Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Aleksandr Schmemann, R I P

Father Aleksandr Schmemann never saw Russia. He was born in 1921 in Estonia to a Russian emigre family that eventually settled in France. Yet he did not neglect the land of his fathers. After coming to the United States in 1951, he taped a weekly Russian-language sermon for Radio Liberty for thirty years. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, while still in the USSR, of these sermons:

For a long time, with spiritual delight, I have been listening on Sunday evening, whenever possible, to the sermons of Father Aleksandr . . . over Radio Liberty. And I was amazed how genuine, how truly contemporary, and of what high order is his art of preaching . . . Never a note of falsehood, not an iota of rhetoric, without empty recourse to obligatory form and ritual which causes a listener discomfort . . . Always a deep thought and profound feeling.

He worked tirelessly for Orthodoxy in America. Becoming Dean of Saint Vladimir's Seminary in 1962, he built it up into a center of Orthodox theology respected throughout the world. Father Aleksandr played a central role in the negotiations that resulted in the recognition by the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union of the independence of the North American daughter church it had planted in 1794 in Alaska, now known as the Orthodox Church in America.

In an era of ersatz "liturgical reform," Father Aleksandr put forward his studies of liturgical theology, insisting that the liturgical rite is an important theological source; or, in simple terms, if you want to understand Baptism, your first source should be the text of Baptism, not a textbook of sacramental theology. But Father Aleksandr was always a champion of genuine liturgical renewal. His efforts are known by their fruits: a full seminary, regular and frequent participation in the sacraments, and more frequent attendance at divine office.

Father Aleksandr Schmemann died on December 13, 1983. A generation of priests gathered to see him off as he went to join the heavenly worship.


The National Review, February 10, 1984