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7013ON The Liturgical theology of Father A.Schmemann(OCA)

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    Dec 4, 2002
      ON The Liturgical theology
      of Father A.Schmemann(OCA)

      by Father Michael Pomazansky

      Throughout its history, Russian theological science is accused of falling
      too much under the influence of the non-Orthodox West. The influence of
      Latin scholasticism on Kievan theology lasted until the beginning of the
      19th century. If later theological science freed itself from this
      influence, then reproaches were heard of another nature, i.e., that our
      theologians were not independent, that they were often limited by "copying
      the Germans," as Metropolitan Anthony expressed it. This characterization
      was unpleasant; but, since this dependency did not destroy the general
      Orthodox direction of theology, it did no real harm. What can one do if the
      historical and theological science of the West was extensively developed
      long ago while ours was still embryonic? Due to necessity we had to draw
      from these sources, and, having drawn from them, we obviously became
      dependent on them. More important is the fact that the study of sources
      concerning all facets of church history, even Eastern sources,
      predominantly belonged to and belongs to the West. In our tragic era when
      Russian theological science is nearly obliterated, the study of the
      Orthodox East has passed exclusively into the hands of Western theologians
      and historians. Their study is done carefully and, in the majority of
      cases, with love.

      Nevertheless, one should never forget how unique genuine Orthodox
      consciousness is, how independent, and how full it is of its own inimitable
      spirit. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man
      which is in him? (1 Cor. 2:11). The words of Apostle Paul can be applied to
      the Church. The Western man who is not a member of the Orthodox Church,
      even if scholarly, is in no position to penetrate the spirit of the Church,
      the spirit of Orthodoxy. This is to say nothing of those scholarly Western
      church historians who themselves have lost their Christian faith. Even the
      scholarly believers of the West inevitably bear the imprint of
      denominationalism. Protestant scholars are subject to preconceived notions
      and opinions, long ago deeply rooted in the Protestant psyche. Their false
      understanding of the era of Constantine the Great is ample proof of this.
      From this proceeds their biased interpretation of the written sources of
      the first period of Church history. It would be a grave mistake to
      acknowledge in Christianity at the present time the presence of a unified,
      objective, historical-theological science. This would mean, in many
      circumstances, to accept such a treatment of the history of Christianity
      which contradicts the historical tradition of the Church and the Orthodox
      world-view, and undermines the dogmas of the Orthodox Faith. Such
      "theological ecumenism" would be a great temptation.

      Before us is a work of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to
      Liturgical Theology (Paris, YMCA Press, 1961; English translation: The
      Faith Press, London, 1966). The book is offered as an "introduction" to a
      special course in liturgical theology planned by the author. In it are
      indicated the basics of a proposed new system of theology, after which is
      given an historical outline of the development of the Rule or Typicon of
      Divine services. This second, historical part has the nature of a
      scientific investigation.

      The author views his book as the foundation for a new area of theological
      science - "Liturgical Theology," placing before this science, and
      consequently before himself, the extraordinary task, "to guard the purity
      of divine services... to preserve it from distortion and misinterpretation"
      (p. 10). This new theology should be the guide for the "reexamination of
      limitless liturgical material contained in the Menaion and Octoechoi" (for
      some reason the last word is in the plural). Together with this task
      concerning the services is another concerning theology: the
      historical-liturgical structure of our theology should be the touchstone in
      determining the worthiness and failings of our usual so-called academic
      theology. The author writes: we must "historically seek and discover the
      key to liturgical theology. We must restore the darkened ecclesiological,
      catholic consciousness of the Church by means of this theological
      research." These plans are extraordinarily serious, the responsibility is
      enormous, requiring absolute Orthodoxy in the structure of the proposed
      science in order that it truly could "stand in defense" of both Divine
      services as well as theology.

      The fundamental part of the Introduction to Liturgical Theology - the
      history of the Typicon - is based primarily on Western scientific
      investigations in French, English, and German, and partially on Russian
      sources. The author is convinced that he has succeeded, as he expresses it,
      in "escaping Western captivity" while using non-Orthodox sources. He avoids
      the extreme affirmations of Protestant historians. He writes: "We
      categorically reject the understanding of the Peace of Constantine (i.e.,
      the era of Constantine the Great) as a 'pseudo-victory' of Christianity -
      victory bought at the price of compromise" (p. 86). However, such
      affirmations are not enough in themselves, when we are speaking of a
      subject having so much significance as has been historically demonstrated.
      Therefore, disregarding the scholarly baggage in the book, passing over the
      structure of the work, we consider it our obligation to focus attention on
      the book's contents in one respect: has the author indeed escaped Western
      captivity? As many of his statements testify, he has in fact not escaped

      The Orthodox Liturgical Order: The Product of Historical Cause and Effect,
      or Divine Inspiration and Guidance?

      In investigating the main stages of development of the Rule of Divine
      services, or Typicon, the author looks upon them as an ordinary historical
      manifestation, formed as a result of the influence of changing historical
      circumstances. He writes: "Orthodox writers are usually inclined to
      'absolutize' the history of worship, to consider the whole of it as
      divinely established and Providential" (p. 72). The author rejects such a
      view. He does not see "the value of principles" in the definitive
      formulation of the Typicon; in every case he acknowledges them as dubious.
      He rejects and even censures a "blind absolutization of the Typicon" when
      in practice this is joined, in his opinion, to a factual violation of it at
      every step. He sees "the restoration of the Typicon as hopeless"; the
      theological meaning of the daily cycle of services he finds "obscured and
      eclipsed by secondary strata in the Typicon" which have accumulated in the
      Divine services since the 4th century (pp. 161-2). The ecclesiological key
      to the understanding of the Typicon, according to the author, has been
      lost, and we are left to seek and find the key to liturgical theology by
      means of historical research.

      Such a view of the Typicon is new to us. The Typicon, in the form which it
      has come down to our time in its two basic versions, is the realized idea
      of Christian worship; the worship of the first century was a kernel which
      has grown and matured to its present state, having now taken its finished
      form. We have in mind, of course, not the content of the services, not the
      hymns and prayers themselves, which often bear the stamp of the literary
      style of an era and are replaced one by another, but the very system of
      Divine services, their order, concord, harmony, consistency of principles
      and fullness of God's glory and communion with the Heavenly Church on the
      one hand, and on the other the fullness of their expression of the human
      soul - from the Paschal hymns to the Great Lenten lamentation over moral
      falls. The present Rule of Divine services was already contained in the
      idea of the Divine services of the first Christians in the same way that in
      the seed of a plant are already contained the forms of the plant's future
      growth up to the moment when it begins to bear mature fruits, or in the way
      that in the embryonic organism of a living creature its future form is
      already concealed. To the foreign eye, to the non-Orthodox West, the fact
      that our Rule has taken a static form is viewed as petrification,
      fossilization. For us this static form represents the finality of growth,
      the attainment of all possible fullness. Such finality of developed form we
      also observe in Eastern Church iconography, in church architecture, in the
      interior appearance of the best churches, in the traditional melodies of
      church singing. Further attempts at development in these spheres often
      leads to decadence, leading not up but down. One can draw only one
      conclusion: we are nearer to the end of history than to the beginning... Of
      course, as in other spheres of Church history, so also in this sphere of
      liturgics we should see a path established by God, Providence, and not only
      the logic of causes and effects.

      The author approaches the history of the Typicon from another point of
      view; we shall call it the pragmatic point of view. In his exposition the
      fundamental apostolic, early Christian liturgical order has been overlaid
      by a series of strata which lie one upon the other, partially obscuring
      each other. These strata are: "mysteriological" worship, which arose not
      without the indirect influence of the pagan mysteries in the 4th century;
      then the influence of the liturgical order of desert monasticism; and
      finally the form adapted for the world from the monastic order. The
      scientific schema of the author is: the "thesis" of an extreme involvement
      of Christianity and its worship in the "world" during the Constantinian Era
      which evoked the "antithesis" of monastic repulsion from the new form of
      "liturgical piety," and this process concludes with the "synthesis" of the
      Byzantine period. Alone and without argumentation this phrase stands as a
      description of the stormy Constantinian Era: "But everything has its
      germination in the preceding epoch" (p. 73). The author pays tribute to the
      method that reigns totally in contemporary science: leaving aside the idea
      of an overshadowing by Divine Grace, the concept of the sanctity of those
      who established the liturgical order, he limits himself to a naked chain of
      causes and effects. Thus positivism intrudes now into Christian sciences,
      into the sphere of the Church's history in all its branches. If, however,
      the positivist method is acknowledged as a scientific working principle in
      science, in natural sciences, one can by no means apply it to living
      religion, nor to every sphere of the life of Christianity and the Church,
      insofar as we remain believers. And when the author in one place notes
      concerning this era: "The Church experienced her new freedom as a
      providential act destined to bring to Christ people then dwelling in the
      darkness and shadow of death" (p. 87), one wishes to ask: Why does the
      author himself not express his solidarity with the Church in acknowledging
      this providentialness?

      They tell us: no one keeps the Typicon, and besides, the theological key to
      understanding it has been lost. We answer: the difficulty in fully keeping
      the Typicon is connected with the idea of maximalism inherent in the
      Orthodox understanding of Christianity. This maximalism is found in
      relation to the moral standards of the Gospel, the strictness of church
      canons, the area of ascetic practice, of prayer and services based on the
      commandment, pray without ceasing. Only in monasteries do the church
      services approach the norm of perfection, and at that only relatively. Life
      in the world and parishes force an unavoidable lessening of the norm, and
      therefore the parish practice cannot be viewed as the Orthodox model and
      ideal in the sphere of church services. Nonetheless, we cannot refer to the
      practice in parishes as a "distortion," in the theological sense, of the
      principles of Divine services. Even in the cases of "intolerable"
      shortening, the services retain a great amount of content and exalted
      meaning, and do not lose their intrinsic value. Such shortenings are
      "intolerable" because they bear witness to our self-indulgence, our
      laziness, our carelessness in our duty of prayer. One cannot objectively
      judge the value of the liturgical Rule according to the practice here in
      the diaspora. One cannot draw conclusions from this practice concerning the
      total loss of understanding of the spirit of the Rubrics.

      Let us proceed to more substantial questions.

      The Constantinian era

      We all know what an immense change occurred in the position of the Church
      with Constantine the Great's proclamation of freedom for the Church at the
      beginning of the 4th century. This outward act was also reflected
      everywhere in the inward life of the Church. Was there here a break in the
      inner structure of the Church's life, or was there a development? The
      consciousness of the Orthodox Church replies in one way, and Protestantism
      in another to this question. The main part of Fr. A. Schmemann's book is
      given over to the elucidation of this question.

      The period of Constantine the Great and later is characterized by the
      author as the era of a profound "regeneration of liturgical piety."
      Therefore, the author sees in the Church of this time, not new forms of
      expressions of piety, flowing from the breadth and liberty of the Christian
      spirit in accord with the words of the Apostle: Where the Spirit of the
      Lord is, there is liberty, but rather a regeneration of the interpretation
      of worship and a deviation from the early Christian liturgical spirit. He
      develops a point of view inspired long ago by the prejudices of the
      Lutheran Reformation. Thus, the history of the structure of our services is
      being interpreted in the light of this "regeneration of liturgical piety."

      A propos of this, it is also difficult to reconcile oneself to the term
      "liturgical piety." In the ordinary usage of words, piety is Christian
      faith, hope, and love, independent of the forms of their expression. Such
      an understanding is instilled in us by the Sacred Scriptures, which
      distinguish only authentic piety (piety is profitable unto all things - 1
      Tim. 4:8) from false or empty piety (James 1:26; 2 Tim. 3:5). Piety is
      expressed in prayer, in Divine services, and the forms of its expression
      vary depending on circumstances: whether in church, at home, in prison, or
      in the catacombs. But we Orthodox scarcely need a special term like
      "liturgical piety" or "church piety," as if one were pious in a different
      manner in church than at home, and as if there existed two kinds of
      religiousness: "religiousness of faith" and "religiousness of cult." Both
      the language of the Holy Fathers and of theology have always done without
      such a concept. Therefore it is a new idea, foreign to us, of a special
      liturgical piety that the author instills when he writes: "It is in the
      profound regeneration of liturgical piety and not in new forms of cult,
      however striking these may seem to be at first glance, that we must see the
      basic change brought about in the Church's liturgical life by the Peace of
      Constantine" (p. 78). And in another place: "The center of attention is
      shifted from the living Church to the church building itself, which was
      until then a simple place of assembly... Now the temple becomes a
      sanctuary, a place for the habitation and residence of the sacred... This
      is the beginning of church piety" (pp. 89-90). The freedom of the Church
      under Constantine establishes, writes the author, "a new understanding of
      the cult, a new liturgical piety" (p. 80), a "mysteriological piety." In
      his usage of such terms one senses in the author something more than the
      replacement of one terminology by another more contemporary one; one senses
      something foreign to Orthodox consciousness. This fundamental point is
      decisively reflected in the author's views on the Mysteries, the hierarchy,
      and the veneration of saints, which we shall now examine.

      The mysteries and the sanctifying element in sacred rites.

      The author adheres to the concept that the idea of "sanctification," of
      "mysteries," and in general of the sanctifying power of sacred rites was
      foreign to the ancient Church and arose only in the era after Constantine.
      Although the author denies a direct borrowing of the idea of
      "mysteries-sacraments" from the pagan mysteries, he nonetheless recognizes
      the "mysteriality-sacralization" in worship as a new element of
      "stratification" in this era. "The very word 'mystery,' " he writes, citing
      the Jesuit scholar (now Cardinal) J. Danielou, "did not originally have the
      meaning in Christianity that was subsequently given it, a mysteriological
      meaning; in the New Testament Scriptures it is used only in the singular
      and in accordance with the general significance of the economy of our
      salvation. The word 'mystery' (mysterion) in Paul and in early Christianity
      always signified the whole work of Christ, the whole of salvation"; thus,
      in the author's opinion, the application of this word even to separate
      aspects of the work of Christ belongs to the following era.

      In vain, however, does the author cite a Western scholar concerning the
      word "mystery." If in Saint Paul we read the precise words: Let a man so
      account of us, as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries
      (Greek: mysterion, genitive plural) of God (1 Cor. 4:1). The Apostles were
      stewards of the Mysteries, and this apostolic stewardship was expressed
      concretely in the service of the Divine stewardship: a) in invocatory
      sermons, b) in joining to the Church through Baptism, c) in bringing down
      the Holy Spirit through the laying down of hands, d) in strengthening the
      union of the faithful with Christ in the Mystery of the Eucharist, e) in
      their further deepening in the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, concerning
      which the same Apostle says: Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are
      perfect. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden
      wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7). Thus the activity of the Apostles was full of
      sacramental (mysterion, mysterío) elements.

      Basing himself on the ready conclusions of Western researchers in his
      judgments on the ancient Church, the author pays no attention to the direct
      evidence of apostolic writings, even though they have the primary
      significance as landmarks in the life of the early Christian Church. The
      New Testament Scriptures speak directly of "sanctification," sanctification
      by the Word of God and prayer. Nothing is to be refused, if it be received
      with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer (1
      Tim. 4:4-5). And it is said of Baptism: Ye are washed, ye are sanctified,
      ye are justified (1 Cor. 6:11). The very expression cup of blessing (1 Cor.
      10:16) is testimony of sanctification through blessing. The apostolic
      laying on of hands cannot be understood otherwise than as a sanctification.

      A special place in the book is occupied by a commentary on the Mystery of
      the Eucharist. The author maintains the idea that in the early Church the
      Eucharist had a totally different meaning from the one it subsequently
      received. The Eucharist, he believes, was an expression of the
      ecclesiological union in an assembly of the faithful, the joyful banquet of
      the Lord. Its whole meaning was directed to the future, to eschatology, and
      therefore it presented itself as a "worship outside of time," not bound to
      history or remembrances, as eschatological worship, by which it was sharply
      distinct from the simple forms of worship, which are called in the book the
      "worship in time." In the 4th century, however, we are told there occurred
      an acute regeneration of the original character of the Eucharist. It was
      given an "individual-sanctifying" understanding, which was the result of
      two stratifications: initially mysteriological, and then monastic-ascetic.

      Notwithstanding the assertions of this historico-liturgical school, the
      individual-sanctifying significance of the Mystery of the Eucharist, i.e.,
      the significance not only of a union of believers among themselves, but
      before anything else a union of each believer with Christ through partaking
      of His Body and Blood, is fully and definitely expressed by the Apostle in
      the tenth and eleventh chapters of the First Epistle to the Corinthians:
      Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily,
      shall be guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine
      himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he
      that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to
      himself, not discerning the Lord's Body. For this cause many are weak and
      sickly among you, and many die (1 Cor. 11:27). These teachings of the
      Apostle are concerned with individual reception of the holy Mysteries and
      with individual responsibility. If unworthy reception of them is judged, it
      is clear that, according to the Apostle, a worthy reception of them is the
      cause for individual sanctification. It is absolutely clear that the
      Apostle understands the Eucharist as a mystery: The cup of blessing which
      we bless, is it not the Communion of the Blood of Christ? The bread which
      we break, is it not the Communion of the Body of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16) How
      can one say that the idea of "mystery" was not in the Church in apostolic

      Maintaining the idea of the total "extra-temporality" of the Eucharist in
      the early Church, Fr. A. Schmemann considers as a violation of tradition
      the uniting of it with historical remembrances of the Gospel. He writes:
      "In the early Eucharist there was no idea of a ritual symbolization of the
      life of Christ and His Sacrifice. This is a theme which will appear
      later...under the influence of one theology and as the point of departure
      for another. The remembrance of Christ which He instituted (This do in
      remembrance of Me) is the affirmation of His 'Parousia,' of His presence;
      it is the actualization of His Kingdom... One may say without exaggeration
      that the early Church consciously and openly set herself in opposition to
      mysteriological piety and cults of the mysteries" (pp. 85-86).

      Despite all the categoricalness of the author's commentary on the words:
      This do in remembrance of Me, it contradicts the directives of New
      Testament Scriptures. The Apostle says outright: For as often as ye eat
      this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come (1
      Cor. 11:26). That is, until the very Second Coming of the Lord the
      Eucharist will be joined to the remembrance of Christ's death on the Cross.
      And how could the Apostles and Christians of the ancient Church omit the
      thought, while celebrating the Eucharist, of the sufferings of Christ, if
      the Saviour in establishing it, at the Last Supper, Himself spoke of the
      sufferings of His Body, of the shedding of His Blood (which is broken for
      you, which is shed for you and for many), and in Gethsemane prayed of the
      cup: Let this cup pass from Me? How could they not preface the joyful
      thought of the Resurrection and glory of the Lord with the thought of His
      Cross and death? Both Christ and the Apostles call upon us never to forget
      the Cross.

      Concerning the later historical practice of serving the Eucharist, Fr. A.
      Schmemann writes, "the characteristically gradual development of
      interpreting the rituals of the Liturgy as a mystical depiction of the life
      of Christ... was a replacement of the ecclesiological understanding of the
      Eucharist with a depictive-symbolical one, and even more clearly expresses
      the mysteriological regeneration of liturgical piety. Together with this
      regeneration is connected the development of an entirely new part of the
      Eucharist - the Proskomedia, which is entirely and exclusively symbolical
      (?), and in this respect 'duplicates' the Eucharist (the symbolic sacrifice
      in cutting the bread and pouring the wine into the chalice, etc.). And
      finally, nothing exposes this transition to a 'sanctifying' understanding
      of the Mystery and service more than the change in the manner of
      communicating - changing [the practice of communicating] from the idea of a
      liturgical-community act, 'which seals' (?) the Eucharistic change of
      bread, to the idea of an individual sanctifying act having a relation to
      personal piety, and not to the ecclesiological status of the communicant.
      In reference to the practice of Communion we can truly speak here of a
      'revolution'" (p. ?).

      The thoughts cited above elicit a whole new series of objections. A)
      Proskomedia is "preparation." How can one proceed without preparation? Any
      meal, even the most simple meal, cannot take place without preparation. B)
      The Proskomedia is served by the priest within a closed altar and does not
      have the characteristic of a community service. C) What should the thoughts
      of the priest be directed towards during the Proskomedia if not to the
      recollection of our Saviour's crucifixion? The service book for the Divine
      Liturgy supports this thought by the words in chapter 53 of the Prophet
      Isaiah about the suffering Messiah. D) The Liturgy of the Faithful is not
      duplicated in the recollections of the Proskomedia. In order that the
      actions of the sacred celebrant not be soulless, in the secret prayers at
      the Proskomedia, the Church directs him to recall the crucifixion and death
      of the Saviour, and at the Liturgy of the Faithful, the taking down from
      the Cross, placing in the tomb, descent into Hades, and His resurrection
      and ascent into Heaven. These recollections are not "depictions" nor
      symbols. Concerning symbolism, it occupies a very modest part in the
      service (we are not speaking here of authors who interpret the services).
      In fact the service consists of various prayers, symbolism has nothing to
      do with them, and has a connection only with some of the celebrant's
      actions. These actions, in fact, have a real significance and are,
      consequently, only given an extra, supplementary significance. E) The
      change from the ancient form of communicating from the Chalice to the more
      contemporary practice of communicating laymen is a change of one practice
      of communing to another, which does not change the essence of the Mystery.
      To claim a "regeneration" or "revolution" in the celebration of the Mystery
      of Communion is a sin against the Orthodox Church.

      The hierarchy and the mystery of the priesthood.

      The author expresses the idea that only in the post-Constantinian era did
      there occur a division into clergy and simple believers, which did not
      exist in the early Church and occurred as the result of a "breakthrough of
      mysteriological conceptions." The very idea of the "assembly of the
      Church," he says, was reformed: "In the Byzantine era the emphasis is
      gradually transferred...to the clergy as celebrants of the mystery" (p.
      99). "The early Church lived with the consciousness of herself as the
      people of God, a royal priesthood, with the idea of the elect, but she did
      not apply the principle of consecration either to entry into the Church or
      much less to ordination to the various hierarchical orders" (p. 100). From
      the 4th century on, he continues, there can be traced the "idea of
      sanctification," i.e., consecration to the hierarchical ranks. Now the
      baptized, the "consecrated," turn out to be not yet consecrated for the
      mysteries; "the true mystery of consecration became now not Baptism, but
      the sacrament of ordination." "The cult was removed from the unconsecrated
      not only 'psychologically,' but also in its external organization. The
      altar or sanctuary became its place, and access to the sanctuary was closed
      to the uninitiated" (p. 101); the division was furthered by the gradual
      raising of the iconostasis. "The mystery presupposes theurgii, consecrated
      celebrants; the sacralization of the clergy led in its turn to the
      'secularization' of the laity." There fell aside "the understanding of all
      Christians as a 'royal priesthood'," expressed in the symbol of royal
      anointing, after which there is no "step by step elevation through the
      degrees of a sacred mystery" (p. 100). The author quotes Saint Dionysius
      the Areopagite, who warned against revealing the holy mysteries "to profane
      impurity," and likewise similar warnings of Saints Cyril of Jerusalem and
      Basil the Great.

      In this description of the Constantinian era and thereafter, the Protestant
      treatment is evident. The golden age of Christian freedom and the age of
      the great hierarchs, the age of the flowering of Christian literature, is
      presented here as something negative, a supposed intrusion of pagan
      elements into the Church, rather than as something positive. But at any
      time in the Church have simple believers actually received the condemnatory
      appellation of "profane"? From the Catechetical Lectures of Saint Cyril of
      Jerusalem it is absolutely clear that he warns against communicating the
      mysteries of faith to pagans. Saint Basil the Great writes of the same
      thing: "What would be the propriety of writing to proclaim the teaching
      concerning that which the unbaptized are not permitted even to view?" (On
      the Holy Spirit, ch. 27) Do we really have to quote the numerous
      testimonies in the words of the Lord Himself and in the writings of the
      Apostles concerning the division into pastors and "flock," the warnings to
      pastors of their duty, their responsibility, their obligation to give an
      accounting for the souls entrusted to them, the strict admonitions of the
      angels to the Churches which are engraved in the Apocalypse? Do not the
      Acts of the Apostles and the pastoral Epistles of the Apostle Paul speak of
      a special consecration through laying on of hands into the hierarchical

      The author of this book acknowledges that a closed altar separated the
      clergy from the faithful. But he gives an incorrect conception of the
      altar. One should know that the altar and its altar table in the Orthodox
      Church serve only for the offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice at the
      Liturgy. The remaining Divine services, according to the idea of the
      Typicon, are celebrated in the middle part of the church. An indication of
      this is the pontifical service. Even while celebrating the Liturgy the
      bishop enters the altar only at the "Small Entry" in order to listen to the
      Gospel and celebrate the Mystery of the Eucharist; all remaining Divine
      services the bishop celebrates in the middle of the church. The litanies
      are intoned by the deacon at all services, including the Liturgy, outside
      the altar; and the Typicon directs priests who celebrate Vespers and Matins
      without a deacon to intone the litanies before the Royal Doors. All
      services of the Book of Needs (Trebnik) and all mysteries of the Church,
      except for the Eucharist and Ordination, are celebrated outside the altar.
      Only to augment the solemnity of the services at feast-day Vespers and
      Matins it is accepted to open the doors of the altar for a short time, and
      that only for the exit of the celebrants at solemn moments to go to the
      middle of the church. During daily and lenten services the altar, one may
      say, is excluded from the sphere of the faithful's attention; and if the
      celebrant goes off into the altar even then, this is rather in order not to
      attract needless attention to himself, and not at all to emphasize his
      clerical prestige.

      The idea of the appearance from the 4th century on of a new "church" piety
      is an obvious exaggeration. Christians who had been raised from the first
      days of the Church on images not only of the New Testament, but also of the
      Old Testament, especially the Psalter, could not have been totally deprived
      of a feeling of special reverence for the places of worship (the House of
      the Lord). They had the example of the Lord Himself, Who called the Temple
      of Jerusalem "the House of My Father"; they had the instruction of the
      Apostle: If any man defile the Temple of God, him shall God destroy (1 Cor.
      3:17), and although here in the Apostle the idea of temple is transferred
      to the soul of man, this does not destroy the acknowledgment by the Apostle
      of the sanctity of the material temple.

      The invocation and glorification of Saints.

      Speaking of the intercession and glorification of saints in the form in
      which it was defined in the 4th to 5th centuries, Fr. A. Schmemann
      underlines [what he refers to as] the excessiveness of this glorification
      in the present structure of our Divine services, and he sees in this an
      indication of the "eclipse of catholic ecclesiological consciousness" in
      the Church (p. 166). Is not one real problem centered in the fact that he
      himself does not enter into the catholic fullness of the Orthodox view of
      the Church?

      What is it in the Divine services, something significant and visible to
      everyone, that distinguishes the Orthodox Church from all other confessions
      of the Christian Faith? It is communion with the Heavenly Church. This is
      our pre-eminence, or primogeniture, our glory. The constant remembrance of
      the Heavenly Church is our guiding star in difficult circumstances; we are
      strengthened by the awareness that we are surrounded by choirs of invisible
      comforters, co-sufferers, defenders, guides, examples of sanctity, from
      whose nearness we ourselves may receive a fragrance. How fully and how
      consistently we are reminded of this communion of the heavenly with the
      earthly by the content of our whole worship - precisely that material from
      which Fr. A. Schmemann intends to build his system of "liturgical
      theology"! How fully did Saint John of Kronstadt live by this sense of the
      nearness to us of the saints of Heaven!

      Is this awareness of the unity of the heavenly and the earthly proven by
      the revelation of the New Testament? It is proven totally. Its firm
      foundation is found in the words of the Saviour: God is not a God of the
      dead, but of the living: for in Him all are living (Luke 20:38). We are
      commanded by the Apostles to remember them which have the rule over you,
      who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering
      the end of their lives (Heb. 13:7). Protestantism is completely without an
      answer for the teaching of the Apostle found in Hebrews 12:22-23, where it
      is said that Christians have entered into close communion with the Lord
      Jesus Christ and with the Heavenly Church of angels and righteous men who
      have attained perfection in Christ. What is more necessary and important
      for us: to strive for ecumenical communion and union with those who think
      differently and yet remain in their different opinion, or to preserve
      catholic communion of spirit with those teachers of the Faith, luminaries
      of one Faith, who by their life and by their death exhibited faithfulness
      to Christ and His Church and entered into yet fuller union with Her Head?

      Let us hear how this side of the Church's life is understood by Fr. A.

      He affirms that there occurred an abrupt change in the Constantinian era in
      that there appeared a new stratum in worship in the form of "the
      extraordinary and rapid growth of the veneration of saints" (p. 141). As
      the final result of this, "the monthly Menaion dominates in worship...
      Historians of the Liturgy have for some time directed their attention to
      this literal inundation of worship by the monthly calendar of saints' days"
      (p. 141).

      Concerning this supposed "inundation" of worship we shall note the
      following. Serving of daily Vespers and Matins requires no less than three
      hours, while a simple service to a saint takes up some four pages in the
      Menaion, occupying only a small part of the service. In the remaining
      services of the daily cycle (the Hours, Compline, Midnight Office) the
      remembrance of the saints is limited to a kontakion, sometimes a troparion
      also, or does not appear at all; and it occupies only a small place in the
      services of Great Lent. If the day of worship is lengthened by a polyeleos
      service to a saint, it is for this reason, it has acquired that "major
      key," the diminishing of which the author reproaches the contemporary

      Let us continue the description given in the book of the glorification of
      saints. The author writes: "In the broadest terms this change may be
      defined as follows. The 'emphasis' in the cult of saints shifted from the
      sacramentally eschatological to the sanctifying and intercessory meaning of
      veneration of the saints. The remains of the saint, and later even articles
      belonging to him or having once touched his body, came to be regarded as
      sacred objects having the effect of communicating their power to those who
      touched them... The early Church treated the relics of the martyrs with
      great honor - 'But there is no indication,' writes Fr. Delahaye, 'that any
      special power was ascribed to relics in this era, or that any special,
      supernatural result was expected by touching them! Toward the end of the
      fourth century, however, there is ample evidence to show that in the eyes
      of believers some special power flowed from the relics themselves' (quoted
      from Fr. Delahaye's book). This new faith helps to explain such facts of
      the new era as the invention of relics, their division into pieces, and
      their transfer or translation, as well as the whole development of the
      veneration of 'secondary holy objects' - objects which have touched relics
      and become in turn themselves sources of sanctifying power."

      Let us note that from the pen of an Orthodox writer the above description
      exhibits a particular primitiveness and irreverence.

      "At the same time," the author continues, "the intercessory character of
      the cult of saints was also developing. Again, this was rooted in the
      tradition of the early Church, in which prayers addressed to deceased
      members of the Church were very widespread, as evidenced by the
      inscriptions in the catacombs. But between this early practice and that
      which developed gradually from the 4th century on there is an essential
      difference. Originally the invocation of the departed was rooted in the
      faith in the 'communion of saints' - prayers were addressed to any departed
      person and not especially to martyrs... But a very substantial change took
      place when this invocation of the departed was narrowed down and began to
      be addressed only to a particular category of the departed."

      Thus we logically conclude, according to the author, that if we appeal with
      the words 'pray for us' to the departed members of the Church without
      reference to whether they were devout in their faith or life or were
      Christians only in name, then this fully corresponds to the spirit of the
      Church; but if we appeal to those who by their whole ascetic life or
      martyr's death testified to their faith, then this is already a lowering of
      the spirit of the Church!

      "From the 4th century onward," continues the excerpt from the book, "there
      appeared in the Church first an everyday and practical, but later a
      theoretical and theological concept of the saints as special intercessors
      before God, as intermediaries between men and God."

      This is a completely Protestant approach, not to be expected from an
      Orthodox theologian. It is sufficient to read in the Apostle Paul how he
      asks those to whom he writes to be intercessors for him and intermediaries
      before God so that he might be returned to them from imprisonment and might
      visit them; in the Apostle James (5:16): The prayer of a righteous man
      availeth much; in the book of Job (42:8): My servant Job shall pray for
      you; for him will I accept.

      The author continues: "The original Christocentric significance of the
      veneration of saints was altered in this intercessory concept. In the early
      tradition the martyr or saint was first and foremost a witness to the new
      life and therefore an image of Christ." The reading of the Acts of the
      Martyrs in the early Church had as its purpose "to show the presence and
      action of Christ in the martyr, i.e., the presence in him of the 'new
      life.' It was not meant to 'glorify' the saint himself... But in the new
      intercessory view of the saint the center of gravity shifted. The saint is
      now an intercessor and a helper... The honoring of saints fell into the
      category of a Feast Day," with the purpose of "the communication to the
      faithful of the sacred power of a particular saint, his special grace...
      The saint is present and as it were manifested in his relics or icon, and
      the meaning of his holy day lies in acquiring sanctification (?) by means
      of praising him or coming into contact with him, which is, as we know, the
      main element in mysteriological piety."

      Likewise unfavorable is the literary appraisal by the author of the
      liturgical material referring to the veneration of saints. We read: "We
      know also how important in the development of Christian hagiography was the
      form of the panegyric... It was precisely this conventional, rhetorical
      form of solemn praise which almost wholly determined the liturgical texts
      dealing with the veneration of saints. One cannot fail to be struck by the
      rhetorical elements in our Menaion, and especially the 'impersonality' of
      the countless prayers to and readings about the saints. Indeed this
      impersonality is retained even when the saint's life is well known and a
      wealth of material could be offered as an inspired 'instruction.' While the
      lives of the saints are designed mainly to strike the reader's imagination
      with miracles, horrors, etc., the liturgical material consists almost
      exclusively of praises and petitions" (pp. 143-146).

      We presume that there is no need to sort out in detail this whole long
      series of assertions made by the author, who so often exaggerates the forms
      of our veneration of saints. We are amazed that an Orthodox author takes
      his stand in the line of un-Orthodox reviewers of Orthodox piety who are
      incapable of entering into a psychology foreign to them. We shall make only
      a few short remarks.

      The honoring of saints is included in the category of feasts because in
      them Christ is glorified, concerning which it is constantly and clearly
      stated in the hymns and other appeals to them; for in the saints is
      fulfilled the Apostle's testament: That Christ may dwell in you (Eph.

      We touch the icon of a saint or his relics guided not by the calculation of
      receiving a sanctification from them, or some kind of power, a special
      grace, but by the natural desire of expressing in action our veneration and
      love for the saint.

      Besides, we receive the fragrance of sanctity, of fullness of Grace, in
      various forms. Everything material that reminds us of the sacred sphere,
      everything that diverts our consciousness, even if only for a moment, from
      the vanity of the world and directs it to the thought of the destination of
      our soul and acts beneficially on it, on our moral state - whether it be an
      icon, antidoron, sanctified water, a particle of relics, a part of a
      vestment that belonged to a saint, a blessing with the sign of the Cross -
      all this is sacred for us because, as we see in practice, it is capable of
      making one reverent and awakening the soul. For such a relationship to
      tangible objects we have a direct justification in Holy Scripture: in the
      accounts of the woman with a flow of blood who touched the garment of the
      Saviour, of the healing action of pieces of the garment of the Apostle
      Paul, and even of the shadow of the Apostle Peter.

      The reasons for the seemingly stereotyped character of Church hymns, in
      particular hymns to saints, are to be found not in the intellectual poverty
      nor in the spiritual primitiveness of the hymnographers. We see that in all
      spheres of the Church's work there reigns a canon, a model: whether in
      sacred melodies, in the construction of hymns, or in iconography.
      Characteristic of hymns is a typification corresponding to the particular
      rank of saints to which the saint belongs: hierarchs, monk-saints, etc. But
      at the same time there is always the element of individualization, so that
      one cannot speak of the impersonality of the images of saints. Evidently
      the Church has sufficient psychological motives for such a representation.

      As for petitions to saints, they have almost exclusively as object their
      prayers for our salvation. Is this reprehensible? Is there here a lowering
      of Church spirit? Thus did the Apostle Paul pray for his spiritual
      children: I pray to God that ye do no evil; and for this also we pray, even
      for your perfection (2 Cor. 13:7). If in prayers, especially in molebens,
      we pray for protection from general disasters and for general needs, this
      is only natural; but these molebens do not even enter into the framework of
      the Typicon.

      Church feasts.

      We shall conclude our review with a question of secondary importance,
      namely, concerning Church feasts as they are presented in the book. The
      author agrees with a Western liturgical historian that for ancient
      Christians there was no distinction between Church feasts and ordinary
      days, and he says in the words of the historian (J. Danielou, S.J.):
      "Baptism introduced each person into the only Feast - the eternal Passover,
      the Eighth Day. There were no holidays - since everything had in fact
      became a holy day" (p. 133). But with the beginning of the mysteriological
      era this sense was lost. Feast days were multiplied, and together with them
      ordinary days were also multiplied. (So asserts the author; but in reality
      it is precisely according to the Typicon that there are no "ordinary days,"
      since for every day there is prescribed a whole cycle of church services).
      According to Fr. A. Schmemann, the bond with the liturgical self-awareness
      of the early Church was lost, and the element of chance was introduced in
      the uniting of feasts among themselves and to the "Christian year." The
      author gives examples: "The dating of the Feast of the Transfiguration of
      the Lord on August 6 has no explanation other than this was the date of
      consecration of three churches on Mount Tabor" (p. 136), whereas in
      antiquity, according to the author's assertion, this commemoration was
      bound up with Pascha, which is indicated also by the words of the
      kontakion: that when they should see Thee crucified... The dates of the
      feasts of the Mother of God, in the words of the author, are accidental.
      "The Feast of the Dormition, on August 15, originates in the consecration
      of a church to the Mother of God located between Bethlehem and Jerusalem,
      and the dates of September 8 (the Nativity of the Mother of God and
      November 21, Her Entry into the Temple) have a similar origin. Outside the
      Mariological cycle there appeared, for similar reasons, the Feast of the
      Exaltation of the Cross (connected with the consecration of the Holy
      Sepulcher), and the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist on August 29
      (the consecration of the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Samaria at
      Sebaste)" (p. 137).

      In these references of the author a characteristic sign is his trust of
      Western conclusions in contrast to, as we believe, the simple conclusion
      drawn from the order of the church-worship year. The Byzantine church year
      begins on September 1. The first feast in the year corresponds to the
      beginning of New Testament history: the Nativity of the Most-holy Mother of
      God; the last great feast of
      the church year is in its last month: the Dormition of the Mother of God.
      This is sequential and logical. The Feast of the Transfiguration of the
      Lord occurs at the beginning of August doubtless because the cycle of
      Gospel reading at about this time approaches the account of the Evangelist
      Matthew of the Lord's Transfiguration, and the commemoration of this
      significant Gospel event is apportioned to a special feast. As for the
      words of the kontakion of the Transfiguration: that when they should see
      Thee crucified, they correspond to the words of the Lord spoken to His
      disciples six days before His Transfiguration on the Mount and repeated
      immediately after the Transfiguration: From that time forth began Jesus to
      show unto His disciples, how that He must go into Jerusalem, and suffer
      many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and
      be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:21, 17:9, 22). Therefore the
      Church, in accordance with the Gospel, six days before the Transfiguration
      begins the singing of the katavasia "Moses, inscribing the Cross" (it may
      be that the bringing out of the Cross on August 1 is bound up with this),
      and just forty days after the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated
      the commemoration of the Lord's sufferings on the Cross and death on the
      day of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross. And the designation of the
      time of this feast also is scarcely accidental: this time corresponds, like
      the time of the Feast of the Transfiguration, to the approach of the Gospel
      reading at the Liturgy of the Lord's suffering on the Cross and death. Here
      is one of the examples that indicate that the structure of Divine services
      in the Typicon is distinguished by proper sequence, harmony, and a sound

      If it is suggested that in the church calendar a strict sequentialness of
      the Gospel events is not observed, this is because the Gospel events take
      in many years and in the calendar they are arranged as it were in the form
      of a spiral embracing several years: it contains a series of nine-month
      periods (from the conception to the nativity of Saint John the Baptist, the
      Mother of God, the Saviour), two 40-day periods of the Gospel, etc.

      In the concluding part of his book the author, not in entire agreement with
      what he has said up to that point, is ready to come closer, it would seem,
      to the historical Orthodox point of view; but just here he makes such
      reservations that they virtually conceal the basic position. He says: "The
      Byzantine synthesis must be accepted as the elaboration and revelation of
      the Church's original 'rule of prayer,' no matter how well developed in it
      are the elements which are alien (?) to this lex orandi (rule of prayer)
      and which have obscured it. Thus in spite of the strong influence of the
      mysteriological psychology (?) on the one hand and the
      ascetical-individualistic psychology on the other - an influence that
      affected above all the regeneration (?) of liturgical piety, the Typicon as
      such has remained organically connected with the 'worship of time' which,
      as we have tried to show, contained the original organizing principle. This
      worship of time, we repeat, was obscured and eclipsed by 'secondary' layers
      (?) in the Typicon, but it remained always as the foundation of its inner
      logic and the principle of its inner unity" (p. 162).

      Such is the author's resume. It remains for one to be satisfied with
      little. It was too much to expect that our Typicon has preserved even the
      very principle of Christian worship!


      We have dealt with the book of Father A. Schmemann in full detail because
      in the future a liturgical dogmatics text may be given to Orthodox readers
      based on the views presented in this book. If the foundation is so dubious,
      can we be convinced that the building erected on them will be sound? We do
      not at all negate the Western historico-liturgical and theological science
      and its objective value. We cannot manage entirely without it. We
      acknowledge its merits. But we cannot blindly trust the conclusions of
      Western historians. If we speak of worship as members of the Orthodox
      Church, the principle of understanding the history of our worship and its
      current status by which the Church Herself lives should be present. This
      principle diverges fundamentally from Western Protestant attitudes. If we
      have not understood this principle, our efforts should be directed to
      discovering it, understanding it.

      The logic of history tells us that in public life departures from a
      straight path occur as the consequence of changes in principles and ideas.
      If we maintain the Orthodox Symbol of Faith, if we confess that we stand on
      the right dogmatic path, we should not doubt that both the direction of
      Church life and the structure of worship which was erected on the
      foundation of our Orthodox confession of faith, are faultless and true. We
      cannot acknowledge that our "liturgical piety," after a series of
      regenerations, has gone far, far away from the spirit of Apostolic times.
      If we observe a decline in piety, a failure to understand the Divine
      services, the reason for this lies outside the Church: it is in the decline
      of faith in the masses, in the decline of morality, in the loss of Church
      consciousness. But where Church consciousness and piety are preserved,
      there is no rebirth in the understanding of Christianity. We accept the
      Gospel and Apostolic Scriptures not in a refraction through some kind of
      special prism, but in their immediate, straightforward sense. We are
      convinced that our public prayer is based on the very same dogmatic and
      psychological foundations on which it was made in Apostolic and ancient
      Christian times, notwithstanding the difference in forms of worship.

      Is Father Alexander Schmemann prepared to acknowledge that in fact the
      character of his piety is different from the character of the piety of the
      ancient Church?

      This has been reprinted in Selected Essays, by Fr. Michael Pomazansky
      (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1996), pp. 82-102. This is an
      invaluable collection of his best essays.