Posts tagged ‘Schmemann’

June 21, 2017

the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact, the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear and concise “doctrine.” What is of paramount importance for us, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational. Some theologians and philosophers, in an attempt to explain and thus to “rationalize” the experience and the existence of evil, explained it as an absence: the absence of good. They compared it, for example, to darkness, which is nothing but the absence of light and which is dispelled when light appears. This theory was subsequently adopted by deists and humanists of all shades and still constitutes an integral part of our modern worldview. Here the remedy against all evil is always seen in “enlightenment” and “education.” For example: explain to teenagers the mechanics of sex, remove the “mystery” and the “taboos,” and they will use it rationally, i.e. well. Multiply the number of schools and man, who is naturally good, will ipso facto live and behave rationally, i.e. well.

Such however is certainly not the understanding of evil in the Bible and in the experience of the Church. Here evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely in presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all those who try, be it only a little, to “better” themselves, to oppose “nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life.

Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the “lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the “hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of “goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the “Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him—to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.

These are, of course, poor words, almost totally inadequate to the horrifying mystery they are trying to express. For we know nothing about that initial catastrophe in the spiritual world—about that hatred against God ignited by pride and that bringing into existence of a strange and evil reality not willed, not created by God. Or rather, we know about it only through our own experience of that reality, through our own experience of evil. This experience indeed is always an experience of fall: of something precious and perfect deviated from and betraying its own nature, of the utterly unnatural character of that fall which yet became an integral and “natural” part of our nature. And when we contemplate evil in ourselves and outside ourselves in the world, how incredibly cheap and superficial appear all rational explanations, all “reductions” of evil to neat and rational theories. If there is one thing we learn from spiritual experience, it is that evil is not to be “explained” but faced and fought. This is the way God dealt with evil. He did not explain it. He sent His Only-Begotten Son to be crucified by all the powers of evil so as to destroy them by His love, faith and obedience.

This then is the way we must also follow. On this way we inescapably meet the Devil at the very moment we make the decision to follow Christ.

June 11, 2017

it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

We must realize first of all that preparation is a constant and essential aspect of the Church’s worship as a whole. It is impossible to enter into the spirit of liturgy, to understand its meaning and truly to participate in it without first understanding that it is built primarily on the double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, and that this rhythm is essential to the Church’s liturgy because it reveals and indeed fulfills the double nature and function of the Church herself.

On the one hand the Church herself is preparation: she “prepares” us for life eternal. Thus her function is to transform our whole life into preparation. By her preaching, doctrine and prayer she constantly reveals to us that the ultimate “value” which gives meaning and direction to our lives is at the “end,” is “to come,” is to be hoped for, expected, anticipated. And without this basic dimension of “preparation” there simply is no Christianity and no Church. Thus the liturgy of the Church is always and primarily a preparation: it always points and tends beyond itself, beyond the present, and its function is to make us enter into that preparation and thus to transform our life by referring it to its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

Yet, on the other hand, the Church is also and essentially fulfillment. The events which gave her birth and which constitute the very source of her faith and life have taken place. Christ has come. In Him man was deified and has ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit has come and His coming has inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Grace has been given and the Church truly is “heaven on earth,” for in her we have access to Christ’s table in His Kingdom. We have received the Holy Spirit and can partake, here and now, of the new life and be in communion with God.

It is in and through liturgy that this double nature of the Church is revealed and communicated to us. It is the proper function of the liturgy to “make” the Church preparation and to reveal her as fulfillment. Every day, every week, every year is thus transformed and made into this double reality, into a correlation between the “already” and the “not yet.” We could not have prepared ourselves for the Kingdom of God which is “yet to come” if the Kingdom were not “already” given to us. We could never have made the end an object of love, hope and desire if it were not revealed to us as a glorious and radiant beginning. We could never have prayed “Thy Kingdom come!” if we did not have the taste of that Kingdom already communicated to us. If the liturgy of the Church would not have been “fulfillment,” our life could never have become “preparation.” Thus this double rhythm of preparation and fulfillment, far from being accidental, constitutes the very essence of the liturgical life of the Church, of the liturgy not only in its totality but also in each of its component parts—each season, each service, each sacrament.

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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