Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Father Nicholas Afanasiev
+ December 4, 1966

In Memoriam

With the passing away of Father Nicholas Afanasiev, one of the last members of the old St. Sergius faculty leaves the theological battlefield. Born in 1893 in Odessa, he, as so many of his friends and colleagues, came to theology only after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1925 he graduated from the Faculty of Theology in Belgrade, where he worked under the guidance of the well known Russian Church historian A. P. Dobroklonsky. After five years of teaching at the Serbian Orthodox Seminary in Skopije he joined in 1930 the faculty of St. Sergius as professor of Canon Law, and, with an interruption during World War II, he remained there till his death.

Father Nicholas leaves no heavy volumes. His opus magnum, The Church of the Holy Spirit, in which, in 1948, he received his doctoral degree, remains unpublished. He was at his best in short and scholarly essays, a collection of which, I hope, will soon appear in English. In some ways Fr. Nicholas was a man of one idea, or, it may be better to say, one vision. It is this vision that he described and communicated in what appeared sometimes as "dry" and technical discussions. A careful reader, however, never failed to detect behind this appearance a hidden fire, a truly consuming love for the Church. For it was the Church that stood at the center of that vision, and Fr. Afanasiev, when his message is understood and deciphered, will remain for future generations a genuine renovator of ecclesiology. This ecclesioiogical teaching and the questions it raises deserve a full size study, for which there is no room here. But as I write this, on the day of his funeral, and remember years of friendship, communion in theological interests, sharp debates sometimes, I want to express again that gratitude which I have had to feel and express so many times in these last years -- as we lost one after another our teachers of that unique and glorious generation, the gratitude for having known Fr. Afanasiev and shared his friendship and been given so much by him.

-- ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1966, Vol. 10, No. 4, p. 209