Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Rev. Alexander Schmemann, theologian, 62



The Rev. Alexander Schmemann, a leading Russian Orthodox theologian influential in U.S. church life in the cause of religious freedom in the Soviet Union and in the world-wide ecumenical movement, died Tuesday in Yonkers. He was 62.

He had been suffering from cancer for more than a year, but had remained active much of the time in church affairs and at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in the Crestwood section of Yonkers, a leading Orthodox theological institution of which he was dean.

Schmemann was a friend and spiritual counselor to author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was expelled from the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Besides being an authority on Orthodox liturgy, history and theology, Schmemann was an adjunct professor at Columbia and New York universities and at Union and General theological seminaries in New York City.

Committed to the rights of believers in the Soviet Union, Schmemann for more than 30 years had broadcast sermons in Russian to the Soviet Union over Radio Liberty. He had a broad following there.

He also was prominent in Orthodox affairs in the United States, and was active in establishment of the autocephalous Orthodox Church in America, independent of the Russian Orthodox Church and dedicated to unifying Eastern Orthodoxy in America.

In the ecumenical movement, Schmemann was a member of World Council of Churches agencies, including its key sector on faith and order, dealing with basic church doctrines and practices in the quest for Christian unity.

Born in Estonia in 1921 in a family of Russian émigrés, Schmemann was educated in France, completing his theological studies in Paris, and was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in America in 1946. He taught church history and had been dean of St. Vladimir’s since 1962, making it a major center of Orthodox studies.

He wrote more than a dozen books, including "For the Life of the World" and "Ultimate Questions."

He is survived by his wife, Juliana, two daughters and a son, Serge, a New York Times correspondent in Moscow and former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press.

Gannett Westchester Newspapers, Wednesday, December 14, 1983