Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Rev. Alexander Schmemann,

Dean of Orthodox Seminary

The Rev. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and widely acclaimed as an ecumenical leader and teacher, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Crestwood, N.Y. He was 62 years old.

Father Schmemann was active in the growth of the Orthodox Church in America, which was granted independent status by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970. The Orthodox Church in America seeks to unite some of the ethnic Eastern Orthodox followers. Its membership has climbed to more than a million.

Father Schmemann’s Russian language sermons were broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty for more than 30 years. The sermons gained a loyal following among Orthodox listeners, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Shortly after Mr. Solzhenitsyn was deported from the Soviet Union, he sought out Father Schmemann.

Father Schmemann was accorded the title of protopresbyter, the highest accolade that can be bestowed on a married Eastern Orthodox priest. He was an Orthodox observer for the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965.

He believed that churches had a responsibility to express their faith through social action. "Christ came to say the whole man and not part of him," he told 3,000 students in Athens, Ohio, several years ago, stressing the impossibility of drawing a line between secular life and church life.

The contemporary world in all its complexities requires answers as well as good theories, he said in an interview, adding that true ecumenism depended not only on the unity of the church but also on the unity of all people. The churches, he continued, must constantly review and revalue their relations with a changing world order and only in so doing can the churches function as creative organisms.

He was born in Estonia in 1921 to Russian émigrés, but he grew up in France and was educated there.

After completing theological studies at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris, the center of Russian Orthodox studies after the Revolution, he was ordained a Russian Orthodox priest in 1946.

He taught church history at St. Sergius from 1946 until 1951, when he joined the faculty of St. Vladimir’s in Crestwood. He soon became recognized as a leading authority on Orthodox liturgical theology and was asked to speak and teach at many other institutions of higher learning. These included Columbia University, New York University and the Union Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

He was appointed dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in 1962.

Father Schmemann was the author of numerous articles and books. His books included "For the Life of the World," "Introduction to Liturgical Theology," "Ultimate Questions" and "Church, World, Mission."

"For the Life of the World" was translated into eight languages and remains one of the most widely read books on Orthodox Christianity written for the general public.

He is survived by his wife, Juliana, a former headmistress of the Spence School in New York City and now a teacher at the Brearley School; a son, Serge, who is a New York Times correspondent in Moscow; two daughters, Anne Hopko and Mary Tkachuk, and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held this evening at 7 at St. Vladimir’s. A funeral service will be held there tomorrow at 7 P.M. and the divine liturgy at 9:30 A.M. on Friday.

The New York Times, Wednesday, December 14,1983, p. B5