Monday, September 04, 2006

Schmemann and Eucharist

Owen and Douglas Ian have both mentioned The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann recently, and said mentionings have prompted me to pick my copy back up. Fr. Alexander was quite a formidable influence in my journey to become Orthodox, and these quotes pretty much sum up why:

[Referring to the ROCOR, towards whom in general I hold no ill will whatsoever; the situation between the OCA and the ROCOR was much tenser then than it is now ~ DB] "These people, stifled by their own chose limitations, are quite unable to accept or try to understand any creativity. Christianity and Orthodoxy are good and acceptable [according to them] because the are ancient, because they are in the past, because they are the substance and the sanction of the 'orthodox way of life'...The defenders of the 'orthodox way of life' express one clear and profound answer [to the question of Orthodoxy's future] as they define it. But there is no clear, total answer from any other side except reductions, like return to 'Byzantium,' or spiritual individualism, or reading the ascetics, or escapism from reality. I hesitate to come forward with my feeling--it sounds arrogant--that I have an answer! In everything that I preach, or teach, or write, I want this answer to appear, hopefully to shine through. But that answer cannot be squeezed into any system, any recipe, any defined way of life. No rules come out of that answer. It is simply a vision of life, and what comes from that vision is the light, the transparency, the referral of everything to the 'Other, the eschatological character of life itself and all that is in it. The source of that eschatological light, the lifting up of all life, is the sacrament of the Eucharist.


"The Eucharist reveals the Church as community--love for Christ, love in Christ--as a mission to turn each and all to Christ. The Church has no other purpose, no 'religious life' separate from the world. Otherwise the Church would become an idol...Only this presence can give meaning and value to everything in life, can refer everything to that experience and make it full. 'The image of this world is passing away.' But only by passing away does the world finally become the 'World': a gift of God, a happiness that comes from being in communion with the content, the form, the image of that 'World.'"


"In our world, any religion without Christ (even Christianity and Orthodoxy) is a negative phenomenon, even frightening. Any contact with such a religion is dangerous. One can study it to better understand Christianity, or Christ. But by itself, it cannot be salvation, however one understands this word.

"For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar. It seems to be analogous, but in fact, there is an essential difference between the early Christians and us. For them, everything is in knowing Christ, loving Him. For us, everything is in the desire to be enlightened. The early Christians came to Communion to follow Christ, whereas now Christ is not the unique reason for partaking of Communion."
There's a lot of talk on other blogs--most notably Julio's here and here--about what exactly the "Western captivity" of Orthodoxy is and/or was; it's said that we lambast the western expressions of Christianity for exactly the wrong things, and do so in a way that is (ironically) inherently western. While I sense the veracity of this, I do not, I admit, possess the intellectual wherewithal or philosophical background of the guys I linked to above to actually explain it. I will say, however, that one of the things from my own Protestant/Evangelical upbringing for which I am the most grateful and which Fr. Alexander states so beautifully above (along with his son-in-law, Fr. Thomas Hopko, if you've listened to him) is that all is about God; all points to God. Nothing should ever be done simply because "that's the way it's always been done," or because "St. Soandso said suchandsuch in chapter eleventeen of the fortyleventh book of the Philokalia"--these things may add to the force of argument for a certain practice, if said saint or tradition has been shown to show forth the life of God in the Church, but the primary reason anything should be done in our Church is because it shows forth the Kingdom of Heaven.

We as Orthodox have an amazing opportunity with our icons, vestments (Imperial in appearance though they may be, eschatological they still remain), architecture, liturgy, sacraments, rubrics, hymnography, music and theology: we can search for the "one thing needful" in all of this--and it is more a matter of what one is looking for rather than if something is or is not inherently within a practice; a practice is what we make it--and use it all, every note, word and movement, to point to the renewal of Creation through our Lord's taking on our nature for our sake, and for the life of the whole world.

Happy Labor Day, y'all. God bless.


Rhology said...

Might I ask you to ex post facto analyse why it is that, in this long post on the life of Christ in the Church, you never once brought up the presence of Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heart of the believer? Just coincidence (I'm thinking so)? Or is it something else?

BTW, this is an honest question, not a rhetorical one.


John said...

Hello, David. I recently stumbled across your blog--you have some great stuff here. Between Ian and Owen, and now yourself, I will now have to read Schmemann's "Journals." I am a fellow Texan and became Orthodox (fomerly Prot.) last November.

s-p said...

Great stuff. If I might presume to answer Alan, I think what we have is a disconnect in the language of the modern evangelical and the ancient Christian Church. If you take a non sacramental view of creation and God's relationship to us in and through creation and His indwelling of the human being in reality through the Eucharist within the Church, you are left with the ethereal quasi relational evangelical language of "Jesus dwelling in your heart" (whatever that means....) The entire post was indeed about Christ dwelling in and among us and us in Him. Unfortunately the modern protestant Church does not speak the language of the Church of the first centuries even though it borrows phrases and terms from the Bible. I do not say that in a judgmental/harsh or critical/condescending way (this IS the internet and tone of voice is not communicated in type)... I say it with all kindness and as an observation after speaking "protestant-ese" for 25 years and learning "orthodox-ese" for the last 14 years.
There is a huge language barrier even though we all speak English.

Mimi said...

I'm starting to wonder if Douglas Ian, Owen and you are going to get royalties off the journals when I buy them ;)


David Bryan said...

Alan asked:

"Might I ask you...why it is never once brought up the presence of Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heart of the believer?"

Ah, but I did, or rather, Fr. Alexander did. Quite a few times, actually, but most potently when he lamented that, "For the early Christians, the Body of Christ is on the altar because He is among them. For the contemporary Christians, Christ is here because His Body is on the altar." In other words, we have externalized Christ to merely a presence in a physical sacrament, to where He is seen as being made present by the sacrament, instead of being seen as the Fruit of a presence already established within the faithful at baptism/chrismation and ultimately revealed as Eucharist.

Steve hit on something when he said that there's a "disconnect" between Evangelicalism and the ancient Church, "even though [Evangelicalism] borrows phrases and terms from the Bible." I think it boils down to this: Evangelicalism seeks to establish firmly the necessity of personal faith in Christ as Savior. The ultimate fulfillment of this, however, is not that of the ancient Church. Personal faith in Christ has, as its end, the Kingdom of Heaven, but that Kingdom is not merely something we wait for "by and by"; it's made present here and now, in the celebration of the common faith and love of the Orthodox Church's Creed--the fruit of which faith and love is Christ's presence within us made physically manifest within the Eucharist. Evangelicalism, however, works to establish all that faith without any sacramental fulfillment whatsoever. To me (if you'll pardon the comparison...but, heck, St. Paul used it), that's like finding out everything you can about a certain girl, proposing marriage to her, agreeing on it, maybe even saying "I do" in private with her, but never actually being united in the sacrament of marriage and in the marriage bed.

Evangelicals see that last situation as being something the book of the Apocalypse reserves for the end of time. We'd say that's true, but the eschatological glory and fulfillment of the faith that will overcome the whole world is mystically made present NOW: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb IS Christ made present in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is the end result of our faith in and union with Christ.

Rhology said...

I guess the reason I asked the question I did was specifically b/c of the "among us" phraseology. I believe He is "among us" in worship, but He is also "inside ME".
s-p asked what "Jesus dwelling inside your heart means," and I answer that it's a bit of a mystery, but if you ever took the time to read any standard Protestant works on salvation, you could easily find out. Sthg like over 50 individual events occur at the moment of justification, for 1 thing. As for "Jesus living inside your heart," I answer in the language of Scripture:

John 14:23 - Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

1 Cor 6:19 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

Matt 3:11 - "I baptize you with (or "in", or "by") water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with (or "in", or "by") the Holy Spirit and with fire.

--"girl... marriage bed"
>>Your comparison comes from Eph 5, right? I don't see any particular sacramental connection in that psg, unless it be v. 26 - "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing w/ water through the word". But the point of the psg is that it refers to "Christ and the church" (v. 32). So our disagreement would have to come (if we are consistent w/ this psg) on HOW one enters the Church...

Finally, I guess it makes me curious how taking something *physically* can affect me *spiritually*.
Anyway, those are my reflections, FWIW (probably enough to get a Tootsie Roll or sthg).

John said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what are some of these "standard Protestant works on salvation?" If in fact there were "standards," then we might all still be good Protestants.

Rhology said...

Hi John,

A good place to start would be Calvin's Institutes (the section on justification, not the section on infant baptism ;-) ). A little bit more user-friendly would be James Montgomery Boice's "The Gospel of the Reformation" or James White's "The God Who Justifies". Or check out John Macarthur's "The Gospel According to Jesus".

There are probably lots of others, but I would unhesitatingly recommend those. Point is (as should be and I'm sure is obvious to most) that one should not glean one's ideas of the merit of Evangelical ideas by listening to Paul Crouch or Joel Osteen. And not your local Methodist or ELCA pastor, either, for that matter... :-(


John said...

Hi Alan,

Well, I listen to Paul Crouch and Joel Osteen for entertainment purposes only (that Paul Crouch--what a hoot!). Nor am I guilty of paying much mind to Methodist or ELCA pastors, either! But I do have some Protestant credentials--baptized at age 23, deacon at age 29 and elder at age 46. And then Orthodox at age 50. My entire adult life has been spent, by and large, actively involved in the Protestant church. The point is, my particular variation of Protestantism would not have touched Calvin's "Institutes" with a ten foot pole. Nor would we have been impressed with Boice's "The Gospel of the Reformation," or the other works you cite. Maybe there are some groups who still do. We certainly approached scripture "Protestantly." And yet, our faith tradition was far removed from that of Calvin. These extremes, and the thousands of Christian groups on the spectrum in between, are all faithfully adhering to their "standard," the Bible. What is really being adhered to, obviously, is a particular interpretation of scripture. And so what we have is a Babel of voices. I see no Protestant standard, nor even a standard Protestant interpretation. Thanks for you comments, Alan. I'm really enjoying the on-going discourse here.

David Bryan said...

A couple of comments in Alan's last post got me thinking:

"I guess the reason I asked the question I did was specifically b/c of the "among us" phraseology. I believe He is "among us" in worship, but He is also "inside ME".

Right. And I hope I showed how we believe He indwells the Orthodox believer, as well, and the fruit of that when we are all together is the Eucharist.

"Finally, I guess it makes me curious how taking something *physically* can affect me *spiritually*."

This, I think, hits at the heart of the matter of the Incarnation with which the Orthodox fathers of the Ecumenical Councils concerned themselves--I think particularly of Chalcedon, where Nestorius (NOT a Father but a heretic) said that the human person in the Theotokos was not the Logos but the human Christ. There was a reluctance to say that touching Christ's flesh was the same thing as saying, "Touching God Himself." Once cannot encounter the flesh of Christ without encountering the divine Logos at the same time. Union without division, mingling, or confusion, as we say.

For us, to encounter the presence of Christ physically in the Eucharist necessitates an encounter with His divine nature, as well, since the two cannot be separated. So, how could partaking of His divine nature NOT affect us spiritually?

Rhology said...

Thanks for your thoughts, gentlemen.


The Tentmaker said...

Bryan, You asked "So, how could partaking of His divine nature NOT affect us spiritually?"

Perhaps for YOU to think of this there might be a reflection on those who, while within the Church are not really part of the Church. Those I speak of are the people who think that by birthright or inheritance they are "Orthodox" or "Christian" and you and I both know some like that.

The only way we can understand the indwelling and the physical to spiritual reality is by being "In Christ" as we live.

You, Bryan, make me ashamed of the time I have wasted in my life NOT living the Transfigured Life of Christ. I have often lost sight of the Transfiguration and I want to keep that in my focus. I have noticed your life and while you are much younger than I, you inspire me in ways you may never understand. I hope we can share soon how you are inspiring me.

BTW, do not take this as anything other than my sincere expression of my view of you. I do not worship nor do I follow you, simply as a brother I see in you a glimmer of that transfigured life that I seek.

s-p said...

Hi All,
This discussion can become a blog of its own. I appreciate Alan's sincere question and John's reply that I think gets to the heart of the issue. "Jesus in me" is open to a multitude of interpretations, probably more than even "This is My body, this is My blood..." I think the over arching concept is that we ALL believe there is a radical transformation of the human being when Christ enters his life. But I think Alan's question regarding the "spiritual and physical" gets to the issue that drove me to the early Church Fathers: the quasi-gnosticism of the modern evangelical whose view of salvation is predominantly conceptual/spiritual/rational/intellectual/emotionally felt, but is physical only in the sense that our body must somehow be "moral" to some degree (or no degree depending on your view of salvation) after our intellactual salvation experience. The ramifications of the incarnation are vastly more deep than I ever dreamed as a protestant. I'd suggest (at the risk of being overtly self promoting) listening to our ten part series of radio programs on "Dogma" and the sacramental world view at Our Life in Christ.

David Bryan said...


Rest assured, I don't consider your comments to be "worship"; I don't think I'm worthy of dulia (so-called "worship" or reverence given to people), much less latria (given to God alone). I'm honored by your compliments; thanks.

What I WOULD say is that, even for those people who see their participation in the Church as a birthright, is that even they do indeed experience Christ's presence upon partaking of the Eucharist, but it's unto condemnation rather than forgiveness of sins and forgiveness of soul and body. So the effects of that Incarnational encounter aren't lost on them, either.


You may wanna pick that know...that name you dropped... ;-)

Seriously, though, I'd second that recommendation. Plus anything else in the archives.

EYTYXOC said...

Just ordered Schmemann's Journals, per your recommendation, as well as his Eucharist, per a TAW recommendation, as well as ANTE PACEM (Graydon F. Snyder), a book I read 20 years ago in its first edition and have wanted to have a copy of.

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