini’s 1950 book The Church and the Catholic, and the Spirit of the Liturgy (180-181).

October 17, 2012

their faces reflected the light

The early Christians realized that in order to become the temple of the Holy Spirit they must ascend to heaven where Christ has ascended. They realized also that this ascension was the very condition of their mission in the world, of their ministry to the world. Fort there–in heaven–they were immersed in the new life of the Kingdom; and when, after this “liturgy of ascension,” they returned into the world, their faces reflected the light, the “joy and peace” of that Kingdom and they were truly its witnesses. They brought no programs and no theories; but wherever they went, the seeds of the Kingdom sprouted, faith was kindled, life was transfigured, things impossible were made possible. They were witnesses, and when they were asked, “whence shines this light, where is the source of this power?” they knew what to answer and where to lead men. In church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and His Kingdom. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.

From chapter two in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (28).

October 13, 2012

offering the world to God

It seems natural for man to experience the world as opaque, and not shot through with the presence of God. It seems natural not to live a life of thanksgiving for God’s gift of a world.

…The natural dependence of man upon the world was intended to be transformed constantly into communion with God in whom is all life. Man was to be the priest of a eucharist, offering the world to God, and in this offering he was to receive the gift of life. But in the fallen world man does not have the priestly power to do this. His dependence on the world becomes a closed circuit, and his love is deviated from its true direction. He still loves, he is still hungry. He knows he is dependent on that which is beyond him. But his love and his dependence refer only to the world in itself. He does not know that breathing can be communion with God. He does not realize that to eat can be to receive life from God in more than its physical sense.

…The world is meaningful only when it is the “sacrament” of God’s presence. …For one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death. Food itself is dead, it is life that has died and it must be kept in refrigerators like a corpse.

For the wages of sin is death” The life man chose was only the appearance of life. God showed him that he himself had decided to eat bread in a way that would simply return him to the ground from which both he and the bread had been taken…. [Man] ceased to be the priest of the world and became its slave.

From chapter one in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (16-17).

October 9, 2012

one all-embracing banquet table

From the opening of chapter one in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann:

“Man is what he eats.” With this statement the German materialistic philosopher Feuerbach thought he had put an end to all “idealistic” speculations about human nature. In fact, however he was expressing, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man. …In the biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food. Second only to the direction to propagate and have dominion over the earth, according to the author of the first chapter of Genesis, is God’s instruction to men to eat of the earth: “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed … and every tree, which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. …” Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embarrassing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment: “… that you eat and drink at my table in the Kingdom.” [11]

…In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live, is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. The world as man’s food is not something “material” and limited to material functions, thus different from, and opposed to, the specifically “spiritual” functions by which man is related to God. All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God know to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. To be sure, man is not the only hungry being. All that exists lives by “eating.” The whole creation depends on food. But the unique position of man in the universe is that he alone is to bless God for the food and the life he receives from Him. He alone is to respond to God’s blessing with his blessing. The significant fact about the life in the Garden is that man is to name things. As soon as animals have been created to keep Adam company, God brings them to Adam to see what he will call them. “And whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” Now, in the Bible a name is infinitely more than a means to distinguish one thing from another. It reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift. To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.

To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it. And in the Bible to bless God is not a “religious” or a “cultic” act, but the very way of life. God blessed the world, blessed man, blessed the seventh day (that is, time), and this means that He filled all that exists with His love and goodness, made all things “very good.” So the only natural (and not “supernatural”) reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and–in this act of gratitude and adoration–to know, name and possess the world. All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. “Homo sapiens” [“man the wise”], “homo faber” [“man the creator”] yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans.” The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God–and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament.

Men understand all this instinctively if not rationally. Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite–the last “natural sacrament” of family and friendship. of life that is more than “eating” and “drinking.” To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that “something more” is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life. [14-16]

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