"For the Life of the World" by Alexander Schmemann. A Review

For the Life of the World: Sacraments and OrthodoxyFor the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy by Alexander Schmemann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways, this little 151 page paperback is too big to rightly review. In a nutshell Fr. Alexander Schmemann, an Eastern Orthodox priest, writer and teacher, was gunning for secularism, which is both a Christian heresy - Christian truths that went mad (111) - and a negation of worship (118). Secularism has birthed a deep polarization, even spawning a disincarnate and dualistic spirituality (7-8). Schmemann has much to say and much to give that will help correct our myopic perspective, from an Eastern Orthodox position. Though the book was originally written in 1963, and then expanded and revised in 1973, it speaks into our moment with great clarity!

Not only does Schmemann gun for secularism, he supplies us with the antidote: Christ has come "for the life of the world," both restoring and transforming nature. Now, those who believe the Gospel "live in the world seeing everything in it as a revelation of God, a sign of His presence, the joy of His coming, the call to communion with Him, the hope for fulfillment in Him" (112). Therefore a "Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world's return to Him who is the life of the world" (113). I loved the deliciously anti-Gnostic tenor that soaked every page of this book!

The author also nudges us that to remember and recollect what Christ has done, we will be reoriented to the Christ-redeemed destiny. But if not, we will simply continue to be part of the disease and not the remedy. Or as Schmemann stated it, "Consciously or subconsciously Christians have accepted the whole ethos of our joyless and business-minded culture...But joy was given to the Church for the world -- that the Church might be a witness to it and transform the world by joy" (53 and 55).

In the end "For the Life of the World" has deep Gospel roots growing downward that bear lush fruit ascending upward. Though Schmemann might well cringe from his grave as I make this connection, yet I am certain the first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism dances well with his Gospel waltz. "What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, ...." "To be Christian, to believe in Christ, means and has always meant this: to know in a transrational and yet absolutely certain way called faith, that Christ is the Life of all life, that He is Life itself and, therefore, my life" (104). Thank you Alexander Schmemann. May you rest in peace, and rise in glory - body and soul - when our Life himself returns to right all wrongs and defeat our last enemy, death! I highly recommend this book.


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