Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann


The Seven Gifts

Address on the occasion of the elevation to the rank of Archpriest of Fr Alexander Schmemann (1953)

Metropolitan Leonty

Fr. Alexander and Metropolitan LEONTY
[Translator's note: In 1953 Fr Alexander Schmemann penned words about his then-dean Fr Georges Florovsky ("Roll of Honour," SVTQ 2:1, 5), which viewed in retrospect are as readily ascribable to him:

It is unnecessary to elaborate on what everybody well knows: that ... [he] is one of the leading Orthodox theologians of our days, a devout priest and admirable preacher; that his work in the development of St Vladimir’s Seminary has been invaluable. Praise and glory should be rendered to God alone, not to men. A theologian knows but one reward: a wider vision of Truth, a still greater responsibility and faithfulness to it in all its manifestations. . . .

On April 19, 1953, a year and a half after his arrival from Europe to teach church history and advanced liturgics at St Vladimir’s, 27 year-old Fr Alexander was elevated to the rank of Archpriest by Metropolitan Leonty during a Sunday liturgy at the Cathedral Church of the Protection of the Holy Virgin in New York. The Metropolitan spoke eloquently of and to the young priest, and his remarks are worth meditating upon as we consider the fruits of Fr Alexander’s life.]

 

Honorable Fr Alexander,

When one stands before a man who has dedicated himself to the study of Orthodox Theology it ought to be permissible to take time for a few words of spiritual edification in the hearing of God’s Orthodox Church.

Theology indicates that a Christian ought to know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as gifts granted from above to humanity for its good and for the growth of Christ’s Church on this earth. But on this occasion we will proclaim the seven fruitful offerings, which follow from the action of the Holy Spirit on our race. These offerings live in us and through us; by them the "face of the world is renewed"; by them the ancient prophecy is fulfilled that "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord’s glory as the seas are full of water" (Hb 2:14). Let us enumerate these "fruitful offerings" briefly, yet persuasively, for our own edification.

God’s first gift to mankind is that of speech. It differentiates us from the dumb animals. Speech has developed in different ways among different peoples, yet it receives its true direction when directed towards the confession of the grandeur, the magnificence, and the glory of God; when mankind in prayer offers the "fruits of its lips" to the Lord God. This is the origin of private, domestic, and communal prayer. It is the origin of mutual edification through writing and reading, through scholarship and preaching, both when the Church gathers and when the parish schools meet in the evenings and on Sundays. This gift comes from the mind and is for the mind.

The second gift concerns the human heart. It communicates our moods — from ecstasy to joy to melancholy to sorrow; both grief and joy; as well as hope, faith, and love. This gift is united with the harmony of sounds, which emerge from our chests as song; it unites us with the world, which sings, shouts, proclaims and speaks [the Triumphant Hymn] to God. It is capable of fulfilling the command, "Sing to the Lord, all the world!" (Ps. 100:1). The offering of this gift to God is the source of all the hymns, psalms, choirs, services both long and short, and of the Divine Liturgy.

The third gift is that of building, and has both a domestic and social character. It includes the construction of temples to God most high, where people will feel inclined to realize the words St. Peter spoke on Mt. Tabor, "Lord, it is good for us to be here!" (Mt. 17:4). God’s majesty is shown in the formation of the heavens and the earth, in the plants, grains, and flowers. And mankind desires to linger here continually, forever; it is in here that we find applied and realized the Lord’s first "fruits"— the gifts of speech and song. By no means was this offering spontaneous for mankind, but in our times we certainly see fulfilled the Lord’s saying at the Samaritan well (Jn. 4:22 ["the time is coming, and is already here, when by the power of God’s Spirit people will worship the Father as He really is, offering Him the true worship that He wants"]), the prophet Malachi (Ml. 1:11 ["people from one end of the world to the other honor Me"]), and the psalmists of Israel, "from the east to the west praise the name of the Lord!" (Ps. 113:3). In these buildings, Churches dedicated to the Almighty, people have received and will receive as spiritual reward, through the sacraments and offices established by Christ’s Church, that "grace from God which always heals all that is infirm and provides whatever is wanting" in us.

The fourth gift of fruitfulness is thanksgiving to the Lord for his gift of life. This we receive as an inheritance from our ancestors, parents and grandparents, and form one single human race and receive one single, universal salvation granted through Jesus Christ by His cross, which redeemed us and gave us life on Golgotha. This fruit is borne in our establishment of Christian cemeteries, in keeping them clean and orderly, and in adorning them with the signs of salvation — holy crosses — as a tribute and symbol of the "union of love" which, as St Paul says, "never gives up" (1 Cor. 13:8).

The fifth gift of offering is what ancient Rus’ called "forming brotherhood" [bratotvorenie]. This is an expression of love for one’s brothers and sisters still living side-by-side with us. It is the formation of brotherhoods and sisterhoods, unions, clubs, and other organizations for aid, charity, education and all other sorts of cultural significance; likewise, orphanages, asylums, shelters, hospitals, infirmaries — all in obedience to Christ’s command, "whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me" (Mt 25:40). This was the fruitful offering brought by all the Marthas and the myrrhbearers, all the Josephs and Nicodemuses in the Gospels. Today the earth is filled with them.

If it seems difficult to realize all the "fruitful offerings" to the glory of God which we have just enumerated, remember, Christ’s "power is greatest when you are weak" as St. Paul said (2 Cor. 12:9). God’s Word cannot be bound, nor will preaching ever fall silent. Songs of praise will be offered throughout the world by individuals and in choirs: churches, both small and great, are being built — large ones in inhabited areas, and [others] in the most far-off and abandoned "ends of the earth." Cemeteries multiply and grow; they are beautified and visited with zeal by those who pray with pure hearts. Unions and societies arise and grow, flower and diversify without end, filled with people of good intentions and words who turn to the doing of good deeds with God’s help. In this way we know God’s grace and gifts are with the people. And all of this is blessed by the Lord in Christ Jesus as things done according to His commands given in the holy Gospel and through His holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

The sixth fruit, however, is not easily assimilated by mankind. It demands the supreme sacrifice from a person, as expressed in the Savior’s words to the rich youth, "sell all you have and give the money to the poor . . . then come and follow Me" (Mtt. 19:21). This offering is made through the purification of our souls and bodies from all impurity and stain. It comes through renunciation of father and mother, of all earthy pleasures, of the sinful flesh and the world which is "under the rule of the Evil One" as St. John says (1 Jn. 5:19). This offering is expressed in the establishment of monasteries and cloisters for men and women. It consists in taking on the likeness of the angels. There all the offerings we have enumerated come together as flowers of paradise to form a single bouquet. Word and song, building, remembering the living and the departed, church construction and love for one’s brothers, invocation of the grace of God on the world and the whole universe — all of this is present in its highest form; all is done in a "proper and orderly way" [1 Cor. 14:40] for the restoration of the old man in the new order of the Kingdom of God.

Mankind’s seventh offering to the Lord God, being the seventh and crowning one, covers all six previously listed. It consists in knowing God, in discerning His all-good and perfect will. The prophet David in Psalm 19 [vv. 7-11] details the loftiness and importance of knowing God:

The law of the Lord is perfect; it gives new strength. The commands of the Lord are trustworthy, giving wisdom to those who lack it. The laws of the Lord are right, and those who obey them are happy. The commands of the Lord are just and give understanding to the mind. Reverence for the Lord is good; it will continue forever. The judgments of the Lord are just; they are always fair. They are more desirable than the finest gold; they are sweeter than the purest honey. They give knowledge to me, Your servant; I am rewarded for obeying them.

This seventh offering is realized in the theological schools, those seed plots of Orthodox theological study, the seminaries and academies. Here as on Tabor, mortals converse with the holy prophets. As in the Upper Room in Zion and on the way to Gethsemane they hear Christ’s words. Here the Savior’s words are fulfilled, "the knowledge about the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been given to you" (Mtt. 13:11).

Such is the loftiness of the Orthodox knowledge of God. From it flow ""rivers of theology." Foundations for success in preaching are laid here. Inspiration for singing spiritual songs and hymns lies here. Here they are taught to construct temples both physical and pastoral. Piety, fraternity, the bond of love, and sacrifice all have their foundations laid here. The theological school is the crown of the creation of a Local Church. It places her in alignment with the apostles, prophets, fathers and teachers of the Church of Christ. Here the Savior’s words come true. "You are like light for the whole world, a city built on a hill" (Mtt. 5:14).

You, too, stand on such a hill, Fr Alexander! It behooves you, therefore, to "stand at the head of the presbyters" and be called an "archpriest." This title and position among the clergy of our North American Metropolia is now given to you, by decision of the Great Council of Bishops of our Metropolia. Guard this title, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Great Chief Pastor, will increase your physical and spiritual strength for good works — for a fruitful offering in His Church for the good of His new Vineyard in this New World.

Fr Alexander, Professor of Theology at St Vladimir’s Theological Academy in the City of New York is now elevated to the rank of archpriest by my humility. Axios! Axios! Axios! Amen.

Translated from the Russian by Paul Garrett

St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1984, pp. 25-31