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For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy Paperback – 1973
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About the Author
Father Alexander Schmemann (+1983) was a prolific writer, brilliant lecturer, and dedicated pastor. Former dean and professor of liturgical theology at St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, his insight into contemporary culture and liturgical celebration left an indelible mark on the Christian community worldwide.
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One, the text works well for laity who have little academic training, but want a truly deeply provoking book on the sacramental and liturgictal life of the Church. Secondly, it is written well enough for academics to read and pondure insightful scholarship on doctrines such as the Eucharist and its revelance when looking at the creation, man's present condition, and the Kingdom of God. Further, it gives a perspective not often read about in Western Protestant circles and brings historical tecahings into a mystical, yet, understandable (though not completely comprehendable) way. This may appeal to Western Christians who want mystery, but are afraid of leaviing there mind at the door.
This book is a must read. Edifying for all, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.
From the first sentence we are taken into a view of the Sacraments immersed in the historic liturgy of the Church. For Schmemann, the Western Church commits a fundamental error in attempting to analyze the Sacraments as "objects" in isolation from the liturgical context that gives them meaning. Instead, the Sacraments are the act of the Church within its liturgy to transform the world through Christ by offering the world and ourselves to the Father.
Each of the recognized Sacraments of the Orthodox Church are considered within the liturgical life of the Church. This incarnational understanding of the Christian Faith presents the world itself - created by God and declared good - as something to be redeemed through Christ. Rejecting both the semi-gnostic anti-Sacramentalism of some Protestants as well as the view of medieval Roman Catholicism that bordered on "magic", Schmemann returns to a patristic view of the Sacramental life. This is no Eastern Orthodox polemic - Schmemann criticizes his own Church for abandoning the true understanding of the Sacraments for alien concepts - but a plea for the followers of Christ to appropriate a truly Christian understanding of life.
Among the many insights in this marvelous book is Schmemann's view of secularism as a Christian heresy. Secularism, he claims, is possible only in a culture already Christian. Christianity is not another "religion" but the death of all earthly religions. When Christendom mutates the true faith of Christianity into just another religion, the culture will recognize it as dead and reject it - not for another religion - but in a movement opposed to all religion. Religion is now dead and secularism recognizes this death. Only in Christianity is a life of faith possible.
This outlook blends powerfully into the section in the book on death. Rejecting both the "religious" view of earthly life as a preparation or trial ground for the next life and the secular view of death as a natural part of life, Schmemann steers toward a truly Christian understanding of death. The religious view defines life in terms of death; the secular view defines death in terms of life. Either raises death to the status of being part of God's plan for our existence. The Church of the Apostles and Fathers has always taught death is the enemy and in Christ the power death has upon us has been vanquished. This is fulfilled in Christ's resurrection and will be demonstrated in the general resurrection at the end of the age.
Those who have little experience with liturgy may have their world shaken by For the Life of the World. Even those who have long encountered the beauty and wonder of the historic liturgy and sacraments of the Church will be enriched by the depth of faith presented. This book is a classic work of the Christian Faith and should be read by all who seek to follow the Lord.
Schmemann was an Orthdox priest, but I believe this book will be of interest to any Christian with an interest in liturgy. I am a Roman Catholic and found it to be eye-opening, enlightening and nourishing.