The man above died five years before I was born, and until recently his primary influence on my life came in the form of books that my dad owned but I never touched and in the voice of his son-in-law, the soundtrack to any long car ride with my dad.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann was an Orthodox priest, a writer, and a professor. He is probably best known for serving as Dean of St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary-best known as St. Vlad’s. Additionally, he is known for his 1963 work, For the Life of the World. (SVS Link) It is that book that brings me to write this post.
This post isn’t a true book review. Rather, this is me
telling commanding you to read this book. For the Life of the World discusses approaching living in the world through the Liturgy of the Eastern Church. He draws out the flaws that the Eastern viewpoint finds in both the Western Christian approach and the secular approach to the world. He then answers these flaws and offers the Eastern response to these flaws. The East views the world through the Sacraments. He explains in detail how the Eastern Churches approach life, living, and dying.
Reading this was an incredibly moving experience for me. As I read, I took extensive notes in my prayer journal and began attempting to better incorporate the philosophy presented into my daily life, into my prayer life, and especially into my liturgical experience. Time and again, I was struck by the relevance of a 53-year-old book to my life in 2016.
In an odd way, I find that the “Ancient Faith” speaks well to the 21st century. The Ancient Faith has not changed much in the past 2,000 years, but in that it has a great deal to offer to the 21st century. Fr. Schmemann may not be able to give me point-by-point directions for how to live in the modern epoch, but he does offer me a change in viewpoint. The Eastern viewpoint may be ancient. It may not have changed much in 2,000 years. But then, human nature hasn’t really changed much in that time either. Fr. Schmemann looks at that idea and reminds us that the Sacraments are given to us to transform us, to bring us into heaven, into the Presence of and the life of the Life of the World.
If I had to summarize the themes of this book in two words they would be transformation and joy.
As I said, it is completely worthwhile. So read it. Now.
“A Christian is the one who, wherever s/he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his/her human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his/her mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the Life of the world.”